WholeWorldBand – update

Last month, I wrote about my first impressions of WholeWorldBand. I was very excited about the concept, but a few issues with the initial version of the app made it hard to use.  In the last couple of weeks there have been two updates in quick succession that have vastly improved the app.

The biggest problem I had previously was latency when recording from external sound devices such as my Apogee Jam and Blue Snowball mic. I was very pleased to find that this seems to be completely fixed in the latest version – in the example below, I recorded 4 takes through the Blue Snowball without any latency problems at all (all timing issues are my own bad playing!)

The sound quality of the  audio in the exported video is also much better. It’s now somewhere around 256k stereo, whereas it was 64k mono before. And the latest version has added stereo panning of each take (the example above doesn’t use that though, because it was recorded before that update).

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Finally, but equally importantly, I’ve found the app to be a great deal more stable.

I wouldn’t describe the app as perfect yet, but it’s certainly improved vastly in the last two weeks, and I’ve been very impressed with the responsiveness of the team to feedback. Top of my wish list for future features is Audiobus and/or inter-app audio support, and maybe some basic editing features for dealing with less-than-perfect takes.

If you haven’t tried it yet, now would be a great time to do so because they’re running a competition where you can win a guitar signed by Ronnie Wood and a variety of other equipment.

 

Best of the second 100 days of “A Tune A Day”

Saturday was day 200 of my tune-a-day project, so here’s a compilation of my favourites from the second hundred days (first compilation here).

I simply couldn’t get this list down to just 10, so there are 12 this time. They split into four main categories – new tunes, traditional tunes, silly songs and covers-collaborations-and-remixes. See notes below for an explanation of why I particularly like these tunes.

New tunes

Probably one of my favourite tunes of the first 100 days missed the first compilation because it was day 100 and I did the compilation too soon afterwards to decide whether to include it. 23rd August was a noisier version of the same tune.

16th September and 9th October are included simply because I really like the tunes and the way the instruments complement each other. I’ve rediscovered the mandolin in the last month or so, and I love the way 10th October starts in a confusing muddle of banjo and mandolin but somehow resolves itself.

Traditional tunes

Unusually, there are tunes from 3 consecutive days included here – early October was a particular good period in the project. 8th October is Carolan’s Welcome – I probably spent longer learning to play this properly than any other tune so far. It was going to have more instruments on it, but I really liked the delicacy of the piano version. 20th October is very noisy version of Raggle Taggle Gypsy. I recorded an acoustic version earlier, but didn’t play it very well – this version is much better.

Silly Songs

My children sang on two very silly songs. 5th October is Big Red Combine Harvester, their favourite song from the previous day’s harvest festival at school (see also the video). 30th August is Heilan’ Coo, their Scottish holiday song. Neither has a huge amount of musical merit, but both were great fun to record.

Covers, collaborations and remixes

19th September is the Game of Thrones theme, recorded after watching the whole of season 3 on consecutive nights.

21st October is Mairi’s Wedding, my first recording in OhmStudio, with contributions from around the world.

1st November was my entry for the Smithsonian Remix competition, featuring a variety of squeaky animals and insects. I didn’t win, but was still pleased with the result.

9th November is for the Remix Paula Seling competition. I entirely replaced the europop original to make it altogether folkier. I doubt very much whether Ms Seling would approve, but it was a great deal of fun to do.

 

WholeWorldBand

UPDATE 2: After reading this, also read my follow-up post describing how several of these issues have been addressed in recent updates to the app.

I really, really want to like WholeWorldBand. Not only does it allow you to record collaboratively over the internet, it also enables musicians to make money out of it. Their video explains it very well…

Since I first saw the video, I’ve been eagerly waiting its released. And yesterday, I got an email saying it was now live. The first 5000 users get a free upgrade to the full app (that allows recording) and some in-app credit for starting & joining sessions, so if you’re quick, you might also qualify.

So far, so good. Unfortunately, the app (iPad only) isn’t really finished, either from a functionality or stability point of view. It crashed frequently, and I had terrible audio sync problems when using external audio devices. In the end the only way I could construct a tune was recording directly through the iPad mic, so the audio quality is not great.

Here’s the result – a short burst of “Raggle Taggle Gypsy” on two bouzoukis and an accordion.

Obviously this is all just me – I haven’t had anyone create a session from my track yet, which is not very surprising as (a) it’s not very good and (b) I only published it half an hour ago.

