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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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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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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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