Ten Ways The iPad Could Enhance The Film Scoring Process

Film Music Institute > Film Music Magazine (Archives) > Final Note (Archive) > Ten Ways The iPad Could Enhance The Film Scoring Process

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Apple computers and software. Simply put, everything works the way it “should” with Apple products. Their software and hardware engineers have a fanatical obsession with quality and it shows in their products. While some pundits in the tech press have been delivering lukewarm reviews of the new Apple iPad, I believe for our industry it could be the beginning of a huge leap forward in how we work as composers and musicians.

Based on the iPad as it was announced this past week by Apple, here are ten ideas for usages of the iPad based on existing published specs for the device that I think could change the ways musicians and composers work in our industry.

SketchPad – With the addition of stylus input, which is possible with the existing capacitive touchscreen technology Apple uses in both the iPhone and the iPad, entering and editing notes by hand on an iPad could make the iPad a quick and easy sketching tool wherever you might be. If you’d rather “play” your parts in, a keyboard or other instrument could be displayed for touchscreen input. You could create, edit, and transmit anything from lead sheets to full orchestral scores, and with an onboard sample playback technology you could hear what your music sounds like as you write it. Your writing studio becomes completely portable allowing you to write music when and where you’re inspired to do so. With Wi-Fi or a wireless internet connection, as you write you could have your new composition compared to your past compositions or to any external library of compositions to make sure you’re not subconsciously copying yourself or something you heard in the past. And once you’ve completed that amazing cue or melody, a single tap on the “Submit to Copyright Office” button could make sure that your copyright registration was properly completed.

MIDIPad – The iPad with its advanced multitouch input system could easily serve as a control surface or MIDI controller, creating unique ways to “play” sampled instruments and control both MIDI events and software such as digital audio workstations.

VideoPad – Using the iPad as an advanced audio or video editing tool, whether it functions as a control surface for Mac/PC editing software or apps are developed for the iPad that can handle the workload of audio or video editing, could be a huge leap forward compared to mouse and keyboard based editing.

TrackPad – One of the issue that is being talked about the most regarding the iPad is the fact that holding it in a position to work for extended durations of time may be inconvenient. It’s dock holds it at an angle that’s easy for reading, but entering a high volume of touchscreen input at that angle may be an issue. Enter the TrackPad, laying at roughly the same angle as your computer keyboard does now and functioning as a huge trackpad for entering multitouch commands into a Macintosh or PC computer. In a seated position, you look directly ahead into the monitor as usual, but control the software via sliding your fingers as you would a mouse, or entering multitouch commands. When you add in the idea of multiple specialized keyboard layouts on the pad in addition to whatever mouse-like input it can accept via multitouch, the new control possibilities for software are huge.

DemoPad – Imagine sitting down with a director and playing a demo of your latest cues on your iPad, using either the iPad display or driving an external display and sound through the 30-pin docking port. Instead of dealing with a laptop and typing, you can enter the director’s notes directly into the iPad as audio or written notes, synced to the points in your music they apply to.

ScorePad – Imagine a world where recording musicians brought their iPads to the session and their parts were downloaded electronically to the iPads, or maybe even sent before the session if the musicians were asked to prepare beforehand. The addition of a stylus input, which is possible with the existing capacitive touchscreen technology Apple uses in both the iPhone and the iPad, makes it easy for musicians to make notes on the virtual score parts during a session, and updates to the score and parts made during a session could instantly be transmitted to the iPads of the players whose parts are changed, and scores could be displayed for the conductor in larger format on an external display. With bluetooth input, a score-reading application like Sibelius or Finale could be put into “sync mode” to automatically turn pages and keep the displayed parts and score in sync with timecode. Whether your orchestra is in the same room or across the world connected to you over the Internet, instant part changes become quick and easy to make.

SpotPad – One of the most important events in the creation of a film score is the spotting meeting the composer has with the director at the beginning of a project. At these meetings, the placement and creative issues such as style and genre of music are discussed, and initial direction is given to the composer as to where music should go and what the director’s expectations are for that music. In these sessions, directors tend to use existing scores and films as landmarks to demonstrate what they want if they’re not able to sufficiently articulate it. As a portable sample-playback unit, the iPad could make it easy for a composer to “play” musical ideas and melodies on whatever instrument sample is appropriate to get some quick feedback from the director. As a way to record notes, the composer could load the director’s video into his iPad and make written or recorded audio notes during different parts of the film, with the notes synchronized to the film. References to other films and scores are easily handled with scores and video of other films available for download and reference on the iPad.

PracticePad / TunePad – Imagine the ability for a player to load the part for a piece of music into the iPad during practice sessions and have the iPad, with its built-in microphone, “monitor” the player’s practicing. As they player plays through a piece, the iPad app would follow where the musician is (simple pitch analysis would locate the player’s position in the music), turn virtual pages as necessary, and give the player feedback on pitch, articulation, and even tell the musician when it may be time to tune his or her instrument. If the musician is playing to an iPad-generated click or metronome, the iPad could give feedback as to rhythm and timing. I cannot imagine a more helpful practice tool!

