What do I need to create dance-rock on a Mac/iPad in 2011?
October 13, 2011 2:45 PM   Subscribe

Bring me up to date on modern music creation on a Mac and/or iPad?

I haven't used music software on a Mac in over a decade (Mac OS 9!).

Right now I have a MacBook Pro (2010), an iPad 2, an iPhone 4S, and an M-Audio Keystation 61es (with the iPad USB adapter on order). Some stuff I already bought for the iPad is Korg's iMS-20 and iElectribe apps. My roommate whom I will be collaborating with has a few guitars and mics.

Mostly I want to create dance-rock type music (think influences from Cut Copy, The xX, Miike Snow, CSS, The Knife, LCD Soundsystem).

At the moment I am really interested in finding a good MIDI control surface (plenty of knobs, sliders, buttons) to interface with my Mac and iPad, plus some good software synths and samplers. Is there any software that is on par with the amazing sounds you can get from a Nord Stage/Electro/Lead?

The key is that I want stuff that is SIMPLE. Think, at most, not much more complex than a Jupiter 8. If there are too many options, knobs, menu trees, etc I'll get overwhelmed and won't use it.

Also, is Logic 9 overkill for a simple home studio? Other options?

What should I get? What websites cover this stuff? Are there any good tutorials out there? Most of what I have found seems very outdated and links to software that was last updated a few years ago.

posted by buckaroo_benzai to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Create Digital Music is a great start with current news. As of late they have been focusing a lot on iPad apps.

Local LA stalwarts swear by Intua's BeatMaker2. For an example of a track crafted entirely in Beatmaker, check out Baths's "Exit the Mine" here.

I dig Tabletop, though. Super easy. Here's a cool video demonstrating its use.

Go with Logic Pro.
posted by raihan_ at 2:54 PM on October 13, 2011

Soft synths are as good or better than any hardware synth these days (though some people will argue the point).

Personally, I like ableton live. It's really easy to learn, compared to Logic. It's also designed to transition smoothly from production and recording to live performance.
posted by empath at 3:19 PM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh, I hope my comment about the Jupiter 8 wasn't taken as meaning that I want a hardware synth. I DON'T want a hardware synth... just software ones that are as easy to use as the JP-8. Some software synths I've seen are insanely complex and I'm trying to find something that's not going to melt my brain to learn it.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 3:33 PM on October 13, 2011

I'm using Logic Pro with a similar setup (2010 MacBook Pro, M-Audio Keystation 49-e, vocals, and electric guitar). I like it, but the learning curve is pretty steep. A friend of mine who has a lot of experience with Logic Pro and similar programs was surprised when he heard I was doing all my home recording by myself using Logic Pro, since he said it's more of a high-end post-production tool and can be overwhelming for one person to try to use while also trying to keep up the inspiration and energy to actually make the music. I see his point, but I think it's doable.

Although I'm happy with it now that I've learned the ropes, there were many points where so much was going wrong that I felt like I couldn't keep using it -- and even now that I've finally gotten the hang of it (after 7 or 8 songs), I'm still amazed that enough people stick with it for the product to stay profitable. There were many times when everything seemed to stop working and I'd have to use a lot of trial and error -- things like closing and restarting the application (which often works but doesn't always). (If The World Famous is right that Logic Pro is more user-friendly than Pro Tools, then wow, I'd hate to use Pro Tools!)

I have been really impressed with the amount of control Logic itself gives you over the electronic instruments (with no other software or hardware except the M-Audio). Not just the standard effects, but the ability to tweak the basic sound of the instrument, including individual shaping of each different drum sound. The flipside is, there are a lot of options. I can't imagine using the majority of them. So what you describe about being overwhelmed and stifled? That sounds like it could happen to you using Logic.
posted by John Cohen at 3:37 PM on October 13, 2011

Propellerheads Reason 6 was just release and they've bundled their Record software with the main version now, so that could be an option. Plenty of synths and samplers and knobs and whatnots.
posted by monocultured at 3:47 PM on October 13, 2011

The key is that I want stuff that is SIMPLE.

How simple do you want your setup? I tend to get bogged down with DAWs that offer too much stuff, so I fell absolutely in love with NanoStudio. No iPad app yet but, in addition to the iPhone/Touch app, there's a free Mac or Windows version.

The desktop version supports MIDI in and limited CC, (only one device at a time, sadly) features multiple instances of sample-based softsynths and MPC-like triggered playback, a sequencer and DSP effects. You can make some hellacious noise with it pretty quickly. You can bounce tracks or whole songs down.

It doesn't support VSTs, unfortunately, and the interface can be a bit of a pain. I'd suggest checking out on general principles. Who knows, you might fall in love too.
posted by lekvar at 4:27 PM on October 13, 2011

If you are getting started, why not check out GarageBand? Super impressive iPad version!
posted by bprater at 4:33 PM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would recommend Ableton Live and the Akai APC40 that empath linked. If you like Logic Pro, it's nice software, too, and costs less than Ableton. Ableton is, as noted earlier, more versatile than Logic Pro and will enable you to seamlessly transition from production to live performance to DJing (if you like).

If you're looking for a board with lots of assignable knobs and keys without a dizzying complexity, you could go with something like the M-Audio Keystation Pro 88 (looks like they just discontinued it). Since you already have the 61es, if you're going to use Ableton, just go with the APC40. The knobs and sliders will get automatically assigned by the software and are easily reassignable if you want to do something slightly different than the software assumes you'll want to.

Other pieces of gear that will enable you to easily reassign knobs and sliders to a variety of paradigms, whether you're using Logic, Ableton, or Reason, include the Novation Zero SL and those cool little control surfaces from Korg (NanoKontrol series).

Music software has improved dramatically in ten years. Whichever DAW package you go with, you're going to end up with a great set of tools that will keep you creative for a long, long time.

(Also, if you pick a DAW with VST/AU hosting capability - Ableton, Cubase, or Logic - go download the entire collection of TAL Audio Line plugins. They're free and awesome.)
posted by phoebus at 5:10 PM on October 13, 2011

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