One of the smallest measures of time in the world is now the time that elapses between when Apple ships a new mobile product and someone has uploaded a video / album / feature film with it. It’s rather amazing. Somewhere, other tech vendors are … crying.

But that said, I think the video above is a wonderful thing. Perhaps the mobile smartphone is this generation’s new PortaStudio – something so readily accessible and portable that there’s really no excuse not to record a musical event when it happens. And however you do that I think is healthy.

So, in case you’re curious how a spare cable or adapter or two and a phone can be there – just in case someone forgot their laptop / ADAT machine / reel-to-reel deck – let’s just copy the full press release, as it’s told as a very nice, personal little story. And the music is sweet-hearted, too.

The app in question is Sonoma WireWorks’ FourTrack.

CDM’s own Marsha Vdovin has her 4S and loves it, hopefully shooting with it a bit over at AES. I’m, meanwhile, hobbling along with my unlocked original G1 in Europe, so, uh, if any vendors want to buy me off, I’m game.

Here’s the other thing: while the iPad gets a lot of attention these days, our internal stats at CDM tell us many, many CDM readers have iPhones – and only a fraction of you have iPads. Little wonder: it’s easy to justify a smartphone, harder to justify a tablet on top of the laptop you probably already own.

But enough of that: let’s hear how they recorded. And reminisce about the days of the portable tape 4-track. (It worked for the likes of John Lennon.)

“I’ve been touring lately with Alexa James and thought my new song “Come Running to Me” would be a great song to sing with her. We started doing the song together on a recent tour in Europe, and people seemed to like the song. We took that as a cue to get a recording of it, and thought- why not the new iPhone 4S? Let’s see what it can do,” says Rory Partin, a Los Angeles based recording artist.

Rory pre-ordered his phone, and in thinking about how to approach the video, realized they would need a second phone. So this past Friday, iPhone 4S’ release day, Alexa went at 5:30 am to camp out in the long line at the Apple store. Approaching the front of the line around 10am, she was almost in the store. But then AT&T systems started to overload, and delayed her getting set up. Soon, Verizon and Sprint were also facing delays because of the great demand of the new iPhone 4S. Alexa was finally up and running around 1pm, and the recording began.

Sonoma Wireworks created an app called FourTrack which is the app Partin used for the recording process. Along with a learning curve of a new app itself, there was also the learning curve in how to best record into the app. “We spent hours,” says Partin, “recording guitars, keys and vocals using different microphones and plugging those directly into the phone because usually you can get a cleaner sound going direct (like you see in some shots of the video). But we found that we got the clearest and best sound just holding the phone near the instrument or voice. We couldn’t believe how much better it sounded to just use the built in mic that comes on the phone. So when our guitarist, Jeffrey Miles was recording his guitars, I literally stood next to him and held the phone over his shoulder.

To record my vocals, I was able to fit the iPhone 4S in between an open slot in the microphone clip on a mic stand, and I sang into that. Alexa was next to track vocals. By the time we got to her, it was 4am. I then re-recorded the keys. The three of us pulled an all-nighter, and left around 7am Saturday morning so i could go catch a plane.”

Mixing down the tracks was also an interesting process, as FourTrack iOS has, you guessed, it, four tracks. FourTrack iOS allows you to bounce tracks, so we were able to do several guitar tracks, mix them on the iPhone 4S, and then bounce them down into one track. You can then send those files to your laptop to make room for more tracking, as well as for back up and a final mix. We also used our MacBooks for final video edits for the sake of time. Alexa grins, “We obviously didn’t have fancy lighting or makeup artists, but the quality of the iPhone 4S to take video is quite amazing in spite of how I looked after a few hours of sleep and camping out at the Apple line.”

Hang on, I’m supposed to be keeping up the anti-Apple bias everyone tells me I have.

Hey, what’s up with rounded rectangles, anyway? What’s wrong with corners?


Wait, crap, this may be one of the posts where I get told I’m personally responsible for the destruction of the Earth and my promotion of capitalism. Uh… we are the 99%?

