NanoStudio Q&A with Matt from Blip Interactive

Hopefully you’ve heard of NanoStudio already, the amazing new app from Blip Interactive. I put a few questions to Matt from Blip Interactive about the app, his motivations, and what might be next.

PalmSounds: What first made you decide to make a music studio app for the iPhone and where did you get your inspiration for the design of NanoStudio?

Matt: I’d been working in the console games industry for a decade but was finding that the ever increasing development team size meant it was difficult to feel I was making a difference. The iPhone was a great opportunity to get back to roots level and since I’d always had a passion for electronic music the timing seemed right to explore that passion from a coding perspective.

I was careful not to get too influenced by anything else out there. I’d tried out various existing music making apps and the common element I found in all of them was that although they were fun in their own right I always stopped using them after a while because it was difficult to go much further with them. Musicians seemed willing to put up with copying and pasting between several apps and I felt that musicians needed the whole package – integrated sampling, synthesis, sequencing and mastering. The challenge was to fit all this functionality into a cohesive UI, and to ensure that the phone’s CPU usage could be minized to deliver a good battery life.

PalmSounds: When you were designing NanoStudio what was most important in terms of user interface and workflow

Matt: My primary concern was to be able to do as much as possible without interrupting the music. I wanted to be able to mute sequencer tracks and edit presets whilst playing the keyboard, and to be able re-arrange a song without ever having to stop it. The phone’s screen space made this a major challenge and it became essential to understand that will never be possible in all cases. Important functions must be directly accessible, less important functions may be put behind one menu level and infrequent operations may be put behind two. Also no matter how good the UI, user mistakes will sometimes be made. The key is to ensure that the effect of these mistakes are minimized by placing frequently used UI elements alongside infrequently used ones and making undo options available wherever possible.

PalmSounds: What is the feature in NanoStudio that you’re most proud of?

Matt: It’s tempting to single out a few areas here – I think that the quality and the flexibility of the synths turned out beyond my expectations, the sequencer/automation is pretty powerful and the resampling function adds a lot of creative depth. But singling out one or even two features is probably missing the point to some extent. The real difference that NanoStudio makes is that it does all these things together in a single integrated environment.

PalmSounds: NanoStudio is being released for the iPhone. Obviously it can be used on the iPad, but are you considering an iPad version or indeed a version that will take advantage of the iPhone 4 or iOS4?

When I started this development for iPhone no one even knew about the coming iPad. When the iPad was announced I had a rethink about the project’s priorities but decided to stick to my original brief. The iPhone market was (and still is) the most popular and I didn’t want to derail the momentum I already had. Additionally, the iPhone forces a strict design discipline which can be logically extended to iPad, but trying to force a native iPad application back onto a phone would have been a disaster.

Whatever one’s position is on the iPad it’s difficult to deny it’s musical potential. It’s the first device I’ve really seen which sits right in the middle of the age-old hardware/software debate – on the one hand the software is cheap and upgradable and doesn’t take up a whole room and on the other there is a large highly interactive multi touch interface. The only remaining barrier is a truly tactile surface and velocity sensitivity – maybe third party add-ons can really bring something here.

NanoStudio will be coming as a native iPad application, and due to the importance of the iPad as a music making device it will be sooner rather than later. I don’t really see iPhone 4 making much of a splash over 3GS when it comes to music making aside from one factor – extended battery life. iPhone 4 has more CPU horsepower and I’d generally favour optimizing the code to give twice as much play time rather than using every percent the CPU has available.

PalmSounds: Thinking ahead, where would you like to take NanoStudio next and do you have a roadmap for new features?

Matt: I have my own ideas about a whole range of improvements and extensions for NanoStudio, but I’m going to sit tight for a little while and monitor user feedback to help steer the priority for future development.

