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Four common mistakes in audio development

This is a discussion of four common mistakes that audio developers make, how to do better, and how to detect whether there’s a problem. It’s written primarily for developers, but should be accessible to non-developers too. I introduce Realtime Watchdog, a diagnostic tool for developers, and provide a brief survey of popular audio libraries.

Making audio apps is enormous fun — it’s rewarding, there’s huge scope for creativity, and then when you’re done, other people use it to be creative too! There aren’t many fields that are like that, and I consider myself very fortunate to be able to work in this area.

But there’s also a serious side to working with audio. As audio developers we have a responsibility to our users to, basically, not embarrass them in public. A DJ whose equipment emits an ear-piercing crunch mid set will not thank us (well, it depends on the club. Maybe they will?). Nor will a performer whose backing drum machine clicks and crunches distractingly, throwing the performance. Same goes for in private — if the user just nailed a take, only to discover that there’s a giant click in the middle of the recording, they’re going to be cursing our name.

Now we’re living in a post-Audiobus/IAA world, where our users’ setups often span multiple apps, one bad actor can mess everything up, and it’s often impossible to tell from where the problem originates.

Imagine if Loopy HD had glitched in the middle of that?

The audio engineer on The Tonight Show told me the main reason that they chose Loopy for the segment above was because he had been a Loopy user for years, and it has always been solid and reliable.

Even if there’s just a one-in-ten-thousand chance that an app will glitch during a typical session, well, that’s one glitch a day if your app sees ten thousand sessions per day, which is not uncommon. Two glitches a day if it has twenty thousand sessions a day. And I’ll bet most music apps have a higher glitch rate than that.

It can take just one glitch during a live performance for a musician to completely lose faith in their whole setup. The one thing they cannot troubleshoot in their setup is their apps, because it’s an opaque system. And so every app they’re using is indicted. They’ll stop using all of them. It’s an angry Facebook post to all of their musician friends waiting to happen; the exact opposite of what anyone reading this would want.

So, it’s this duty of care that we audio developers have that I want to focus on in this article, because our music apps have to be solid and reliable. All of the time. Read More »

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If you’re interested in the technical details around how music apps get made, this is an excellent talk by music technologist Greg Cerveny on creating music apps. He’s interviewed a bunch of developers (including the developers of Patterning, Fugue Machine, Elastic Drums, and me) about their process and their background, and these are the results. Worth a watch!

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An iTunes Connect screenshot management workflow

Ugh – iTunes Connect is really annoying to use when it comes to screenshots. There’re some third party tools out there, but it was still too hands-on for my workflow.

So I wrote a little script that does the stuff I want. I have a Sketch document that exports all the screenshots, and the script updates the iTunes Connect metadata XML appropriately.

In case it’s useful to anyone else:

Usage:

  1. Work on screenshots

  2. Setup:

    alias iTMSTransporter="/Applications/Xcode.app/Contents/Applications/Application\ Loader.app/Contents/MacOS/itms/bin/iTMSTransporter"

  3. Grab latest ITMS data:

    iTMSTransporter -m lookupMetadata -u [email protected] -p password -vendor_id APPVENDORID -destination YourApp.itmsp

  4. Open up the metadata.xml and remove the fields you don’t want to change – this is probably going to be the currently-live version, and maybe the product info at the bottom.

  5. Export all the screenshots into the itmsp package folder

  6. Run this tool (update_itmsp_screenshots.php YourApp.itmsp)

  7. Check that everything looks okay

  8. Verify

    iTMSTransporter -m verify -u [email protected] -p password -f YourApp.itmsp

  9. Upload

    iTMSTransporter -m upload -u [email protected] -p password -f YourApp.itmsp

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Thirteen Months of Audiobus: Part 2

This is the long awaited sequel to the tale of Audiobus’ development. I’m completing this article now, on the day we say an emotional farewell to our motorhome Nettle, who has today been sold to a new family in the UK. It seems like a fitting time to tie off some loose ends as we start the next chapter of our lives in our new home in Australia.

