In case you haven’t heard, having already made the leap to iPhone, ReBirth is now available in a new version re-conceived for the iPad. (Happily, Propellerhead resisted the temptation to call it ReBirth HD.) It’s a sign of the maturity of music software that there can be a “classic” production tool – and a bit of irony that that a major feature of that tool is, in turn, emulating the Roland TB-303, TR-808, and TR-909 bass synth and drum machines.
Propellerhead has done a really nicely-produced video that explains what they think the tool is about, complete with some well-executed screencasts so you see it in action. But for all the buzz this release has generated this week, it’s worth asking – how will people actually make music on these new platforms? Where does a tablet (any tablet, not just Apple’s) fit into a workflow? And what does this mean for music making?
One of the things I enjoy about talking to Propellerhead CEO Ernst Nathorst-Böös is that, when you ask him a question, he often answers with other compelling questions. (That seems to be a common feature of a lot of the most successful music software developers.) I think the video does a good job of talking about how ReBirth could conceivably work as a standalone production tool. But as for what iOS software means in the grander scheme of music production, in this case, we’ve got questions – and you, digital music creators, may be the ones who discover the answers.
Ernst tells CDM what they as developers want to know from you, and how they’re approaching ReBirth on iPad. (And yes, if you prefer a netbook, you can still do that, too, even if you’ve installed Linux.)
CDM: Propellerhead advanced notions of inter-application interoperability for music software with ReWire (alongside REX, Remote). There’s a desire from users and developers to find ways of maintaining the “one app at a time” focus of things like the iPad, but also being able to make the sum of those apps better than their parts alone. It’s just intuitive – you’re using one app, and then switch to another app, and it makes sense to take some of your musical ideas with you. Do you think there’s an opportunity for innovation here? Have you looked at all at third-party APIs like AudioCopy?
There’s absolutely room for innovation, and yes we have looked at AudioCopy. The way we decided to approach conversion to various formats in ReBirth for iPad is to let the user upload the actual song document (which is very small) to a server where we render out the mp3, integrate it with Facebook, build a small web page etc. This provides a much more flexible approach, we think. And yes, it is also innovative :-). With this approach we are only limited by what we can do on that server, in terms of exchange with other applications and even platforms. This potentially opens a lot of doors.
But what I think you actually asked about was getting some of the workflow we have on the desktop today – via plug-ins, ReWire and file exchange for example – to the iPad and iPhone. Here I have to say that I don’t feel at all sure about what the right approach is. And why I say that is that is because I don’t feel we know how people use these apps yet. On the desktop, the prices are high enough for us to assume that what people buy is also what they actually use when making music. On the mobile platforms, I’m not sure that is the case. Take, for example, the Korg iMS-20. It looks absolutely awesome and I think Korg did an amazing job on it, hats off. It’s just 16 bucks and ReBirth is just 15 so you can buy either (or both!) without thinking about it as an investment. But how will people actually use the iMS-20? Or ReBirth? Or NanoStudio? Is it mainly recreational, and the result is less important than the experience? Or do they really want take that work, add more stuff in other apps (guitars? vocals?) and publish it? Or does even adding that possibility add a level of pretension that kills the joy? Are we better off isolating the apps from each other completely to keep the fun in? OK, maybe that was extreme, I don’t think that is the right path at all of course, but you get how I’m thinking. Propellerhead wants to make what people *really* need, and when great shifts like these happen, finding out what that is takes some time. As we’re building, we’re also watching, very closely.
We at PropellerHeadQuarters would love to hear from users here on CDM and elsewhere how you actually use your iPhone and iPad apps and what your real needs are? Not just what would be cool, but what would be really useful in your music making.
One of the criticisms of ReBirth on iPhone – aside from lack of screen area – was that it was just a direct port of the PC version. Now, it looks like something very different, something really built for the platform. What was added here above and beyond ReBirth as we know it on the PC?
Yes, cramming all of ReBirth onto a phone was by definition a compromise. We think we did a great job, given the limitations. But on the iPad we could really go nuts. We redesigned the whole panel with new beautiful graphics. We added multitouch — now I can use all of my eleven fingers to tweak the knobs, which is actually much cooler then the original mouse-driven version. We improved editing and added a pattern selection, performance-type mode. We put a nice little song browser in and then of course the sharing, direct to Facebook in MP3 format without having to have any other service in between.
Thanks for the preview, Ernst. And yes, readers — the call is out. We’ve heard from people who love the iPad and similar platforms; we’ve certainly heard from those who don’t. But those of you who do intend to use these platforms for music — what do you actually want to do? You could conceivably ask for anything, so what’s most important to your music making? We hear about users wanting things like AudioCopy — how would you use it, and with which tools? Propellerhead has had your ear; now’s your chance to have theirs.