Freeform / Modular / DAW-less
Bram Bos

I think the modular approach to iOS music making draws upon an overall trend of people being okay with playing music rather than feeling like they need to be locked into creating a product meaning a song or album they plan on selling. It’s a musical journey rather than a destination.

The traditional DAW approach doesn’t work very well on iOS due to the limited screen size and doesn’t contribute anything of significance to the DAW experience either in addition to the economics of app development on iOS not supporting the development resources needed to create and maintain a more complex app like Ableton live.

With iOS you are not chained to a desk yet you can easily plug into an existing setup as well. For many people, the effort needed to setup or get going on creating music is very limited so iOS can be ideal for them provided the iOS update transitions are smoother and more stable relative to the earlier iterations of iOS.

In many respects, apps can resemble the purchase of albums and songs as you have a wide variety to choose from and the investment both in terms of cost to purchase and learn them is small. It’s very feasible to purchase new apps, play with them, where some apps will stick while others won’t but in any case there’s not the same level of commitment versus the more expensive in terms of both money and time of a more complex DAW or synth on a PC.

Not being tied to your app purchase commitments enables musicians to try and be exposed to new things which would otherwise be too expensive. Despite lots of vocal complaints by people about the inconsistencies/glitches of iOS music apps versus their desktop counterparts, the iOS music environment is becoming more stable with AU and AU host apps which further facilitates a modular approach.

There will continue to be a small proportion of music creation app developers who will be able to earn a living from iOS, some who will use it to supplement their other efforts, and a significant proportion who create apps because they like to make music.

Apple will need to step up their game to support the hobbyist developer as I believe the number of professional app developers will shrink over time to those developers who provide the glue needed to keep the modular environment going. The barrier to entry, and the ability to maintain apps will need to be lowered even further to support a market predicated on low cost/free apps which will limit the investment by larger app developers.

I do not think iOS will be replacing desktop environments or professional setups anytime soon; however, I do think the desktop market will shrink while the number of people who turn to iOS for music making will grow due to both its mobility in an environment where people’s free time is shrinking yet they still want to be able to express their creative urge. An a la carte modular approach with universal controls like MIDI, and easy to learn GUIs facilitate the development of individual musical expression.

Given the rapid pace of cultural change viewed in terms of an increased need for novelty, iOS should continue to do well for music creation provided the balance of proprietary hardware/software advantages provided by Apple is balanced with a willingness and focus on lowering the barriers to entry for app developers is increased along with integrating open source approaches to leverage low cost app development pathways.

Apple has always been a company which has succeeded based upon more expensive hardware with software that’s easy to use, and frequently subsidized by Apple (e.g. GarageBand, Logic). Given the economic devaluation of music, a significant proportion of people are not willing to invest a significant amount of money into music creation apps and will be reliant upon a few professional app developers, hobbyist developers, and open source initiatives to meet their modular music needs where new apps are frequently treated as if they’re consumable purchases. Apple would do well to snap up key developers before they become discouraged by the economics of selling music apps as I believe the urge to create your own music will continue to grow in a world of mass media culture where individuals frequently have few opportunities to express themselves.