When I first discovered it was possible to create music using simply an iPhone or iPod Touch, I was immediately interested. It didn’t look like much back then; most of what I saw were complicated and underpowered mini studio type apps of questionable audio quality. But all that changed for me when I discovered Looptastic by Sound Trends
. It was fun, easy, and sounded great. It created an opening for everyone who loves music to get their feet wet.
It wasn’t long before my initial discovery was overshadowed by even more complex, yet simple to use multitrack studio apps, notably, another Sound Trends app called Studio HD. It was especially deep, and more powerful than I had expected. It was loaded with FX, layerable tracks, automation, loads of pre set loops. It also allowed a great deal of creative freedom that inspired me to go further into composing with other synthesizer apps and to bring in my hand made tunes to build full compositions from scratch. I hardly ever needed to even use my PC for transfering audio file thanks to copy paste features. It screamed freedom. Studio HD is where I really committed to my music using my iPad exclusively. These guys really have it together, and you can see the love for what they do in their design.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Aaron Higgins, the master engineer and head honcho at Sound Trends, and all around nice guy. In addition to the following interview, I even did a little beta testing, and experienced first hand how much both Aaron and his equally brilliant partner Kord Taylor care not only about their product, but also about creating an opportunity for everyone to enjoy a great musical experience. Here’s Aaron with a little about how they go about doing that.
Smite Matter: At the start of iOS music apps it seemed to be received by many people as nothing more than a novelty, but today we see far more capabilities. What has surprised you the most since then?
Aaron : “Perhaps the biggest surprise is how far the industry has come in just a few years. This is true on both a technical level and in the popularity of the hardware and software. There are too many innovative and fun apps on the iPhone and iPad to mention. It is very exciting to be part of this market.”
Smite Matter: I can’t imagine the complexities of developing music software. As simply put as possible, how do you approach your designs? What’s most important to you when updating or starting a new app project?
Aaron: “One of the most important things we worry about is the overall workflow of the UI. We sketch out and throw away a huge number of ideas before settling on something. We painstakingly worry about the visual ground that people need to cover to accomplish certain tasks. We send out lots of beta versions and look for feedback. Our work is never truly done as there are always ways to make it better.”
Smite Matter: You put a lot of cool, useful sound FX in your music apps, while avoiding overloading the device CPU. I believe they all take advantage of an XY touch controller. No virtual knobs. Is this a personal choice, or are there certain advantages with the XY touch controls for FX?
“Knobs are really great in the physical world, where you can easily feel and control them. On a touch screen, we really love the XY pad because it is more direct and obvious than a virtual knob. It also makes it easy to control two parameters with one finger. No matter where you put your finger, something interesting happens.”
Smite Matter: Some users may not understand whether or not they can use your included loop sets from your Studio HD or Looptastic apps in their “songs” that they wish to sell. What do you tell them?
Aaron: “We sincerely hope that the next hit song is made with one of our apps. With that in mind, we grant the rights to make finished tracks with our bundled content without having to pay anything or get further permission.”
Smite Matter: I feel a bit like I’m in a small group of willing recording artists to take the iOS leap for creating all of my music cradle to grave. I don’t use any computers except for file storage. Do you think this will become more common, and how will it influence your designs?
Aaron: “Every day, iOS music production becomes more and more of a reality. That said there are still a number of key challenges to overcome. Audio Copy and Paste is a great start in sharing data between apps. It is still a long way from being able to host a plugin and do real time processing. We are also looking forward to solutions that make it easier to import and export material in a variety of ways.”
Smite Matter: I’ve seen recently that some developers are willing to compromise fidelity by only allowing mono tracks instead of stereo in order to offer more tracks or “better” FX. Do you think they are making a mistake with choosing mono over stereo?
Aaron: “Stereo is very important in mobile apps because most people use headphones to listen to their device. We believe it is important to strive for the best possible quality because users are comparing the sound of our apps with the music in their iPod library.”
Some developers seem to ignore the creative freedom that the iPad and iPod offer and don’t add copy paste functionality between apps. Forcing users to go back home to their PC to move files around. How do you feel about that?
Aaron: “There are so many great tools on the iPad and iPod, it is hard to imagine only being able to use them in isolation. Audio Copy and Paste is a huge improvement over not being able to share files between apps. We also support MIDI Clock to synchronize apps and play them together.”
Smite Matter: I would love to see a developer create a fully capable digital audio workstation with all the features and trimmings of a computer DAW for the iPad. I think of it as the holy grail of music apps. How far off do you feel we are from seeing a similar fully featured iPad DAW?
Aaron: “One of the things I love most about mobile music apps is that they are more fun and approachable than a computer based DAW. This is because the iPad gave app developers the chance to start with a clean slate and reconsider the music making process. The things you can currently do in Logic or Ableton Live are mind blowing and sometimes intimidating. Computers will continue to be more powerful than an iPad for many years. In the next two years, I believe you will see an iPad-based DAW capable of doing the more important 80% of what you can do on a computer.”
End of interview.
Follow up. Purists beware.
Wow, I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens in the next two years. Things are changing every day. More powerful, creative, high quality, professional, and capable music apps arrive pushing users minds and devices CPUs to their limits. Those remaining and fairly niave folks still in the “toy” camp will find themselves far behind the curve. It’s time for everyone to take notice. This is happening, and fast.
Thank you Aaron, and thank you and Kord again for your fantastic app. I think all of us are looking forward to what’s coming next from Sound Trends.