SpeechPad – Speech recognition software is getting better and better, and once this gets to the next level, the iPad could integrate speech into its role as either an external controller for Mac or PC editing software or iPad-based editing software. Even without realtime full-speech recognition, commonly used tasks could be automated into voice control. Imagine “telling” your sequencer to “stretch the time in bars 48 through 52 so that bar 53 begins art 01:20:35:15, or to “change the g sharp in bar 80 to a d”

NotePad – I hate paper, and think it’s time to try and move beyond the use of scraps and sheets of paper to record ideas and information. During a film scoring project, a composer will receive a great deal of feedback, notes and other information, and recording those notes into an iPad could keep them all quickly available and in one place, indexed for quick access wherever you might be – writing, in the studio recording, in meetings with the director, or playing demo cues. The idea is to keep all information on a project, from documents like composer agreements and licenses to handwritten notes and feedback to music sketches in one place, accessible wherever and whenever the composer (or director) needs to.

Admittedly some of these usages are pretty forward-looking, and creating the software to implement them would be a pretty tall order. However when we look beyond the “cool” factor of new technology and focus on how we can use new technology to streamline and enrich our work processes, not to mention allowing us to spend more time writing music and less time dealing with technology, I think the iPad presents some amazing possibilities.


  • Steve
    January 29, 2010 @ 8:40 am

    It doesn’t have enough horsepower to run flash, nor can it multi-task. Maybe in 3 or 4 years when they can balance battery life with processor power.

  • Chris
    January 29, 2010 @ 11:51 am

    Love or hate the iPad and iphone, I don’t believe horsepower is the issue with the flash omission. In my reading it would seem that Apple chooses to keep it out of the picture for now. Though I agree it’s about time they included it on the iphone as well. Personally I think it’s just about preventing the use of even more bandwidth since AT&T is already choking. I read a funny note about the iPad where a reviewer said “you can’t make a call with the ipad, but you can’t really do that on an iphone either”…insert chuckle here. In any event, I think the iPad is an amazing product and will have a whole host of uses. Probably many of which people haven’t thought of yet. Wether any of Mark’s ideas will come to fruition I don’t know (maybe he should start writing apps) but I will definitely be getting one at some point. Although I may wait for the 2nd generation iPad. Mark of all your ideas, using the iPad as a multi touch controller of sorts could really be great. A bunch of virtual buttons and faders easily assignable and touch sensitive would be welcome in my studio.

  • Scott Glasgow
    January 29, 2010 @ 3:28 pm

    Mark. Nice positive optimistic article! Yeah. I see lot’s of benefits with the iPad.. However no one seems to be mentioning the Jazz Mutant “Lemur” which has been out for years! It’s all about programming and the Jazz Mutant stuff has a very open architecture for adding a fader or a knob to work with your software via ethernet! Ohh and you can get the “Dexter” software which work perfectly for Logic, Cubase, etc.. Unfortunately for us DP users it does not work.

    Check it out folks– a little expansive,, but very cool (and a little star trek). Watch the videos on the “gallery” page.

    Now if iPad can get programming like this,, I’m all over it!

  • oklaoma
    January 31, 2010 @ 12:14 am

    MIDIPad – The iPad with its advanced multitouch input system could easily serve as a control surface or MIDI controller, creating unique ways to “play” sampled instruments and control both MIDI events and software such as digital audio workstations.




  • JIm Fallows
    February 3, 2010 @ 9:27 am

    Mark – You forgot to mention that ASCAP only pays 10 cents on the dollar for score music versus songs.


  • February 3, 2010 @ 9:53 am

    I like the creativity and positive ideas in this article regarding the iPad and music usage.

  • February 3, 2010 @ 10:30 am

    mark, nice to read a constructive point of view about the ipad, finally. although you omitted that some of the “advanced” ideas here are already happening, and perfectly so, even in a simple iphone (precise tuning and metronomes, for instance), your direction is much appreciated as it is not a rant about flaws and misses, which would only lead our mind away from what is really going on here, and this is nothing less but a revolution in digital politics, turning computers from – apparently – “open”, “free” and chaotic sytems of the startup years into closed systems such as the ipad. as for these, for those who read german i found a brilliant, pretty sharp article in the “frankfurter allgemeine” newspaper (http://www.faz.net/s/Rub475F682E3FC24868A8A5276D4FB916D7/Doc~E4C9B52F05C0C4D6AA6E031D952812B10~ATpl~Ecommon~Scontent.html)
    which reveals the astonishing blindness of many digital gurus flaming and bashing the ipad in these days (getting it wrong exactly the way they did with the iphone back in the day). many self-claimed digital experts are apparently already blind from devouring too much information without digesting it intellectually. in short, what we are facing now is the real message in job´s presentation. 1st, we have to deal with a third kind of computers, 2nd, and mark me well, is the end of the web as we knew it. g

  • DennyJ
    February 3, 2010 @ 10:40 am

    Let’s not miss the point of the title of this article, “COULD” is the key word here. Doesn’t mean it WILL enhance things. I for one want to see some serious apps for film composing for the iPad B4 I buy one.

