Recording your Musical Ensembles – What Tech Is Good Enough To Use?

What do I use to record my musical ensembles?

What do I use to record my musical ensembles?

What recorder do I buy? Do I need external microphones? Is there an app for that? Is my iPhone good enough? But it’s just an iPad mic! Don’t I have to use professional equipment? How about a soundboard? Won’t people make fun of me?

All questions I get asked when people want to record their musical ensemble (well… maybe not the last question! :)  )

Seriously though, we have all this technology available and it does get very overwhelming when music directors want to record their ensemble. In fact, some just don’t even get started because they are at a loss for where and how to start!


What you really need to know is that the best recorder you can use is the one that you have with you at any given time! Now, I know…. my iPhone is NOT going to make as nice of a recording as having professional quality microphones running into preamps, which is all getting recorded by a high quality recorder. BUT if we don’t have time or the equipment to get all of that stuff up and running then can our iPads/Phone’s make do? The short answer is a resounding YES! In fact, there are several free apps out there that are amazing to work with and allow you to edit your recording later. But I get sidetracked… that’s the next post!

For this post I want to share with you 5 different versions of the same ensemble recorded and edited 5 different ways. Then you can listen and make some of your own judgements.

At Band Festival this past weekend I used three different devices to record our performances, just because I’m that kind of guy. I’m curious, I’m interested in listening to what the final product sounds like in comparison to each other. Here’s what I used….

  1. A Zoom H4N hooked up to high quality external microphones which were on a mic stand allowing the mics to be elevated about 10 feet in the air and 15 feet in front of the ensemble.
  2. A Marantz PMD620 recorder using the built in stereo microphones but this recorder was sitting on the front edge of the stage, on the floor. (basically at the base of the microphone stand mentioned above.)
  3. My iPad Air, using the built in microphone and Cubasis. I could have used any app but I was very interested in trying out the new FX packs Steinberg had just released this past week. In that FX Pack 1 there is a stereo width FX that I hoped would enhance the mono recording that the iPad mic gives us.

In the end, after editing the recordings so that I could use just one track to do these comparisons with, I ended up with 5 different versions of Belgian Paratroopers. Here are the differences…

  1. The first version is the iPad Air recording – no FX at all, just straight off the mic. This is of course a Mono recording.
  2. The 2nd version is that same recording but with the Stereo Width FX turned on giving us recording that has more width to it in the stereo field.
  3. In the 3rd version I took recording No1 (straight from the iPad Air mic) and processed it through an app called Audio Mastering Small IconAudio Mastering. I’ve used this app frequently to enhance my recordings in the past. Because the original file was a mono recording though, I do not feel as if Audio Mastering did anything at all to enhance the effect of spreading out the stereo width of the recording. Audio Mastering did enhance the recording though by adding a bit of reverb, EQ, and Dynamics to it.
  4. The 4th version is straight from the Marantz – When recording this version I had the Marantz set to manual level control and I had to monitor the recording level to make sure there was not clipping on the final recording. While editing this recording I simply went in and used the Normalize feature to bump up the final audio level so it wasn’t so soft.
  5. The final version is from the Zoom H4N and the high quality stereo mics. This recording had the Zoom set to Auto Level Controls because of the way we run our recording at our festival. This ALC setting helps eliminate user error that leads to that clipping of the final recording (which means an unusable recording). The ALC also means that some of the ensembles actual dynamics are skewed. I think you will notice that the recording starts out a bit louder and then it gets turned down because the band playing was so much louder than the announcer talking.

Listen and compare for yourself. Is the quality of just the iPad mic good enough for you? You probably already own an iPad or iPhone and this isn’t going to cost you any extra. (unless you really like what the Cubasis small iconCubasis Stereo Width FX Pack gives you or what Audio Mastering Small IconAudio Mastering can do)

Is the quality of a handheld recorder what you are looking for? The Zoom H4n is about $200 and does have built in mics that are pretty decent by themselves. The Marantz PDM 620 MKII recorder is about $400.

Do you want the even better quality of the external stereo mics? Those are going to run you $200 and up.

I think one final part of the decision here is the event that you are recording. If we are talking about recording your rehearsals for a quick listen to – or is it an important event like our Band Festival?


Being able to record these days is an extremely easy endeavor that anyone of you can figure out with little work. Finding the money for the equipment should not be that difficult. Our District bought four recorders and the stereo microphones for less then what we used to get charged by the recording company that would come to record. Since that initial expense we have then saved money every year and our recordings are every bit the same quality as before!


Cubasis gets FX Pack 1 & 2 – Benefit to Music Educators?