I’d like to consider other platforms. Many of my tech/music friends favour Android smartphones but the Android operating system isn’t quite ready yet due to its high audio latency. I’d like to explore better integration between ‘proper’ grown-up desktop DAWs and NanoStudio. Once this is seriously addressed then mobile music making can finally be elevated from uber-gadget status to a truly indispensible musician’s tool.

If you haven’t seen NanoStudio as yet then you really owe it to yourself to check it out especially as it has 25% off at the moment.

Click the button to see it on the app store.



26 thoughts on “NanoStudio Q&A with Matt from Blip Interactive”

  1. Matt seems sharp and understands the needs of electronic musicians on the level of some Desktop prog developers. I really enjoy where this is headed.

    He strikes me as someone as the hardware gets better adding stuff like multi-sampling/library import (.sf2, .sfz, .gig, etc.), granular/wavetable synthesis, separate audio tracks/recording/automation, track-freeze/bouncing, flexible architecture, heck even an open-sdk with the potential for (basic) 3rd-party plug-in effects support (ala bhajis loops).

    The important thing is to have a developer that already understands and anticipates demand… rather than waits until the users ask for a certain feature set. Not enough regular users are going to ask for let's say tempo-automation (my personal pet-peeve with mobile apps these days), microtonal support, or odd time-signatures but when its there and you need it… hell. yes.


  2. Not enough regular users are going to ask for let's say tempo-automation (my personal pet-peeve with mobile apps these days), microtonal support, or odd time-signatures but when its there and you need it… hell. yes.

    Good input there Mr A. I'd support these suggestions too. 🙂


  3. I love that the guy gets that these should be mobile apps and not try to cram every last thing in there to try to replicate the desktop experience. It's about workflow, on-the-go.


  4. Congrats on the app, Matt. It's an amazing feat for one dev and the immensely positive reception is well deserved.

    It'll be interesting to see how BeatMaker 2 stacks up in comparison, as that's the other highly anticipated music app.


  5. I bought nano studio and I reallly don't get this puppy dog enthusiasm.

    Clearly it hasn't been out long enough to give it a really fair test.

    That said, it seems to me to be nothing more than the essentials of a daw workstation. It doesn't excel beyond what any desktop daw does.

    On the other hand there are many iPad apps that have actually innovated and invented new and exciting workflows and approaches to creating music organically. They have no parallel or competition in the desktop world.

    In no way has nano studio bothered to acccept these influences or innovate along the same lines of thinking

    For months and months this blog has talked up nano studio. The reviews and interviews over the last few days have been over the top. I certainly haven't seen the same sort of enthusiasm for the truly innovative apps.

    I have never had any appreciation for the Reason, this is a less functional duplication of Reason. Further it's likely to stifle the development of more inventive approaches as recreating the daw will likely become the standard of things — a culture of all inclusive functionality excludes smaller developers and risky approaches.

    From an arts perspective this is a big step back…. For making beats… Well, fabulous, more fucking beats…


  6. I would much prefer an AudioPaste like library made for developers that would make it easy for any small developer to implement a real pipeline than this unimaginative potluck of twenty year old tech and ideas.

    Audio copy/paste/record/export
    Midi copy/paste/record/export
    Dsmidiwifi and osc

    Please don't bother suggesting it be me to implement this.


  7. Casey: You say “On the other hand there are many iPad apps that have actually innovated and invented new and exciting workflows and approaches to creating music organically.”

    How about some examples?


  8. I can see Casey's point, but sometimes it's nice to actually make real songs rather than just hours on end of sonic experimentation. NanoStudio will never fill the place of Jasuto or abcdefghijk….., but then these apps never pretend to make actual songs either.

    I also think it is vitally important that we don't forget to support the many free or 59p apps etc, which are essentially are or maybe are one or two effect instruments or devices, as these are the basis of experimentation and many new programmers, who may one day go on to produce really interesting and experimental apps.

