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Keep it Reel: Make your iPad into a professional recording studio

Andrea Pejrolo | Aug. 4, 2014
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.

Ready your equipment

Before you can start using the iPad for a music project, you need the right hardware and software. As always, having the right tools will make your experience more pleasant and productive.

Pick up the iPad: The first and most important piece is Apple's hardware. If you're on a tight budget, the fourth-generation iPad (also known as the iPad with Retina display) can provide a decent experience, particularly when tracking/recording or for some light mixing. If you're serious about doing professional work in the field or in your home/project studio, however, go for the latest iPad (iPad Air or mini with retina display); you can never have too much CPU power when it comes to recording and mixing.

If you want to save some money, I suggest buying a Wi-Fi-only model, but I strongly encourage that you pick up a 64GB or 128GB model. Multitrack sessions can easily (and quickly) reach sizes of 3GB or more. Having enough space on your device to store several projects (and/or different versions of the same project) is crucial.

Case or mount optional, but useful: Depending on your situation, you might consider investing in a sturdy case that allows you to position the device at a good angle. I find this to be particularly important for field recordings or in live venues, where the location is sometimes less than ideal.

If you plan to primarily record in your home studio, I recommend using an iPad mount for mic stands such as the Talent iClaw Mic or Music Stand Holder for Apple iPad ($22).

Hook up your audio: The next crucial piece for your ultra-portable recording studio is the audio interface — in other words, what you're hooking your instruments and microphones to. An audio interface is iPad-compatible only if it's "class compliant;" that means it doesn't require any driver to communicate with the audio layer of iOS.

You'll also want to consider the type of connector the audio interface uses. The majority of the interfaces that work with modern iPads connect via USB and connect to your device via the Lightning to USB Camera Adapter.

USB interfaces offer several models that range from a simple 1-in/2-out box all the way to more sophisticated (and expensive) interfaces that have eight inputs and outputs. Unfortunately, one drawback of the USB option is that you can't charge the iPad while your audio interface is connected to the device. In practice, this isn't such a big deal — at the end of the five hour session I did for "You'll Return," my iPad mini still had more than 60 percent battery left — but you'll want to make sure you charge your device fully before any project. In general, a newer iPad should be able to handle seven to eight hours of recording.

 

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