We face a challenge in the music technology community. Underlined by a century in which music creation was seen by some as the privilege of a few, in the studio world, and mass music was about records and radio, people might claim music making is niche. It’s seen by those onlookers as the domain of specialists, techies – a weird overlap of superstars and nerds.

But some of us believe that musical expression as as essential as singing, and the tools matter just as much.

You don’t see much music technology in Apple’s latest ad. I think it might be a new record or near-record for the absence of screen time for Apple’s products. But what you do see is unquestionably creation, not consumption. There are subtle hints to every aspect of musical practice – guitar songbooks, multitrack recording, sharing.

And the video, a follow-up to last year’s Creative Arts Emmy winner, goes beyond the technology. It’s about why we make music – reaching other people.

It’s meaningful that a multibillion-dollar company would see making music as a core part of its mission, as the essential value to some of the most successful consumer products in history. Recently, I noted via Twitter that Apple’s own Logic Pro climbs to the top of the paid charts on their App Store – notable not so much because it’s an Apple product as it’s a music product.

Apple’s holiday campaign links to a variety of music app, a nice Christmas present for the developers featured. They show GarageBand, of course, but also include Propellerhead’s innovative Take vocal app, a tool that remembers that, for many people, music is about singing or playing an instrument and not just editing beats on a timeline. There’s also a beautiful app called Chord! that presents scales and chords in a gorgeous, luxurious format. And there’s the fun Sing!Karaoke from Smule, the rare superstar breakout developer that found a way to take music technology prowess and bring it to a mass market.

Now, whether or not you own a single Apple product, there’s a lesson here, about how important music is to one of the world’s biggest companies – and, much more importantly, how to tell the story about what music is to the general public. It’s a reason for the season.

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For most music producers, managing media involves scattered files on hard drives and the occasional file transfer service. There are now three fresh big players vying to convince you to start uploading, managing, and collaborating on music production online.

Unlike most music technology products, traditional bootstrapped affairs involving selling software or hardware, these companies have the Internet – and startup culture and funding – in their DNA. And they’re fundamentally services. blend.io is a Dropbox-powered tool that focuses primarily on collaboration, and began its life in Manhattan incubator betaworks. On the two coasts, two other companies have millions of dollars in venture money behind each of them. New York’s Splice emphasizes the collaborative process and deep integration with DAWs. LA-based Gobbler pitches collaboration, too, but also easier file management and backup.

Brainless backup or easier collaboration outside the studio are already good reasons to consider these services. (I’m working on some hands-on reviews now, as I do, believe it or not, sometimes create digital music myself.) But Blend last week suggested another reason: you could earn money on remixes or samples once they’re uploaded. The offering is something called the Blend market:

https://blend.io/market

In an announcement published to Medium, Blend makes a two-pronged case for why you ought to do this. Continue reading »

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They may not be as powerful as their desktop counterparts. But by going with you, mobile apps can help you find inspiration and creativity in moments that would otherwise be lost. And mobile drum machine app iMaschine adds two subtle features that mean a lot more possibility – or at least takes a step in the right direction.

iMaschine 1.2, released at the end of last week, adds integration for both Audiobus and Apple’s own Inter App Audio (the latter less-widely implemented, but used in popular apps like GarageBand). The upshot: you can now combine Native Instruments’ mobile drum machine workstation with other apps.

Also, iMaschine added a long-overdue feature: you can now non-destructively set sample start and stop positions. I’ve been griping about this since the very first release (loop points came first).

Inter-app support is also useful. What you can do with this: stream audio from iMaschine to other apps, add custom effects on output, and record output into other tools (like a mobile DAW). You can also control the transport and sync from another app (transport sync only on iPhone).

We recently updated WretchUp by Mouse on Mars to incorporate full Audiobus support, and that effect sounds really wild on percussion parts, so I’m already playing around.

Continue reading »

Because it’s packed with digital models rather than analog circuits, Roland’s AIRA TR-8 can be more than just a drum machine. It’s a platform for expansion.

And today, as expected, Roland has gone further into their back catalog of genre-shaping drum sounds to expand on its hit TR-8. The 7X7-TR8 Drum Machine Expansion brings TR-707 and TR-727 sounds to the AIRA box and even builds on the 808 and 909 models included so far. The only bad news here is that it’s a paid update.