    I still love abcdefghijkl…… It's just another 'brush' in my sonic arsenal (along with NanoStudio) 🙂


  9. I agree with SOME things that Casey was saying. I personally will still look to other apps in terms of creative and artistic potential.

    But really i think he is missing the point. Some of us don't just want to sit in our bedrooms making weird, inaccessible bleeps (sometimes i do) and then jerk off to it in our minds. We want to make music. And even more, we want to actually be able to make it on the move, and nanostudio gives us the most power to do this on the move so far.

    Many people are thrilled with this app – the market has spoken, and presumably the app's fanbase will care little for Casey's argument. Use the tools that make you happy, I am not going to question anyone else's musical nuances. I am sure all the greats of our age, the true innovators probably wouldn't either.


  10. The list of interesting apps with no desktop parallel is great, bloom, gliss, squiggle, thumbjam, tweaky beat, noise machine, iJammer, nanoloop… there are so many. They are no secret. They are listed every day, many I haven't even had a chance to purchase.

    I have already seen one decline of small experimental software.

    This was around the time of Cubase VST 5, 1999 ish, just as VST was emerging. At that point there were many interesting experimental apps — things (that were impressive at the time) like sound hack, Argeïphontes Lyre, metasynth; most were specifically for the mac.

    They were all simple to use (like iApps) compared to programs like supercollider, csound, max/msp, kyma that also came to maturity in that era.

    These apps coincided with a fertile reemergence of electronic music 1995-2002ish maybe?

    VST has since taken over. Apps that didnt mold into the vst workflow were all but destroyed and we have been narrowed into a single very specific way of creating music. This approach is strictly based in convenience.

    Amplitube just came out the other day… More are to come. What big companies can offer in abundance is convenience. That is the promise of nanostudio as well. If six months from now steinberg came out with a product that splits the difference between nanostudio and their flagship desktop Nuendo, who would stick with nanostudio and why? Simply stating preference doesn't address a concern of merit.

    My gripe isn't that it is going to overrun the smaller software though. Thats competition and I am fine with that.

    The praise for nanostudio, something that has done nothing more than offer convenience is over the top.

    Endless noodling is not particularly valuable from an art perspective either, which is why I suggest the need for resources to help tie them into a diverse variety of pipelines.

    Of course to the individual, who isn't concerned with the long term implications of creative software development, a brush is a brush is a brush and I'm sure nanostudio will turn our some fantastic music. I bought it because I am in that camp as well.


  11. You've actually raised some very interesting points in all this.

    It seems you are saying that mechanical, technical, developer and programmer-led experimentation in software is the only true way forward vis a vis 'art' and 'creativity' in digital music.

    And yet, most of the creative music that we've seen in our life time has been made with the simplest of musical instruments – samplers, drum machines,and yes, even guitars. It seems that creativity in music (is music even art, BTW?) is almost directly opposed to avant garde development in software.

    It seems there are two separate arguments, almost opposed to each other. In one you say 'Of course to the individual, who isn't concerned with the long term implications of creative software development, a brush is a brush is a brush'. The individual, such as myself, is more concerned with creativity in music, most commonly, and using the tools that most promotes this goal. The other argument is that creativity in software dev is being stifled by applications such as NS, whose desktop cousins have produced some of the most creative, intersting music of my lifetime.

    I agree to a point – i really don't want to hear 'more fucking beats' a la the intua beatmaker massive – but orange is not the only fruit. I will be really intersted to hear what other people do with NS – and moreover for me what I am going to do with it! If you feel any of the unashamed 'puppy dog enthusiasm' for your instruments that i have for NS then I am am truly, truly happy for you!



  12. I am not saying that nanostudio stifles creativity — it stifles developers in getting numbers to fundamentally new approaches in software. These are approaches that might not only allow for new and undefined ways of making music but ultimately more enjoyable ones.

    The cliche is build me a ___ not a better horse carriage. Nanostudio feels like an oil company with an electric car in its palm.