Cubasis Screenshot - with automationCubasis small iconCubasis is one of the awesome DAW apps available for iPad. This $49.99 app gives you a portable production studio that is portable and a few years ago would have cost you at least $250!

Enough of the “what is Cubasis”… Back to the news of the week for the app.

Now Steinberg has released 2 IAP’s, for $6.99 each, that give us access to 6 different, high quality FX’s right inside of the app. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some outstanding FX apps that work hand in hand with Cubasis through either AudioBus or InterApp Audio. The more we don’t have to rely on those extra connections though the simpler life is. Especially when we start talking about Music teachers and music students using these apps.

Cubasis FX PacksOne of the FX’s caught my eye as a possible benefit to us teachers. Inside of FX pack 1 there is a a Stereo Width FX. That means that quite possibly I can take my iPad to a concert, use the built-in mic to record and later apply this stereo width FX to give me a better recording to listen to. The problem with recording on my iPad/iPhone is that the recording is only mono. I can hook up external microphones to get stereo but that means extra equipment and more setup. That extra work is well worth it if you have the time. What about in the middle of class though when you simply want a quick recording to play back for the students? How much benefit is there anyways with a better quality handheld recorders like the Zoom H4n or Marantz PMD620 that already have builtin stereo mics that are better quality then what Apple gives us built into our iOS devices? What about the bump in quality that you get when you actually hook up an external, professional grade, stereo, recording mic?

Well, stay tuned because the next couple of posts I am going to write will be about the answers to these very questions.

GarageBand in the Classroom – How to share audio to your students.

GarageBand small iconGarageBand

Have iPads/iPods? Do you teach a classroom full of eager students that you want to share an audio file with as a starting point?

I’ve got good news for you IF your devices are new enough that you can use AirDrop. If you have older devices, like iPad2’s for instance, the process is not so easy!

Let’s start with the easy method – AirDrop:

First you have to make sure AirDrop is enabled for “Everyone”. Get to this setting by sliding up from the bottom of your screen.

AirDrop On

Make sure both devices you want to do this with have this feature enabled. Then jump into GarageBand, elect the GarageBand file you would like to share with your students and tap the share button (the square with an up arrow)…

GarageBand Share Of course if you have not set this up correctly, or if no one is around then you will see the message you see in this screen shot BUT if both devices are setup correctly you will see the other device show up in place of the warning message. You simply tap the other persons device and you will then see on their device that they will be receiving a file.

That’s it. Super easy! One benefit to doing things this way is that you could even send your students a project with multiple tracks as a starting point. Whatever is on your device, for that GarageBand file is exactly what they will see when they open this!


For some reason Apple has GarageBand in this walled off garden into which you are not allowed to import audio! (Well, actually, I can think of a few reasons but that is for another post!) You have two options to get audio into GarageBand and both seem like WAY too many steps!

OPTION ONE – Use Audio Copy/Paste – you can copy audio from other apps that have this feature and then paste that audio into a GarageBand track. That option is not what I would like to show here but it is available if you can find another app that allows you to Copy/Paste audio.

OPTION TWO – Apple’s method using iTunes and a classroom computer.

Step 1 – Get the audio you want to share with your students onto your classroom computer.

Step 2 – Using iTunes, find the device you want to send the audio to (which may very well mean that you have to hook the device up with a cable) then jump into the Apps section for that device, scroll down to GarageBand and drag the audio into the sharing section for GarageBand…

FileSharing GarageBand

Step 3 – Now we have to instruct the students how to find that file!

GB New Project

Create new Project

Change the Length to Automatic instead of 8 bars

Change the Length to Automatic instead of 8 bars

Notice the New Loop indicator

Notice the New Loop indicator

Tap the Loop Button

Tap the Loop Button

Drage Audio into Project

Drage Audio into Project

And there you go – finally that audio is on the students device as a starting point for them to further create their own masterpiece around.


So the moral of the story is that Apple is learning all the amazing ways in which we want to use our devices and slowly they are indeed making things easier for us. AirDrop is amazing IF your devices are new enough! If not, well…. the process is simply longer.

My frustration with all of this is that other DAW apps allow us to do this same sort of project in much a easier manner. Of course those apps are not free either.

As always – have fun with your students! Give them new ways in which to create music! Share that music with us and the rest of the world!

Orphion for iPad is Free -go get it!

Orphion is one of the musical instrument apps that gives you an alternative interface with which to create music. The main idea behind the app is giving you an alternative interface with which to play. This is not an app that gives you a bunch of sweet sounds and loops with rocking drums. In fact you are going to want to use it to control another app! Then interface is cool

Once you have shown your student how to use this app to control another apps Students will love it! They will dive in with this app and be able to just do what we all love doing with music…. Create, play, and share! You will hear lots of, “Listen to this”!

