When it’s just you and some electronics making music, a good place to begin the process of solidifying your ideas is with a drum beat. There are a lot of drum machine and sequencer apps, each no doubt with its adherents, but who has time to try them all out, learn them and then choose a favorite -especially with the field filling up every day. I happened upon EasyBeats LE, a free app with decent flexibility, some good kit sounds and a very straight forward interface having both a drum pad mode (think MPC 1000 etc) and a grid/matrix mode (think Tenori-on). The free version was so good I bought the paid version. I use it on both my iPad and iPhone.
The brand mark. Find this in the iTunes app store. It’s free -why not get it and try it out?
How do I use it? I usually pick out a kit then play around in pad mode until I have a beat that I think suits the song structure I’ve been forming. At this point I touch the record icon and record the beat. It can be a bit challenging matching your beat to the BPM counter, but usually gets close. Another challenge is the pad to sound mapping. There is no standard placement for sounds so different kits tend to have the snare or kick drum in a different place. Not the end of the world, but another little detail to spend time getting used to, and were going Mobile to make the most of our time right?
Next I go to grid mode and have a look at how the beat is arrayed on the grid. A big limitation of the app is exposed when you watch it sweep out the beat. You can’t really accent beats the way you can playing a drum set -there is no getting ahead of the beat or any of that -not with any subtlety. For the purposes of just getting an idea down this doesn’t really matter though. Another limitation is the BPM setting slider is an irritating combination of overly precise and hyper sensitive. This doesn’t matter much to me, as I use the beat as a metronome to drive the rest of the composition, but if I was making a new beat to match to something I already recorded at, say 115 BPM, I’d have a hell of a time setting the BPM to 115. I’d bounce back and forth between 114.6 – 115.2 – 114.4 – 115.4 etc, you get the idea. Maybe there’s something wrong with my fingers though…
Think Cartesian. The X axis is the beat, the Y axis is the sound. If a square at an XY location is illuminated blue, it will play that Y sound on that X beat. The yellow line indicated the sweep of the beat.
There are other features to this app, the ability to export loops, the ability to control the volume of each sound WRT the other sounds etc, but I tend to ignore them.
I’ve made my beat, now I plug the device into the mixer, get a good level going into Garageband and record a long enough take of it to put the composition on top of.