    Your whole point is based on taste. You have to assume that I agree with you as to what the greatest music of our life time is and how its being made (assuming we are even of the same generation)

    I know that my favorite artists of the last number of years have used all means available and appropriate to the work… much of it well outside the realm of technology altogether.

    I can see where that would seem to be a bit of a cop out, but I have found the electronic music of the last several years less that astounding. If i would much rather listen to Joanna Newsom than dubstep where does that leave us?

    We both still require these tools dont we? — I tend to think that catering to the moan of the democracy has left us in a state of vintage emulation stagnation on the desktop side of things… Nanostudio is complete with rack spaces.

    Just today I read a snippet in an interview with a iApp developer who proclaimed how happy he was that he could return to small scale software development where his efforts finally seemed to matter. That disappears when the level of software complexity and sophistication on the iPad is raised back up to what is beyond a single-o developer to maintain.

    ” I will be really intersted to hear what other people do with NS – and moreover for me what I am going to do with it! “

    Thats fine, but it really doesn't have anything to do with what we're talking about. Music is always recognized within the context that it was made — you will enjoy the best of what exists no matter what the age or conditions it is created under. I really do love Joanna Newsom does that mean samplers and synths aren't necessary anymore? That is what you seem to be implying.

    The thought process of — these fine things were created this way and so thats just fine… its a little trite.

    Again, Mr Dj Shadow could have looked at that mpc2000 and said “no, if bass amps were good enough for the beatles…”

    Sampling as a concept was big. Huge both in terms of defining style and in progressing the greater ideas of absolute music (the continuation of of ideas in music derived from the classical tradition).

    To say Entrouducing is a masterpiece because of the sampler is missing the greater point. Entroducing is strong because of the sample — and everything that that meant for music going forward. Its also rather catchy.

    At the time they were pioneering the idea of the Sample — that was not simply a technical feat, but an intellectual one. Whether it was Entrouducing that did the bulk of the invention or another album of that era, isn't relavant.

    I think these devices ignited a multitude of new possibilities both technically and creatively, some of them might prove to be as indivisible as the sample — concerns for absolute music… or not depending on what opportunities arise and maintain.

    So yeah! Nanostudio, a b minus bent on cobbling concrete shoes for the future.


  13. All very academic, and this may indeed sum up my argument. Music doesn't give a shit re aesthetic arguments in defense of software innovation and developer integrity in relation to pushing the envelope, and generally musicians will use the tools they need. Which in this case is Nanostudio, as evidenced by a glowing review of said software! And this was my only point. You say 'your whole point is based on taste' – which is false, however, as many artists who revolutionsed music in many ways with new and creative ways i think suck. And they would think that the iPhone or Pad or Palm or whatever as a musical tool sucks, too.

    So I am not arguing with you, just saying that you can't, nay shouldn't really poo-poo a popular software just because you think its generic and outdated, if it clearly works for some, maybe most people. I'll be happy to consider alternative producing means myself if someone whould show me something i like and that seems useable. Again, clearly people want this tool and imagine that they can use it more constructively for their music than any manner of new and inventive apps. If everyone starts to want these new and unusual applications that create new pathways of creativity then great: i will nto tell them to 'stick with what you know', the alternative approach to yours.

    'The thought process of — these fine things were created this way and so thats just fine… its a little trite.' Well, i feel that that's a reductionist interpretation of what i was saying: all i meant was that artistic creativity and experimentation seem to flourish well enough with tried and tested tools. But it's not even that. People want this software. Why reinvent the wheel if it works? So the NS's of the world may kill off the more experimental applications which – whilst allowing stroking of chin with a no-finer accompaniment – have proven to be less popular to the music making public, who don't really need to be lectured on what they should be consuming!


  14. This sucks that sucks.

    Music doesnt give a shit… like Music the pleasant persona? Philip Music. I like Staffy as a Christian name.

    Its very clear in all of the text i've written that I am bemused with the over the top review. I think nanostudio is alright enough for what it is.

