Loopy Pro Breaks Down Audio Barriers for Musicians (Again)

The iPad music scene is driven by awesome indie developers

Key Takeaways

  • Loopy Pro rethinks how a music app can work on any platform, not just iOS.
  • Loopy Pro costs $30 and offers a unique upgrade model.
  • Loopy developer Michael Tyson kickstarted the iOS music scene with AudioBus in 2012.
Loopy Pro beta session layout

A Tasty Pixel

In December 2012, app developer Michael Tyson changed the world for iOS musicians with Audiobus. Today, with the launch of his new app Loopy Pro, that's about to happen again. 

Loopy Pro is a successor to Loopy, the live performance app made famous by Jimmy Fallon and Billy Joel's looped, acapella duet in 2014. It's an app that lets you record and loop audio tracks, add effects, and arrange them on a timeline. Loopy utterly changed how music was made, bringing the fluidity of live performance to studio production; Loopy Pro does the same for iOS. One person made the app, which is the norm for iOS music-making apps. The trend has led to a fertile, experimental playground that is nothing like the old desktop way of doing things. 

"If you have an idea for an app and you want to make money on it, iOS is the best if not the only option," Giku, developer of iOS music app Drambo, told Lifewire via direct message. "[It's a] great, mature platform [with] no piracy, [with] a great community hungry for new apps. I think that's why the iPad became a magnet that attracted indie developers to realize their weirdest ideas and turn them into their livelihood. This story is about me too."

Origin Story

When Apple launched a version of its Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) app GarageBand for the iPad in March 2011, it operated in a vacuum. Music apps had no way to talk to each other. You couldn’t record the audio from one app in another, for example. 

"I wanted to make something that people could make their own."

In 2012, Tyson’s AudioBus fixed this. It was a virtual mixing desk that let you pipe audio from one app to another. It worked by making a snippet of code available that other developers could include in their apps. To say that this revolutionized iOS music-making would be an understatement. Even Apple saw its importance, and instead of banning this clever workaround from the App Store, it added Audiobus to GarageBand. 

Then, with the launch of iOS 7 in 2013, Apple added its own, inferior version of AudioBus, called Inter-App Audio. Audiobus incorporated this, and AudioBus remains in GarageBand today. 

Audio Units, AUM, and Drambo

The next chapter of music-making on iOS is the Audio Unit (AUv3), introduced with iOS 9 in 2015. These are known as 'plugins' in desktop DAWs, and they add functionality to the host app. They might be audio or MIDI effects, instruments, or utilities.

Audio Units are fantastic because they integrate with the host. You open up your project, and it's precisely where you left it. You don't need to launch a bunch of separate apps and hook them up every time you want to make music. 

The final reason for the AUv3 success story is that, compared to the desktop, iOS apps are dirt cheap. You can typically pick up Audio Units for a few bucks. Even the most expensive AUs, like those from long-time desktop plugin developer FabFilter, only cost $40, while the exact equivalents on the desktop range from $109 to $269. 

Audio Units exist on the desktop and can even be cross-compatible between iOS and Mac. However, their bite-sized utility found a perfect home on the iPad and iPhone, and their spiritual home is an app called AUM by iOS developer Kymatica. And Kymatica is, as you may have guessed, one person: Jonatan Liljedahl

I asked him why indie developers are so prevalent in the iOS music scene. 

"I think indie developers share an enthusiasm and personal investment in music and music technology that will often inspire and guide them in their work and development of great apps," Liljedahl told Lifewire via email. 

Loopy Pro developer Tyson thinks the weight of bigger companies makes it harder to develop for a more niche platform. "So many big [companies] have tried to approach the platform, but they've got this massive weight of, you know, being on the desktop," says Tyson. "And I think it's just hard to move from one to the other."

Loopy Pro promo image touting its features

A Tasty Pixel

AUM has probably had an even bigger impact than AudioBus on the iOS music scene. The concept is simple: You can host AUv3 plugins in the app, piping them into each other and letting them control each other. 

You can then route the audio and MIDI anywhere, like patching cables in a recording studio. AUM also integrates with hardware controllers and groove-boxes. It's possibly the most flexible piece of music software around and one which many musicians wish existed on the Mac. It really is unique, but it doesn't let you record and manipulate audio. 

The other app we have to mention is Drambo. It's impossible to summarize quickly, but the App Store description says it's a "modular groovebox and audio processing environment." It's a sequencer and sampler, but the developer, Giku, has also included all the components necessary to build your own electronic instruments. It's kind of like the Minecraft of music apps. 

Drambo also hosts audio units but kind of assimilates them into its environment. Drambo can be intimidating at first, but again, it's unique. Drambo also works on the Mac, but it's much better suited to the touchscreens of the iPad and iPhone. And, like all the other apps here, it's the labor of just one developer. 

Loopy Masterpiece

Loopy Pro's early codename was "Loopy Masterpiece," and that's a fair description. At its most basic, Loopy Pro works as a looper. You record a snippet of audio into one of Loopy's trademark donuts, and it keeps on looping while you play something else. But it also incorporates elements of AudioBus and AUM, so you can host any Audio Unit while routing their audio to any other Audio Unit. 

Then it gets wild. You can drag sliders and buttons onto Loopy Pro's canvas and assign functions to them. They may solo or mute a clip or chop it into slices you can trigger from a grid of buttons. Loopy Pro's merry band of beta testers has built quite an astonishing array of these custom layouts, all of which can be exported and shared with other users. 

"I think indie developers share an enthusiasm and personal investment in music and music technology that will often inspire and guide them."

You could even build a layout with the sole purpose of controlling other music hardware via MIDI. It's not a stretch to say that Loopy Pro, to a large extent, lets you build your own custom music app. 

"It's built on the fact that everyone wants to do it in their own way," says Tyson. "So I wanted to make something that people could make their own."

But he hasn't left out the core audience of his previous app: live loopers. 

If you've seen live looping artists, you'll be familiar with how they start with a single loop and build on it from there. KT Tunstall's live looping performance on the BBC TV show Later…with Jools Holland is widely credited as the point where live looping took off.

But looping like this is limited. Often, the audience has to sit through your build-up as you build up the parts, one by one. But Loopy Pro lets you set out not only premade sections on a timeline (percussion, for example) but also drop blank recording "boxes" onto that timeline. Thus, when the chorus comes along, say, the musician can play the part into that box, and then you won't have to hear it again until the next chorus. 

This makes for more complex, interesting arrangements that are simultaneously easier to construct on the fly. And Loopy Pro also works with external MIDI controllers, which means that once you're set up and performing, you don't have to touch the screen. You can use simple foot pedals or complex, LED-lit grids like the Novation Launchpad Pro, a controller designed for Ableton but perfectly integrated with Loopy Pro from the beginning. 

I’ve been beta testing the app for the past couple of months, and it has evolved into something quite incredible. As an amateur musician, I’ve mostly used Ableton Live and a few hardware music groove boxes. But now, I find that Loopy Pro is often the best option for almost everything. 

That’s down to the app, of course, which is just beautiful. But it’s also down to the community around it. Loopy Pro would be nothing without all those Audio Units and the indie developers who make and sell them. The iPad might not have anything quite like Ableton Live or Apple’s Logic Pro, but it doesn’t need them. iOS is its own flourishing, experimental, rewarding, and often delightful music platform. 

And Loopy Pro is the next chapter of that.

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