Since the introduction of the iPad in 2010, I have dreamed of the day when I could walk into a studio and record, produce, and mix a live band using just my tablet. Recently, that dream became reality: I had the opportunity to produce and record a session for Ella Joy Meir — a very talented up-and-coming songwriter and composer based in the Boston/New York area. The plan was to record "You'll Return," an original song that she co-wrote with Michal Weiner, using a band made up of drums, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, vocals and piano.
For this project, I decided to try and use the iPad for each stage of production — from recording and mixing all the way to mastering and SoundCloud distribution. The recording session was split in two days and took place in the new Berklee Production suites in Boston; the assistant engineer was the talented Vince Espi. (I've posted videos of the sessions and some of the things that went on behind the scenes.)
This turned out to be a great opportunity to assess the real potential of the iPad as a reliable ultra-portable recording and production platform.
iPad pros and cons
Depending on the type of music, ensemble, and production you plan to produce, using an iPad can be either a perfect solution or a limiting and frustrating experience.
The pros: I see the iPad as the obvious choice when portability and space are key issues. The ability to access your multitrack session at any time and anywhere is an incredible advantage when it comes to productivity.
"Yes," skeptics may interject, "but you can do the same with your laptop!" True, but it's much more likely that I'll have my 128GB iPad mini with Retina display on me — whether I'm in the studio, at home, or on the road. This constant access gives me more options for working with my music wherever I am.
In addition, if you are planning to record in a space where your sound engineer and performer are in the same room, the iPad has the advantage of being dead-quiet. And then there's the cost: iOS offers the convenience of a touch display and the portability of a laptop but with a much smaller price tag.
When it came to "You'll Return," the iPad provided all the necessary horsepower I needed, and due to the project's limited timeframe, it was a blessing to be able to edit the tracks anywhere I was.
And the cons: All of that said, you have to manage your overall expectations. If you are used to working with professional digital audio workstation applications (DAW) such as Pro Tools or Logic Pro, you may be frustrated by the iPad's limitations. The track limit alone (the full version of Auria only supports up to 48 tracks) can prove to be an unacceptable compromise, particularly if you're planning to record large ensembles with individual close microphones. The same can be said about sessions that require complex editing of audio tracks, or effects-laden projects.
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