What’s new:

  • 30 original sounds from the TR-707 and TR-727 (by original, that means the sounds themselves are identical – these were digital waveforms on the 707 and 727, so they’re included verbatim)
  • Tune and Decay controls for all the new 707, 727 sounds
  • New TR-808 “noise” sounds, finger snaps
  • Modified TR-909 kick and snare with “enhanced attack characteristics

At top, you can listen in on the new sounds. The TR-727 are, of course, a bit more varied, adding some Latin spice. It makes for more fun, no question. If you want a value-priced drum machine, if you want to buy someone a drum machine for Christmas, the TR-8 is the obvious top choice. Continue reading »

Getting “open” still scares many music manufacturers. Maybe they should double-check those fears.

See, if you add simple jacks (MIDI, audio), if you add driver-less operation (via USB and the like), let alone if you design simple APIs or create open source interfaces, you open the door to people making things that work with your creation, for free. They have to want to be there – but we make music. We love music gadgets. If your gadget is worth using in the first place, it’s worth opening up to other things.

You know. “If you build it … people will come.” The one constant is baseb– um, music, sorry.

At least, the magic is working for KORG. Just days – seriously, days – after getting hold of an open API for the KORG volca sample, there’s a cross-platform sample loading tool for this inexpensive sound gizmo. The volca sample is barely even shipping yet, and someone has created a free utility that works with it for free.

That’s no minor development, either, because one thing that has held at least some readers back from buying a volca sample is that it requires a KORG iPhone/iPod touch utility for loading samples. KORG’s app is cute and clever, but maybe you don’t have an iPhone – or don’t want to be dependent on one.

The Caustic Editor runs on Android. It runs on Mac OS X. It runs on Linux and Windows.

On iOS, it performs tricks even the stock KORG app can’t – like functionality with Audiobus, meaning you can open up sound design possibilities with other iOS apps.

Otherwise, it’s able to do everything you would need to do with samples on the volca sample because KORG wrote a simple SDK that makes it so. (And, honestly, KORG didn’t do that much – they released a simple library for handling samples covering just the basics.)

WAV Continue reading »

“But I don’t have enough time.”

So, get a camera crew from FACT to loom behind you and watch while you produce, all with a clever ten-minute clock ticking away for their series Against The Clock.

Actually, no. Two problems. One, the pressure might make you completely freeze up. Two, yes, you might not have FACT around.

But you could imagine a timer. Deft, the aptly-named Croydon, UK artist whose work ranges from cinematic and ambient straight through to footwork, here goes a bit modern drum and bass in a perfectly passable track that he assembles under the clock. Got to hand it to him for that.

And his tool of choice is one that gets far too little attention around these parts: ancient-in-computer-years Windows stalwart FL Studio aka “Fruity Loops.” FL gets extra points here for putting useful samplers and other instruments right front and center, building in a step sequencer, and generally getting you making music right away. Even doing it all with a mouse doesn’t look so awkward. FL users, maybe you can spot something clever in here, but mostly I think it’ll warm your hearts. Continue reading »

Now, your iPad can go from sweet-sounding pads to hordes of angry bees and back again, all by modeling physical behaviors of flocking. It’s called the Photophore, and it’s a “flock synthesis” instrument.

You may have seen synths that produce lush sounds by combining oscillators – the eight-oscillator Swarmatron springs to mind. Well, this synth puts the “swarm” in “Swarmatron.” With up to one hundred oscillators per patch, it uses physical modeling to transform sound by simulating flocking behaviors.

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I’ve seen experiments that have done things like this with flocking algorithms and particle systems, but this must be the first serious attempt I’ve seen to make a dedicated iOS instrument. For a previous incarnation of the concept on desktop, check out AnarchySoundSoftware’s SwarmSynth – which is still available as a free Windows VST. (Just enter a serial. That app has particles flocking through an “envelope-constrained 5 dimensional parametric hyperspace.”)

And it’s not just a toy – inter-app audio and full MIDI support are built in, so this can fit nicely into your production workflow. (And, oh yeah, I’m keen to combine these sounds with our WretchUp app, which now boasts expanded Audiobus support.)

Full feature list: Continue reading »