Beats, synths, and syncing: six tablet tools for hip-hop production
Pro Audio

Beats, synths, and syncing: six tablet tools for hip-hop production

With technology perpetually advancing at breakneck speed, it has never been easier (or cheaper) to get into hip-hop music production. MIDI keyboards average at $150, drum machines go for as low as $250, and industry-standard laptops have enough capacity to run a whole studios worth of instruments and software. But, for the more energetic, on-the-go musician, there’s another option that is severely underused for music production: the tablet.

The flagship tablet by Apple, the iPad, and the Microsoft Surface, both have similar specs to a standard laptop, only they’re touch-screen and highly portable, allowing you to work on a track as inspiration strikes. Use it as a drum pad, create your own synth patch or put all of your tracks together in a workstation with no constraints and no mouses.

But with thousands of apps out there it can incredibly hard to cut through clutter to find the perfect ones for your style or genre of choice. So to help you out, we’ve sourced the six incredibly useful apps for hip-hop music production.

hip-hop production
Photo: Ableton

Pulse Code Boom 808 – $2.60

In the realm of hip-hop production, no other drum machine has been more influential nor more prolific than the TR808, originally released by Roland. These days there are plenty of apps that simulate the sounds and capabilities of the 808, but none come close to Boom 808 by Pulse Code.

It boasts all of the original drum sounds and maintains the original aesthetic, while also featuring a compressor, swing function, sequencing and live recording. For only a few dollars in the app store, you can create your own booming 808 beats for a minuscule fraction of its original cost.

Akai iMPC Pro – $19.99

Upon its initial release in 1988, the MPC60 was seen less as a sampler and more as a complete revolution of how hip-hop producers could manipulate their samples. Akai has since released nearly a dozen varying versions of the MPC60, but for the mobile producer, it’s hard to go past the iMPC Pro.

Maintaining the original design of the innovative sampler, the app allows you to sample straight from your tablet’s microphone (via line connection) and copy songs from compatible apps or from your music library. The iMPC has 64 tracks, with each one featuring 3-band EQ, pan and up to four effect sends, meaning you can build your track however you want from the ground up, be it jazz hip-hop, trap or G-funk.

Korg Gadget – $62.99

Japanese company Korg have anyways been ahead of the pack when it comes to innovations in music production. They built one of the very first drum machines in existence, and have made countless breakthroughs with their synthesisers, analog workstations and now, software for tablets like the Korg Gadget.

This app features around 30 different synthesisers, drum machines and samplers from the Korg range. Each digital synth has dozens of sounds, as well as easy-to-manipulate parameters. The app also functions as a DAW, meaning you can piece together all of your beats and synth lines within the one program. No wonder it won plenty of end-of-year awards in 2016.

IK Multimedia iRig (adapter) – $179

Let’s say you want to focus on old-school hip-hop from the 1980’s. You want to make something reminiscent of Public Enemy or Beastie Boys and you want to experiment with recording live instrumentation – in particular, guitar. But what if you don’t have half a dozen pedals lying around, or you’ve just blown your amp, or the prospect of wading through the multitude of complications associated with record live instruments seems like way too much effort?

With the iRig you just plug your guitar into the adapter, plug the adapter into the headphone jack of your tablet and you’re ready to go. You can control up to 4 stomp-box emulators at once and utilise a bunch of exceptional amp modellers. The iRig is so good that we’ve even seen a bunch of pro guitarists dumping their pedalboards in favour of it.

Moog Model 15 – $46.99

Finding an app that can recreate an analog synthesiser is incredibly easy. Finding one that can recreate a modular synth? Not so easy. While analog and digital synths are much simpler to use and manipulate, the ability to create a new synth using patch cords is something truly special.

The Moog Model 15 app is modelled after the modular synth of the same name. Each module has been painstakingly recreated, allowing the user to twiddle every knob, control every filter and connect as many patch cables as you please. It was the very first modular synth app to be released for the tablet and still to this day remains one of the best synth applications out.

AudioBus – $7.99

Now that you’ve downloaded all the apps you need to create the tunes of your dreams, the next thing you’ll want to do is find a way to connect them all. Perhaps you enjoy the sound of the 808’s, but you want to find a way to process effects over it. Or maybe you’ve created the best sample-based beat with the iMCP Pro, but you want to export it to a DAW like the Korg Gadget.

The AudioBus is a live app-to-app audio router and the solution to all of your production struggles. Simply select what app you want to send, be it synth or drum machine. Next, select what app you want to filter your audio to (you may want to feed your synth through a separate reverb app for example). Finally, select what app you want the processed audio to arrive at and you’ll be able to fully harness the power of all of your apps combined.

Ableton Link

There’s no doubting the plethora of powerful applications ideal for creating, writing and hip-hop production. But are there any apps that are ideal for playing live? Say you’re using 4 tablets on stage at once for a live performance, or you’re having a jam with friends. How can you ensure that you’re all synced up?

Link is the latest technology produced by Ableton, and allows users to sync up various music programs and apps over one or more tablets. Anyone can start or stop playing at any time and if one user adjusts their tempo, all the others will follow. And better yet, all of this is done via wireless connection, so there’ll be no more tripping over a tangle of leads on stage.