(Seriously, I do have concerns about toxic waste, human rights, and mineral extraction; that’s why I’m glad to see people making music with these tools and finding lasting, meaningful uses for them.)

  • digid

    I'll say this: that sounds a LOT better than the tape hissing, fluttering Tascam thing I had access to 15-20 years ago.

    Pretty impressing, and I'm sure other smart phones will provide similar sonic qualities.

    Wonder how it would tackle the aggressive sound of a bass drum or a bass, though.

  • Peter Kirn

    @digi: Absolutely. I think it counts as progress! (just so long as you don't track to MP3, really)

    I only miss cassette for sentimental reasons.

  • Chris

    "…it’s easy to justify a smartphone, harder to justify a tablet on top of the laptop you probably already own."

    Actually, I really don't feel the need to have a laptop anymore. It's nearly antiquated technology as far as I'm concerned. My iPad does everything I need for a portable device and it's more fun. With iCloud, I'm not even sure I really need a desktop, but I do like my PC gaming.

    Still, my iPhone goes places even the iPad doesn't. It's of course even more portable and except for showering, is always nearby.

    On the other hand, the problem with both iOS devices is that's it's difficult to use them as a sound source (e.g., Animoog, SampleWiz) and a DAW at the same time. Copying and pasting between apps isn't often that elegant. I also haven't seen any iOS app that gets close to something as feature-rich as Reaper.

  • I think its more interesting how a brand can make the world stop and say 'wow, look at that' as if nothing has ever existed like it before. The tech in the 4S is probably old hat now theres far more powerful android devices just imminently about to be released. iPhone 4S was never going to win that game for long.

    So, is there anyone out there using an android phone 'creatively' that isn't, as Steve Balmer puts it, 'a computer scientist'? I own an android for the record – i have a few music apps, some of which are quite impressive really. But I have never found it to be particularly conducive to produce anything on – I feel limited by the screen or size…or is it because is not a pretty shiny thing?

    That said Nanoloop p*sses on a lot of stuff…

  • digid

    "Powerful" is all in the eye of the beholder. I regularly test cell phones, including Android ones, and the amount of music apps isn't even close to what's available for iOS. Not to mention how very poorly designed many of the Android apps are.

    Android at the moment is stuck in a "look at my big screen" and "look at the specs for my dual core processor" and "look at that screen again!" loop, and even technically powerful, there's still some way to go for the total software experience to reach iOS.

  • digid

    … or as the developer of the excellent TouchOSC app recently wrote: "This (Android) is one tough and messy platform to develop for so please excuse the extreme delay."

    That also counts.

  • Ben

    Nice job by the artists. I can't help but feel they'd have a much easier time putting together their mix with (the much overlooked) Multitrack DAW.

    Part of the problem with the current state of iOS apps is that there are so many of them, people sometimes fail to realize what apps are out there and how they can work together to achieve a goal.  Someone needs to put together some kind of resource….

  • KimH

    >>> Wait, crap, this may be one of the posts where I get told I’m personally responsible for the destruction of the Earth and my promotion of capitalism. <<<

    Maybe I can help. For the pro-FOSS/anti-capitalist readers, perhaps I can offer a counter-balance…

    "Richard Stallman Eats Something From His Foot":

    PS- I'm actually a Linux fan, too.

  • Random Chance

    I still prefer my Tascam 4-track tape recorder. It can also double as a nice mixer and the sonic character the EQs and the tape impart on the sound is sometimes just what the doctor ordered. Limiting yourself to four tracks on a digital system seems kind of backwards to me. 

  • Love all the comments. 🙂 And thanks for the advice on the Multitrack DAW, Ben. You're right about so much being out there…I didn't even know it existed. But I have now downloaded it, and will definitely be exploring it in the near future for my next iPhone 4S recording. Thanks, everyone!

  • beoiv

    love the simplicity for recording demos 

    it real has an unpleasant shrill sound to the audio though