  • MB
    February 3, 2010 @ 12:13 pm

    On the MIDIPad issue, there’s an existing solution for the iPhone that should be MUCH better on the iPad, which would be well worth it as a cheapie LEMUR with some extra functions.


  • Mark Northam
    February 3, 2010 @ 1:54 pm

    @Jim – yes, I actually do more than write about ASCAP’s lousy composer rates – and that’s 20 cents on the dollar compared to song for a one minute cue, not 10 :-)

    @Scott – thanks for the info about the Lemur – looks cool! Maybe they’ll develop iLemur software for the iPad and iPhone?

    @MB – Will check that out!

    @Gary – my guess is that competition from the Google Pad based on the Chrome OS will push Apple to open up a bit.

  • […] Northam has written a forward-looking essay for Film Music Mag looking at ten ways the Apple iPad could be used in the world of film scoring: SketchPad – With […]

  • DEL
    February 5, 2010 @ 11:00 pm

    As much as I like the iPad and will probably be getting one myself, it’s not like what the author is describing is anything new. I’ve been able to write scores on computers and tablets for over a decade now. All of the other stuff I’m able to do with this thing I’m writing on right now, called a “laptop”. Wanna pull up a video to show someone? Done. Oh, and I didn’t have to Transcode it first so my iPad will play it in the first place. Listening to some Audio Cues? Done. Taking notes? Guess what? DONE. I just use this handy little “keyboard” device on my “laptop”.

    And the idea of using a Stylus with the Capacitive Screen? Good luck with that. I’ve only ever seen ONE capacitive screen stylus in my life… not that it can’t be done, but there’s little chance that the iPad’s touch-resolution would be high enough to “draw” notes. Honestly, you can just have a small menu of all your notes up top, to the left, etc, and just pull them down. The notes can auto-lock to the score. Far easier, and the iPad is DESIGNED to be touched.

    Plus, this would also depend on a company getting it together and actually writing an App that does all this. AND a company willing to make a Stylus. And we still don’t know what the iPad will have in the way of Audio capabilities. The author speaks of using orchestral samples, and I feel like I’m reading an ad for Sibelus from 10 years ago. With a maximum of 64 gigs of memory/ram, how great could these samples be, anyway?

    I’m sorry, but this just seems like a “duh” kind of article. I really don’t mean to be negative; I do believe the iPad will help with doing a few tasks, but it’s quite literally not anything too “revolutionary” as far as how we interact with the computer, other than the touch screen. I’m a MAJOR fan/obsessive of multi-touch, but the “amazing” things this article is describing are quite commonplace now.

    The real magic of multi-touch, and possibly the iPad, comes from developers opening up their minds to whole new ways of interacting with sound. And I’m not talking just virtual knobs here, which are just a digital analog of, well, an analog system. Devs like Christian over at SubCyle Labs are what will make multi-touch for computers really shine.

  • February 11, 2010 @ 9:47 am

    Great ideas here, Mark! Thank you for writing this.
    I can see many of these thoughts coming to fruition, and I know several of them are already being talked about on the Cupertino campus. I would love it if I could control Logic from my iPad and eventually run sessions from it. Seems like Apple could easily head this direction, and thanks to 3rd party development, we won’t have to wait for one of Apple’s “okay, it’s been a few years – let’s throw the composing community a bone” urges!

  • February 16, 2010 @ 12:49 pm

    Hi Mark:

    I’ve been using an inexpensive used tablet PC as a pdf reader/annotator for over a year. I work mainly in theater and generate many pages of orchestrations on a project – on smaller shows, the tablet PC eliminates the need for paper copies of my scores, allowing me to travel lighter, not to mention saving a lot of trees! The annotation program allows me to make notes right on the scores, which can be printed or emailed if necessary.

    As a Mac user since 1985, I’m hoping the iPad will be useful as a pdf reader right out of the box, although it might be too small for larger scores. In any event, I would surely love to have an inexpensive Mac pdf option!

    Doug Besterman

  • February 24, 2011 @ 6:42 pm

    You can use the iPad as an Audio or Video Editor right now using the 1stVideo App from VeriCorder Technology. http://www.vericorder.com

    You can download HD video into the Photo Library using iTunes and then import it into the App, or you can upload video files directly from your computer using the WiFi Sharing function in the App itself.

    The Editor can mix 2 tracks of video and/or slides and 4 tracks of audio into a professional looking video/media project.

    Its available on the iTunes App Store.

  • […] interested in the role the iPad is taking with music, you can check out these additional articles. Ten Ways the iPad Could Enhance the Film Scoring Process iPad Apps for Music Making:  What’s […]

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