It was also quite a tortuous process getting this video onto here. You can post your “mosaics” (which is what WWB calls mixes) to Facebook and Twitter, but that just seems to post a link to an obscure URL. So I downloaded it from there, and found the audio was only exported in 64k mono.

This highlights another oddity about the platform – for a music recording app, it seems more fixated with video than sound quality. The mixing controls are very primitive and there are no editing controls at all. Although WWB and OhmStudio would appear to superficially be trying to do the same thing – let you record music over the internet – they are a million miles apart in the way they do it.

The focus on helping musicians get paid for their work is commendable, but it certainly makes the platform confusing at first as you have to wade through all sorts of terms and conditions about each track you create or contribute to. I tried to create an entirely free track that anyone could use for whatever they wanted without any cost, but it wouldn’t let me – the lowest price you can set for using a track is 1000 credits (€0.89). And it forced me to choose between my track being an original song of my own, or a cover version that royalties should be paid on – there was no option for a traditional tune like the one I was doing.

I’m really excited about the potential of WWB, but the app appears to have a long way to go. Well worth a try, but don’t expect it to be perfect.

UPDATE – this morning I got an email from WWB’s CEO asking for my feedback as an early user. I mentioned most of the issues in this post, and got a very quick reply from him. They’ve not seen the audio sync problem elsewhere, so I’m going to try and work out if it’s my Blue Snowball mic (which they hadn’t tested). Many of the other issues are things they are expecting to fix in future releases. So my hopes remain high, and it’s great that they are taking feedback seriously.

Whoah! We’re Halfway There!

Yesterday was a bit of a milestone, as it marked the halfway point of my tune-a-day project. 183 tunes and just under 4 hours of music so far – some of it quite good, some of it rather less good. I was wobbling a bit after the first 100 days, and was seriously considering giving up, but rediscovered a bit of inspiration, and October has probably been the best month so far.

So, to mark the milestone, a rather silly accordion-based version of Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer”.

Garageband Updates

Both the Mac and iOS versions of Garageband were updated this week, so I had a go at recording a tune that used some of the new features of both of them.

The iOS update is rather disappointing. Behind the new user interface, not that much has changed. You can now record up to 16 tracks (32 if you’ve got a new iPad Air, which of course you haven’t yet, because they’re not on sale until Nov 1st) but I rarely felt limited by the previous 8 tracks.

It also supports inter-app audio, which is a bit like Audiobus-without-Audiobus. Unfortunately only two of the apps I currently have installed (iMini and Galileo Organ) support it. So I started by doing a bass line in iMini. This all worked fairly well – certainly easier to set up than Audiobus, but I did get a bit confused about which app you’re meant to start the recording from. The Audiobus overlay controls are clearer.

I then added two electric bouzouki tracks in Garageband. Disappointingly, there are no new instruments or guitar amp setups in the update.

One of the big new features in the Mac version of Garageband is the ability to open a project created on the iPad via iCloud. So at this point I uploaded the project to iCloud, and opened it on my Mac. It always seemed stupid that you could send projects to iCloud from the iPad but not open them on the Mac, so I’m very pleased this is finally fixed. It works as you would expect, except that you still need to save it as a separate project on the Mac. I don’t think you can go back to the iPad once it’s been turned into a Mac project (which is annoying).

Garageband 10 looks significantly different to the previous version, but is very similar to Logic Pro X. And it includes one of Logic’s big new feature –  drummer. So the next step was to add a drum track to my tune. Garageband’s drummer is very similar to Logic’s, but just lacks some of the fine-tuning controls. I got it to follow the iMini bass line, which it did fairly well.

The last thing I wanted to try was recording a melody using a touch instrument on the iPad using Logic Remote, which now also supports Garageband. But I just couldn’t get my iPad to connect to Garageband for more than a few seconds at a time. I had a similar problem at first with Logic, and had to do some messing around with control surface configurations to get it to work. But I didn’t have time to work out how to do this in Garageband so gave up and used a midi keyboard instead.  This reminded me how little I like most of the software instruments in Garageband. The new release claims to have a big new sound library, but there are relatively few of these sounds I’d ever use.

So, something of a mixed bag. The Mac version’s drummer is great, and justifies the upgrade (which is free anyway) on its own. iPad inter-app audio will be good when more app supports it.