    “which in this case is Nanostudio,as evidenced by a glowing review of said software!”

    So your evidence that I am wrong in having the opinion that the review of nanostudio is over the top, given all the reasons I've mentioned, is the review itself?

    I want this baby named Staffy Music after his grandmother.

    I'm happy to entertain the idea that the practical nature of academia can be quite limited in scope… Leading a well summed argument with an attack on thought as a whole is just not the way to go.

    First, let me say school is stupid. Second, fuck books and history.
    I like turtles.

    At least reverse them turtle lover.


  15. Casey – “That said, it seems to me to be nothing more than the essentials of a daw workstation. It doesn't excel beyond what any desktop daw does”

    This is true, but nanostudio seems* to be the first ipod app truly capable of this. Do you not think that this is a -fantastic- achievement for something thats on a mobile device and costs less than a tenner?

    *emphasis on 'seems' because yes, we havent had a great deal of time to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses, but all signs are good so far!


  16. I also think Casey is missing the point. The point isn't that it doesn't exceed desktop DAWs. The point is that it's even comparable at all. I wanna make music. Complete songs. Period. The most important part of music is the end result, not how unique the method to make it was. An app like NS simply gives you the most powerful, and quickest way to get to the end result of a quality musical composition on the iPhone. Now start making music.


  17. I think that people looking to iOS to be their central music production environment – at least in this generation, before the coming inevitable macbook/ipad convergence – are misguided. It's an inherently mobile OS for inherently mobile devices; the goal of an app like Nanostudio is to perform the fundamentals or essentials of larger, desktop-based programs and real-world tools in a completely mobile/in-pocket context that's even smaller and more portable than a laptop. Sure, there are a few people out there doing “tiny rigs” with things like a monotron, kaoss pad, and an iPhone, but the general, mainstream, middle-of-the-road use for iOS music programs is mobility.

    I have about $20K worth of real-world equipment that I use to make music, but I love using Xewton, Beatmaker, and now Nanostudio (which makes the other two all-but obsolete for me) to work on programming and arranging on my commute and lunch break so that I can later continue my work with that $20K of modular synths, tape machines, Bro Tools, etc. Nanostudio absolutely excels at this.


  18. Personally I DONT think that Nano Studio has gotten exaggarated publicity in this blog. There was a few posts this spring that NS is coming (when the first demo video was out) and a post when a preview was sent to the author of the blog.

    Although, there have been some posts on other apps that I am not so happy to have bought.

    But not this one, NS is a great piece of code. Thanks Matt!


  19. I don't think casey has been following portable music for very long– It's come a LONG way in a very short time. I think he'd more understand the 'gushing' going on when a really well done app comes our way.

    GREAT app, awesome idea on the PC demo it sold me. I too, have been awaiting beatmaker 2 and am very curious to see them head to head.

    $15 goes a LONG LONG way compared to the days of palm and winmo. Great app, hope you get the $$ you deserve for the work that went into this. Apps like this give power to the peoples.. imagine if the OLPC scam was instead ipods with software like this..


  20. I dont care enough to defend my points further.

    Your only rebuttal to the many clearly stated points is that I smoke weed. Whether you agree or disagree with my points I still find you disgusting.


  21. I will only say, with regard to the more novel Mac apps from the 90s that are no longer around, many of those didn’t make the major transitions (from OS9->OSX and from PPC to Intel). Most of these apps were experiments cooked up by one or two man development teams. It’s understandable that people without needed resources and time might not be able to make the jump between architectures.

    That said, Metasynth is definitely still around, runs on Snow Leopard on Intel Macs, and is better than ever.


  22. Hmm- been a playin' all weekend- and I've found a couple of bugs namely in the Autobeat function and the parameter write function in the save department, and lastly, I'm getting a little frustrated with the non-apple interface 😦 So there IS space for improvement. 🙂


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