Controlling your DAW with an iPad

So, it’s here. Well it’s been here for a while and will definitely stay for some time to come. What you ask? The iPad of course.

Now, the debates of whether it is a transportable webpage, a reading tablet, a computer or something completely different have calmed down a bit and almost everybody refers to it (and uses it) differently, there is just two things you could do when it comes to using it in the studio really. Use it, or not.

If you decide to use it you can do so in a number of ways. You can create sounds, play synths, edit sounds, mangle sounds and even create new synthesizers from scratch. You can also use it as a controller for your DAW and that’s the area I’ll focus on in this article.

I use an iPad together with my DAW almost daily. “Almost”? Yes, sometimes I just have a lot of editing or recording or composing to do and I’m having a hard time getting the iPad into my workflow so to speak. It needs to earn it’s use, I’m not that much for using things ‘just because’. I almost exclusively use my iPad as a remote control for various instrument plug-ins such as synthesizers or reverbs.

How to use your iPad and DAW

Additional screen

One of the easiest way to get some “hands-on” control of your DAW is to use the iPad as an extra screen to your main computer/DAW. You’ll get some extra screen real-estate as well as some basic touch ability. There is however a lag so there is not much sense in using it to watch peak levels and such, but for basic control over a few faders in Logics environment for example it works great.

Remote commands

Another pretty easy (but nice nonetheless) app is Actions for iPad. You have the ability to setup different key commands as buttons and then simply press it when you need that particular command.

How to use iPad as a control surface

This one also works with other things apart from your DAW, video editing anyone?

Control Surface

When it comes to control most people think of a control surface like the Mackie Control or Emagic Logic Control or Euphonix or something else. Of course there are apps designed to mimic this functionality as well. They let you control the DAWs individual tracks, or mixer if you will. The amount of control varies a bit from app to app and from DAW to DAW but in general they let you control things like volume, mute, pan, aux send levels, the transport controls and so forth.

On my iPad I have DAW Remote HD which gets used when I’m recording percussion, bass or vocals. In my studio I have a few mics in one end of the room and DAW Remote HD is simply the perfect remote so I can punch-in and record without going over to the computer. Yeah, I’m lazy! It’s also the perfect companion for my wife when she’s doing vocal takes, I’m not needed in the studio anymore, I can gladly play with our little baby daughter outside the studio instead.

Controlling your DAW with your iPad

There are even DAW-specific apps Ip Touch for Logic Pro for example and even Steinberg has created an “official” one for Cubase.

Custom controllers

There are quite a lot of programs that let you setup your own custom MIDI CC controls in your own preferred way. It is relatively easy to get a nice template up and running and of course you can get it as complicated as you like.

Now, enter Lemur, an iOS app that runs on the iPad and it let’s you create custom controllers for just about everything. What sets Lemur apart from the others is that it is “programmable”. You can program it to behave in almost any way you like. Personally, I use the programming to create various “pop-ups”, when I press a button it shows more controls for example, or settings for a fader or something completely different. In short, it’s very powerful and there have been some really cool templates created by the Lemur-community.

Lately, when working on a pop project, I’ve built special “channel strips” for different tracks like vocals, synthbass, arpeggiator synths and so on. There is a big plugin developer who has some signature series where you load up a plugin and you have EQ, compression, ambience etc. in the same plugin. Great! But what if you like the sound of another compressor more or always go for a special reverb? Let’s reflect a bit over what the plugins do (and they’re great at what they do, no question of that), the main thing a channelstrip offers is what I would like to call a better “workflow”.

I’ve built my own channel strip in Lemur for vocals and the workflow boost of not having to open up several different plugins to change some parameter and instead having them laid out as a channel strip on the iPad is extremely rewarding. And fast!

My channel strip controls Klanghelm VUMT Solo, Waves NLS, UAD Neve 88RS, UAD Precision De-Esser and Noveltech Character. And then there are some sends to FX buses such as Brainworx Stereomaker and UAD Lexicon 224.

Lemur controller for iPad

Did I mention it’s a fast way to work?

So there you have it, a little quick overview of what the iPad can help you with, control-wise, in conjunction with your DAW. Try it, the worst that can happen is that you’ll not like it, or like it… After all, it looks really cool laying on the desk in the pictures taken of your studio :)

Links to the App store

The following links should in no way be considered as an absolute collection of what’s available, it’s only a small collection of what is available.

Additional Screen
Air Display

Remote Commands
Actions for iPad

Control Surface
AC-7 Core HD
Cubase iC Pro
DAW Control
DAW Remote HD
Ip Touch for Logic

Custom controllers
Control (OSC + MIDI)
MIDI Designer Pro

Written by: Thomas Mavian

Thomas Mavian is a Swedish composer, producer and record label owner with a soft spot for virtual synthesizers (which he has too many of already). He is currently involved in leading the design and development of a new music sharing service.

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