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.