It is currently free but usually cost $3 or $4….. Go get it now!

Digits – Great Calculator goes free!

Digits is the calculator for humans….. Seriously…. Plus it's free for today only and today is almost over so hurry and download this NOW

Usually it's like $5 so go….. Now…


Portable Music Studio App – Beathawk


Beathakw by UVI has got to be one of the best looking apps I’ve seen in a long time! This is one more amazing iPad app to add to your toolbox – currently it is listed for only $4.99 which is an introductory price.

The app has a bit of a different approach to working with what at first seems a pretty familiar interface – for instance…. if you have a melodic instrument attached to one of the 16 pads you can go “into” that pad to get to a keyboard of sorts that will then allow you to play melodies. There are several other interesting takes on “conventional” methods of an app like this.

The design is beautiful and the sounds are wonderful. The capabilities you gain from an app that is only $4.99 makes this well worth your time and the space it will take on your iPad!

There are a bunch of videos on their website that you go watch to give yourself a great understanding of what the app sounds like and is capable of.

Here is the list of features….

  • Immediate workflow, exceptional ease-of-use
  • Built-in sampling with high-quality pitch and time stretching
  • Includes a huge library of studio-grade sounds and instruments
  • Expand your studio with exclusive UVI sound libraries
  • Export song, stems and MIDI in one touch
  • Inter-App Audio, AudioBus, AudioCopy and WIST compliant


  • 16 track sequencer with up to 16 patterns
  • 780Mb sound and instrument library included
  • Trigger via. pad mode, keyboard mode or with external device
  • Edit and tweak sounds with high-quality effects and ADSR envelope
  • Sample from iPad built-in mic, line-in or external devices
  • High-quality pitch and time stretching
  • Choke groups and One-Shot sample modes
  • Perform and record arrangements realtime
  • Integrated sound browser with realtime preview
  • Includes EDM Factory and URBAN Factory libraries with 2,000+ samples, 290 presets and dozens of loops
  • Additional libraries available via in-app purchase include: Acoustic Grand, Atlanta Urban, Brass Riffs, Choirs, Disco, Electric Piano, Electro Pop, Funk, Guitar Loops, Latin Percussion, Scratch, Talk Vox, Trip Hop, West Coast Urban and World Percussion
  • Jam with multiple iPads using WIST Sync over Bluetooth
  • Export stereo mix, stems or MIDI files with one touch
  • Easily transfer files via. iTunes App
  • External keyboard and MIDI-over-LAN support via CoreMIDI
  • Inter-App Audio, AudioBus, Audio Copy and WIST compliant
  • Export: 44.1kHz 24-bit WAV
  • Import: FLAC, WAV, MP3, MP4, or AIF
  • iPad 2 or newer (iPad 4 or newer recommended)
  • 1024 MB RAM recommended
  • iOS 7+

Here is the intro video….


Wirelessly Stream Audio from one iOS device to Another – New Audreio App Released Today!

Audreio Large IconAudreio SmallAudreio ($4.99) is a new app that was just released to, February 2, 2015. It has one amazing purpose… to stream the audio from one iOS device to a second iOS device.

This app uses Apple’s Inter-App-Audio standard along with your wi-fi network to pull this off.

SCENARIO – Open any Inter-App-Audio app on your iPhone, along with Audreio select the iPad you would like to stream your uncompressed audio to and away you go! That audio coming into your iPad can then be routed to the speaker output jack on your iPad or to another Inter-App-Audio app like Cubasis for further manipulation.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN – Less wires! Less time spent dealing with IP address and complicated setups! Less money spent on interfaces!

This app does mean your apps have to be Inter-App-Audio compatible but that list is constantly growing and is already pretty massive (over 400)! There is a list I keep on my blog of current apps that support IAA and the Audreio website has a list as well. Both my list as well as theirs are thanks to Loran as mentioned in this FaceBook post from Audreio- “Our page for browsing and discovering IAA apps just got a massive update. Big thanks to iOS power user Loran/Philowerx for helping us boost the page well over 400 apps.”

Judging by the amount of traffic this blog constantly gets because of people searching for information about apps that support IAA, Audreio made a pretty smart move by focusing their attention on IAA.

Looks very promising and hopefully I will be able to test this out myself soon. If you have used this already and want to share your experience, please leave a comment! I’d also love to know where do you see this being useful in music education, I’ve got several ideas as well and will share as soon as I’ve bought this and tried it out more!

Audreio Header


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