And here’s the tune. As with most technical tests like this, the end result has more educational value than musical value…

Oh, one last thing. The Mac version now supports Soundcloud upload, which looks just the same as it does in Logic.

OhmStudio

main-guiI discovered OhmStudio this week, which describes itself as

the first real-time collaborative digital audio workstation. Start a project, invite musicians and make music together. It’s as simple as that.

I’ve always been interested in the idea of online collaborative recording but have never got round to trying things like Kompoz and Indaba. They all seemed rather awkward to get started with.

What makes Ohmstudio different is that the online collaboration is built into the recording software itself. You can start a project or join an existing one, and anything you do will be synced with the others members’ copies of the project.

So I tried creating my first project today. It’s “Mairi’s Wedding”, because it’s a well-known tune that I can play reasonably well. I recorded some bouzouki chords, and played through the melody once. That was today’s contribution to the tune-a-day series.

Now to sit back and see what else other people contribute. …

Within about half an hour of opening the project up, a melodica part has been contributed. I had walked away from the computer for a while, and when I came back, the melodica part had magically appeared in the project. Really impressive.

That said, I think the interface is going to require a lot of learning – it’s significantly different to Logic, Garageband, Cubasis and other DAWs I have used.  There’s no iPad version – maybe that will come later.

So getting the hang of the interface will take a little time, but if the community of users keeps growing and remains active, it could be a fantastic tool.

The project page for my tune is here, and the preview version of the tune there contains the contributed melodica part. Please feel free to join the project and contribute to it!

UPDATE

By the following morning, members of the Ohm community had contributed drums, bass, percussion, a flute/whistle type thing, and a strange sort of fiddle that I think is called an erhu. Here’s the result….

 

Big Red Combine Harvester

It was harvest festival at my children’s school last week, and the following day we recorded a very noisy version of their favourite harvest song. And that just happened to be the first thing that came to hand when I was trying to work out how to use goanimate.com. Silly, but quite fun.

Here’s the full version of the song (I didn’t have the patience to animate the whole thing). The drums and bass were recorded via two iPads using a Garageband jam session.

ThumbJam

I’d heard several times that ThumbJam is one of the best iPad music apps , but it took me a long time to get round to trying it, and even longer to finally understand how it all works. On a flight home from Nice this week, I did my first recording entirely in ThumbJam using its loop mixer.

I think the app is very much an acquired taste. The instruments sound great, and there are lots of free instruments to download. But the interface is hard to learn, and it took me a while to get the hang of the way the notes are laid out. There’s no piano-style keyboard – instead you can choose from a wide range of scales which allocate notes to strip of the screen. Moving left and right plays up and down the scale; moving up and down causes other effects like vibrato. The result is a very expressive instrument that makes good use of the iPad’s screen, but it takes a while to learn how to play it well.

The recording features are much more basic. You  record a series of loops, and then use the mixer to adjust the volume of each, and turn them on and off. You can then record a “session” from a live mix – that’s what the tune above is.

2013-10-03 22.20.57

 

While the loop recording is interesting, it’s much better to use Audiobus to record directly to Garageband or Cubasis, and just use ThumbJam  as an instrument. That what I did for these two tunes – the first uses the rather lovely Scottish Smallpipes instrument, the second uses JR Zendrix, designed by Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater.

 

Winter is coming, and so is iOS7

ios7_1370892900sA post on musicradar.com yesterday advised everyone using iOS for music recording to wait before upgrading to iOS 7 due to a number of problem with the audio engine. Of course, I read this less than an hour after I’d upgraded my iPad (3rd generation), so I was stuck with it.

However, my first attempt at recording using Garageband didn’t encounter any major problems. It was a version of the Game of Thrones theme (we’re halfway through watching series 3 – don’t tell me what happens in the last 4 episodes) for bouzouki, accordion and piano. The bouzouki and piano were recorded through a Blue Snowball mic without any problem at all. The piano was recorded through a Roland UA-3 interface, and that did at one point start making a funny noise, but I just unplugged it, plugged it in again, and it was OK.

Haven’t done anything through Audiobus on iOS 7 yet – maybe that will expose other problems.

UPDATE – just recorded in Cubasis via Audiobus on iOS7 successfully. At first there was no sound output from Cubasis, but I’ve had that happen before. I stopped the app, restarted it, and it was OK.