Producing Music from the Couch!? (TouchAble, Mobile Mouse, iMaschine, Traktor DJ)

Tablet computers are everywhere these days, and they are changing the way we interact with our technologies. Touchscreen-based devices like the Apple iPad have brought computers off our desks and into our everyday lives. Has this technology improved our existence as humans and taken us a step forward in evolution? Who cares! The important question is: has it brought us closer to the ultimate dream of spending our lives glued to the couch?

The Couch Life

With home studios and entertainment centers quickly fusing into one larger technological organism in many homes, this dream of achieving all of life’s goals from the comfort of the couch is coming closer to being a reality. We can already watch much of the video content from the web through our own televisions thanks to Apple TV, the Roku box and our (soon-to-be out of date) videogame consoles, bringing much of the entertainment value that the web has to offer directly into our living rooms. Microsoft has even addressed the “second screen” demographic with an iPad app called SmartGlass which allows for the navigation of their Xbox 360 systems as well as extra game and video content on the tablet. But what about those of us who have connected our computers directly to the TV as a monitor and want to control aspects of our system beyond just watching videos, like producing music for example…?

iOS Remote Control

There are a number of apps for iOS devices that convert the device to serve as a remote control for the computer. While there are varying features in the different apps available for this purpose, I chose one called Mobile Mouse for its rich feature set and affordable price at $2.99. Like other iOS apps designed for communication with the PC over a wireless connection, Mobile Mouse requires a server application to be installed on your host computer, handling all of the information exchange to the device. Once the server application is installed, you can start the iOS app and the software will connect to your computer.

With the app open, the iOS device automatically becomes a full screen trackpad for your computer, with useful features like dedicated itunes and web browser controls as well as a fully functioning keyboard with function keys, control/option/command keys and even assignable hot buttons. The app also creates a hideable duplicate of your application dock (if you are on Mac) with launchable icons so you have quick access without precise mouse clicking or searching through folders. Browsing to SoundCloud to listen to a friend’s tracks or watching your Dubspot Online videos never seemed so relaxing.

iPad Music Production

From the beginning of its inception, the iPad has acted as a sketchpad and performance tool for music through apps like iMaschine and Tabletop which have made it easy to make beats and sketch ideas on your tablet on airplanes, in limos or most luxurious of all, on your couch. With iMaschine, for instance, Maschine users can sketch out beats on the road, record melodies or even lyrics and then save and transfer that mobile project to the full Maschine program, making the iPhone (or iPad, as the app actually looks good in double size) a valuable practice and recording tool. Other apps like Animoog or Traktor DJ act as fully operational instruments, but their portability and the wireless, hands-on inspiration they provide is what makes them unique. Practicing on the couch is just as good as practicing anywhere else. Unfortunately, to hear these great sounds in full studio glory, you would need a cable long enough to reach from your studio mixer to your couch, testing the limits of laziness.

Edits from the Couch

Unfortunately, some parts of the music-making process translate better to the couch than others. Flipping through presets, pre-listening to samples and tweaking synth parameters can all be done from the distant leisure of the sofa and may offer a more social approach to making beats and writing hooks, but the fine-tuning of MIDI sequences or automation curves still requires the precision of a mouse; some parts of the editing process are still difficult to translate to a touchscreen interface. This is the biggest challenge in working from the couch, and this is the point when I would recommend fighting through the laziness to actually put in some work. There are always exceptions to the rule, but working up close and personal with the computer seems like it is still an indispensable necessity at a certain point.

TouchAble for Ableton Control

Once the nitty gritty editing work is done, the mixing stage is likely the next step and here there are many tools that promise to liberate the artist from the shackles of the production desk. While there are a number of applications that assign mix parameters of Ableton Live and other DAWs to touchscreen controls on the iPad in various ways, TouchAble is still our favorite, with all of the features necessary for mixing as well as control of effects and instruments. Allowing for the display of up to 16 channels in Ableton, TouchAble also has full transport controls and a streamlined control surface template for easy integration in your setup.

Room Correction Software

Another useful tool that will allow you to move around your studio with impunity is the ARC room correction software from IK Multimedia. For ARC to work properly, a microphone measures the frequency response at certain locations around the room where the producer will sit when mixing. Once the measurement process is complete, ARC compensates for the imperfections of the room so you can hear what you’re doing more clearly.

One of the cooler functions of ARC is that you can take measurements for different listening areas in the same room, save them and switch between them. You can have one correction profile set up for accurate sound at the main engineer’s position sitting in front of the computer, and another profile set up for couch listening. By switching back and forth between profiles in ARC, you can have the software give you an accurate picture of the sound in either listening position. We recently did a post about ARC and other room correction technologies if you want to learn more about this topic.

Couch Production into the Future

So why don’t all artists produce from the couch? Well for one thing, most DJ/producers who are gigging a lot and touring do not have much time to sit down. However, the iPad and mobile devices have become vital to these artists’ ability to organize their transient lifestyles. DJs can beatgrid tracks on the run with Traktor DJ or record their voice and make beats with iMaschine or iMPC in bed. One might wonder why DJs don’t perform on stage laying on a couch with their iPad rather than inside elaborate and ridiculous sets… Some artists have seized on this idea already, like Aphex Twin who in trendsetting fashion reportedly performed sitting in front of a couch or the industrious people behind FestivalCouch who developed a motorized DJ couch, among other ingenious couch modifications.

Where do you like to sketch out ideas or relax while critiquing your own work?  Let us know in the comments below…

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[...] Sometimes the best kick of inspiration is hearing someone else’s story. We’ve rounded up five recent music documentaries that shed light on the creative process and can be viewed from your couch (to extend a recent theme here on the blog). [...]