What's a better alternative than GarageBand for iPad composing/recording
January 14, 2014 12:12 PM   Subscribe

I like to compose songs on my iPad. I lay down tracks with various virtual instruments on GarageBand for iPad and then I sing over those tracks. But I am looking to go beyond Garageband for iPad now...

I'm not very sophisticated with music mixing etc., and so far GarageBand for iPad has been great for me. (On my PC I use Ableton, which has various pluses of course, but also some minuses). BUT there are things I don't like about GB. e.g. what I really HATE is the way that when you want to play an instrument other than keyboards you have to pretend that you are actually playing the instrument. What I mean is, when I want to add cello I have to pluck the stupid fake strings of the cello. Same with guitar etc. I want to use a keyboard template for all instruments. This is an advantage of Ableton of course (and most other programs I've come across). So I wind up using mostly the keyboards in GarageBand for iPad and that's limiting. Also I hate the drums.

What I love about GarageBand for iPad, though, is that I can record my voice so easily over the tracks. Also the very basic editing process is so simple (although there are of course limitations). I like that now that GB for iPad has an editor, I can put down a note and then go into the editor and change that note. Although it's a sloppy process, it serves as a substitute for my favorite thing about Ableton -- writing the notes with the pencil onto the grid. That process of writing music works far better for me than playing an instrument, virtual or real, and hoping I get it right during the recording.

Lately the limitations of GarageBand for iPad have been seeming bigger than the advantages, and I wonder if, in the two years that I've been using it, there haven't been any new apps for iPad that have come along that would be better for me.

I'm looking number one, for an app that has a "Record" button so that I can sing directly into the iPad over the tracks I make. Number two, I want to be able to lay down tracks for various virtual instruments using a keyboard format for all of them (as opposed to pretending you're playing e.g. the cello) -- (but what I REALLY want is the pencil and grid -- I want to "compose" music in that way -- but I can live without that function as long as I can enter all sounds on a virtual keyboard.) Third -- I want either better drum sounds than GB for iPad provides (or Ableton provides - I hate their drum sounds too), OR I want this app to have an easy way to import sounds from other programs. For example, I see that there are fabulous virtual synth apps available for iPad, but I haven't acquired any because I don't know how to record something on the synth app and import into GB (or another app that puts everything together into a multi-track recording).

So -- that's what I want.

I have another problem too -- I've acquired certain apps over the years and haven't been able to figure them out. Some of them just don't explain themselves very well. Most of them seem to be written by people in non-English speaking countries and/or they're trying for some sort of non-verbal explanations that they think can be understood by everyone. But I need WORDS; I need a nice tutorial. Or something that takes me step by step through the recording process.

Is all this too much to ask for the iPad?

If it is, it is. Fine. I have Ableton. But I just thought I'd look into what's most recent for the iPad. Thank you.
posted by DMelanogaster to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Logic Pro should work if the iPad has a 64-bit processor.

And you have $199 to spend.
posted by Danf at 12:52 PM on January 14, 2014

Logic Pro is an OSX app, not an iOS app. There's an iOS control surface app which lets you control Logic Pro from your iPad, but that's not what you're after.
posted by hades at 12:54 PM on January 14, 2014

I stand corrected. And I am sure that there are other simpler apps which are still better than GB.
posted by Danf at 12:57 PM on January 14, 2014

You might be able to use GarageBand with an inexpensive USB MIDI keyboard like this one and a camera connector kit -- I don't know if it'll use MIDI input for all the built-in instruments or just the keyboards. I'll check tonight if nobody here knows off the top of their head.

As for other apps, I've heard good things about n-Track Studio Pro and Cubasis, both of which look like they might have what you want, but I've never used either of them myself.
posted by hades at 1:04 PM on January 14, 2014

NanoStudio's got:

- The piano roll (pencil and grid)
- Good drum samples and a tracker

It does not have:

- Recording samples over playback. You can't play stuff while recording audio. There's some workarounds, but they involve using a computer.
posted by ignignokt at 1:06 PM on January 14, 2014

As for inter-app compatibility, check out Audiobus-compatible apps. Audiobus provides a fairly straightforward way to route audio between compatible apps, so you can have your synth/sequencer app running through your effects pedal app and into your multi-track recorder app.
posted by hades at 1:12 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have the M-Audio Keystation mini mentioned above and can confirm that it works great with Garageband using the camera connector.

As for other apps, I've tried a bunch of them and my favorite is probably Cubasis. It does everything you mention above and does it well - the MIDI note grid editing is pretty fluid and easy, and it's really simple to add audio tracks. The downside is that it costs $50, but if it is something you'll use all the time it's completely worth it.

I've also tried Beatmaker 2, FL Studio mobile, Nanostudio, and a few others. They all will pretty much do what you want - but I find myself always coming back to Garageband or Cubasis. Garageband is sometimes frustrating in it's limitations, but what's implemented is done so well and the simplicity and constraints can be freeing.
posted by tsetsefly at 1:30 PM on January 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

You can still use the pencil/grid style in Garage band, just open up an instrument track and click through the edit windows. I would recommend a nice stylus for those with fat fingers.
posted by svenvog at 2:54 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Music Studio is pretty good.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:40 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Svenvog, when I open Edit in GB I can change notes that I've entered, but cannot find a way to write new notes. Do you have a way of doing that?

As for the real midi controller, I already have one, but don't want to carry another object around. However let's say I did: has anyone found that they can enter notes of a non-keyboard instrument using the real controller/ keyboard? You're saying that the controller automatically trumps the cello "strings" when you plug the keyboard into the camera connection kit?
posted by DMelanogaster at 11:17 AM on January 15, 2014

Best answer: Apparently piano roll editing is possible in GB, including writing new notes (scroll down to "pencil mode"). I just tested it, and it seems kind of clunky to me, but I haven't really used that kind of interface before.
posted by hades at 12:27 PM on January 15, 2014

Response by poster: Hades, YES!!!! It works! It is very clunky in that you actually have to hold down the pencil icon AS you're entering notes, but yes, it is definitely the way to compose for the various instruments using a keyboard/grid model. This is just what was missing from my GB for iPad experience.

Thank you!
posted by DMelanogaster at 8:28 AM on January 16, 2014

has anyone found that they can enter notes of a non-keyboard instrument using the real controller/ keyboard? You're saying that the controller automatically trumps the cello "strings" when you plug the keyboard into the camera connection kit?
Yes, that's exactly right. An external MIDI controller will control all of the Garageband smart instruments.

Also - when editing the piano roll in Garageband you can slide the pencil icon over to "lock" it into add mode. That should help you out.

One more thing - it's also possible to use other apps as MIDI controllers for Garageband if they transmit virtual MIDI. I've done this successfully with apps like Midi Studio - there's probably also some free alternatives that would do the job. It's not always straightforward to set up, but if you are interested I can try a few things out later tonight when I'm home with my iPad and let you know what works.
posted by tsetsefly at 9:51 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

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