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3 Ways to Incorporate iPad into Your Composition Workflow

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:ShortLanguages:
This post is part of a series called Songwriting & Composing: From Inspiration to Execution.
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Apple's iPad has been on the market for three years, and has revolutionized the way musicians can make music. If you are considering purchasing an iPad, or if you have one but are unsure exactly how to best incorporate it into your larger studio setup, I want to share with you some of the ways I've found myself using my iPad in combination with my music studio. In this tutorial will share with you three ways that you can consider incorporating iPad into your composition and production workflows.


Three Ways to Consider

iPad is completely capable of functioning as a complete studio for musical composition, so how can you incorporate iPad into a bigger, more traditional desktop-based music studio? There are many different ways you can do this, but I found in my own experimentation that there are three main categories most ways of utilizing iPad will fall into.

These three broad ways of utilizing iPad are:

  • Using iPad in parallel: Use iPad along side your main composition setup.
  • Using iPad in series: Use iPad in conjunction with your desktop or laptop, switching between the two.
  • Using iPad in place of: Use iPad to replace one or more parts of a traditional music studio.

Let's look at some examples from each of these categories to give you some ideas on how you can integrate iPad into your composition workflow.

In Parallel

You can think of this as using your iPad in such a way that it is aiding your composition workflow, but is still independent from everything else in your studio for the most part. This way you can pick up your iPad and take it with you, and easily continue working on some aspect of your composition or production because it is not inseparably tied to the rest of your studio in terms of the workflow. All the work you do on iPad never actually intersects in a way that makes you unable to use it apart from your main composition and production studio.

Using iPad in parallel with your main composition studio allows for a modular and flexible workflow
Using iPad in parallel with your main composition studio allows for a modular and flexible workflow

For singer-songwriters, this could look like using your iPad to write down lyrics, song flow and structure, and any other various notes that you come up with during the creative composition process. This could also look like using one of the various musical apps available for iPad for reference like piano or guitar chords, or a rhyming dictionary.

You can also use the many music apps for creative exploration. You can use them to get inspired and once you have something that you feel you can run with you can take it to your main composition studio. Again, the thing all of these have in common is that the iPad is not inseparably connected to the rest of your studio, allowing you to use it anyway from your studio for as long as necessary and still be able work on your compositions and productions.

Tip: Using iPad in a parallel fashion along side your main composition studio offers the most flexibility and mobility, but keep in mind this is achieved mainly by not integrating your iPad too deeply into the main composition studio.

In Series

You can think of this as integrating your iPad deeper into your studio workflow by at some stage working solely on iPad, or otherwise transitioning between iPad and your main composition and production studio.

Using iPad in series with your main composition workflow allows for deeper integration at the cost of some mobility
Using iPad in series with your main composition workflow allows for deeper integration at the cost of some mobility

The best example of this I feel, is how I use GarageBand for iPad in conjunction with Logic Pro X on my iMac. When away from my main composition and production studio, I will use my iPad as a sort of musical sketchpad. I will use GarageBand for iPad for creative exploration, or to sketch out a musical idea. If and when I have reached the point where I feel the musical idea could turn into a full-fledged production, I will export the project and bring it over into Logic Pro X. GarageBand projects can open natively inside of Logic Pro X, and I can pick up right where I left off. Once this transition has happened however, I am now committed to working on the production in Logic Pro X.

Another way to go about this is to use various music creation apps on iPad, and export the audio files for use in your main composition workstation. This can include drum grooves that you’ve created, or instrument passages. Some iPad apps will even allow you to export a midi file, which you can then take into your main composition and production studio and easily re-create or take to full completion.

Tip: Keep in mind that in this example of using Garageband for iPad in conjunction with Logic Pro X on my iMac, once I commit to moving from my iPad to my iMac, I can't easily go back to my iPad. The same is true for any audio files you produce on iPad and then export for use in the DAW of your choice.

In Place Of

There are many apps available for iPad that are specifically designed to mimic hardware. If you don’t have a MIDI controller to be able to play piano passages, or if you have a basic controller but would like to have tactile control over faders and rotary knobs, you can use an app in place of a MIDI controller. Once set up, this will function just like it’s hardware counterpart, effectively replacing the need for one.

Using iPad in place of one or more traditional pieces of studio hardware allows for exploration you otherwise could not do
Using iPad in place of one or more traditional pieces of studio hardware allows for exploration you otherwise could not do

Purchasing a hardware synthesizer is a significant investment, but there are literally hundreds of synthesizer apps available for iPad, all of which will bring a fresh and unique sound to your productions. Comparing an iPad app to say an Access Virus is a bit of a stretch, but just the same, with a decent quality patch cable you can easily turn your iPad into an outboard sound module.

Tip: Third-party hardware units such as IK Media’s iRig MIDI allow you to explore outboard sound module options before making the significant investment of a traditional synthesizer, to see if it is right for you.


Conclusion

In this tutorial I’ve shown you numerous ways to incorporate iPad into your musical composition workflow. Keep in mind that you are not limited to using iPad in one specific way when doing so. You can easily mix and match any of the numerous ways I’ve shown here to get the most out of your investment in purchasing an iPad. If you’re thinking about purchasing an iPad, I hope that I’ve helped you see what a great tool and asset it can be in your composition and production studio workflow.

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