In Part 1 of this article, I wrote about the early stages of the technology which was to become Audiobus, our inter-app audio platform, now supported by over 500 great music apps. Part 1 ended just as Sebastian had one of his genius moments, which I obnoxiously left as a cliffhanger. So, onwards:

It was winter in the south of France, and I was buried in the best kind of work: A new project, and one that brought together a bunch of different interests into a challenging, exciting heap.

But first, it was time to move on and find a more satisfying place to spend the rest of the winter.

Read More »

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Want to be able to downgrade your apps? Save ’em before updating.

Regrettably, the App Store doesn’t really make it easy to downgrade apps if an update goes awry. This can be pretty problematic if you use your apps for critical stuff like live music and it all goes horribly wrong the day before a gig.

That problem’s pretty easy to solve though. Just back up your apps before upgrading. That way you can try out new updates without the risk. Here’s how:

Open iTunes, then select the “Apps” section from the drop-down box on the top right:

Screen Shot 2013 05 30 at 13 49 14

Next, find the app you want to back up, right-click on it, and select “Show in Finder” (or whatever the Windows equivalent is!).

Screen Shot 2013 05 30 at 13 50 52

Finally, grab the “ipa” file, and copy it somewhere safe.

Screen Shot 2013 05 30 at 13 52 04

If you want to be really safe, grab a piece of software like Macroplant iExplorer which lets you access the files on your device. Then hook up your iDevice via USB, and back up the Documents and Library folders from within the app. That’ll save all your files and config just in case the update applies some non-backwards-compatible changes.

Screen Shot 2013 05 30 at 13 56 34


Now, you may update your app with impunity.

If you change your mind and want to go back to how it was before, drag that backup you made back into iTunes, and tell iTunes to replace the current version. Sync your device, and if you backed up your Documents/Library folder, drag your backup back into the original app folder within iExplorer.

By the way: If it’s too late to make a manual backup, but you use Time Machine or another backup utility, then you’ll find the older version of the app in your backup, within your iTunes music folder. For me, it’s in ~/Music/iTunes/Mobile Applications.

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Thirteen Months of Audiobus

Tomorrow, Monday December 10, my friend and partner-in-crime Sebastian Dittmann and I are launching a project over twelve months in the making: Audiobus. We’re very proud of what we’ve managed to do, and we both firmly believe that Audiobus is going to fundamentally alter the way people create music on the iPad and iPhone.

You can find out more about Audiobus itself at audiob.us, but I wanted to take a moment to breathe, look back, and explain why the hell I’ve been so quiet over the last year. Read More »

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Experiences with some app promotion strategies

Buy my thingIn the dim and distant past, while in a moment of neglecting my PhD to work on the very first version of Loopy (which is now currently one of the most popular music apps on the iPad!), I had grand visions of an almost totally passive income, making apps. I love the creative initial product development process and, with naive optimism, I pictured pumping apps out and then sitting back and watching the money roll on in. Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Workweek had me enthusiastically lifestyle-designing and dreaming of all my free moneys.

I bet I’m not the only one, but of course reality struck and we realised that the App Store aint that kind of beast. Like any other product, an app needs to be actively presented to the world on a regular basis, and needs to be nurtured to keep it fresh and relevant.

I say “we” because at this point, my partner Katherine joined me after this particular revelation, and became A Tasty Pixel’s part-time marketing director and PR strategist — it’s taken two of us to keep A Tasty Pixel’s wheels turning smoothly, and we still have a lot to learn.

I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on some of the lessons we’ve learned in the past year, in which we’ve released a relatively successful travel planning and travel assistant app, The Cartographer, a very successful live looping app, Loopy, and its big brother Loopy HD, and tried a bunch of promotion strategies, some successful, some not, and some that haven’t yet run their course. Read More »

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