Q&A with One Red Dog’s Peter Johnson -
You can read the history of One Red Dog Media here, so I won’t go into it here other than to say Australia, and inparticular, Melbourne has quickly grown into a creative hotspot on the global playing field for iOS software developers, with some of the best selling games and other apps all being produced in this exciting city.
So being a native of this great country, naturally I wanted to find out more about the creator of Arctic Keys (and Molten Drum Machine), so Peter was kind enough to take the time out to answer a few questions, as an inaugural guest of our ‘iOS developer profiles’.
- How far back does your interest in electronic musical instruments go?
That probably goes back to the early 80’s. I remember hearing Jean Michel-Jarre’s Oxygene that my father had on vinyl along with Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. The sounds of those recorders were very unique at the time, so that really opened my ears to synthesizers. There was also a lot of synth pop in the charts then and that really stood out compared to guitar bands. Now, electronic music is everywhere. My parents bought me a Yamaha home keyboard, I think it was the PSS-680, amazingly it hadMIDI. It was exciting as I was learning to program on the ZX Spectrum, so we got a MIDI interface cartridge for the 48k. Later my Plus3 had a built in MIDI interface. I remember writing some software in BASIC to send MIDI to the Yamaha. I still have both Spectrums and the Jarre vinyl.
- Do you have much of a collection of musical gear?
Yes I have a home studio that also doubles as my office. I’m a Logic user. I have a small collection of hardware synths from Yahama, Moog, Korg, Nord, plus the obligatory soft synths such as Sylenth, Korg Legacy and so on. There’s then a mountain of apps for iOS!
- You come from a background in video game development, so what inspired you to start creating musical apps for iOS devices?
That’s right my professional software engineering career started with game development in the UK. After moving to Australia I also worked in mobile telecoms, games and Mac development. Basically, after I was made redundant I started One Red Dog with the idea of developing iOS music apps. I did a couple of games but they didn’t quite meet sales expectations, so I wanted to try something different. I was doing some music production as a hobby and it was a nice fit to start to actually make my own instruments.
- How many are on the team at One Red Dog Media, and what other types of projects do you work on there?
One Red Dog is myself and I contract a graphic artist when needed. Right now I’m the only programmer and I spend all my time developing and maintaining my apps.
- Molten Drum Machine was your first foray into serious music and beat creation apps, and easily one of the first real stand outs in grid style drum machines for iOS. What inspired this as your first music app?
Around 2007 I was speaking with a musician friend of mine about the newly recently released Tenori-On. We liked the idea of a grid of notes but we felt it was too restricted just to be 16-steps. We wanted to be able to split the notes up, to make triplets. With a physical button that not possible. So I wrote a simple sequencer for the Mac called Molten. I decided that bringing Molten to the iPad would be a fun thing to do. The touch screen seemed to be the ideal surface for a grid based editor like I had with the Mac sequencer. I was using a Wacom with the Mac and substituting that with your finger is a great fit. So Molten Drum Machine came about.
- Then of course, along came Arctic Keys in October last year, which is a feature packed virtual analog synthesizer with a flexible step sequencer. With a growing number of quality synth apps appearing all the time, what have you aimed to do with Arctic Keys to set it apart from some of the others?
Arctic is feature rich and I wanted it to be a great sounding synth with all the features that people have come to expect: AudioCopy, SoundCloud, easy patch sharing and so on. This added a lot of depth to the app and I think it’s still one of the few apps with such a broad feature set. The alias free oscillators really help to make it sound clean and crisp. Most apps suffer from noticeable digital aliasing as you get higher up the keyboard, particularly the sample based apps (including some very popular ones). That’s usually my first test when I get a new synth, try playing high frequency notes and see if they are aliasing, Arctic usually wins.
I’ve also worked with other developers like Wizdom Music to ensure that Arctic works well with other apps. Arctic is the only synth app that fully supports Wizdom’s GeoSynth and Rob Fielding’s Cantor MIDI pitch bends.
- In general how have you found developing for the iOS platform?
I’ve been developing on Mac since OS X 10.3 and iOS is very similar. As a development environment I really enjoy it, I like the Unix underpinnings. Compared to some of the other operating systems and proprietary mobile phone development environments I’ve worked with, iOS and Apple’s tools are very slick.
- Does Apple’s latest iPad offer much in the way of improvements to developers of music apps?
The iPad 3 is really an incremental improvement. The retina screen is gorgeous. The increase in RAM is going to help those that like to run more than one app at a time. The RAM boost to 1GB is probably the biggest improvement.
- How crucial is the pricing of apps, to ensure their success?
That’s a really difficult question, as price does not necessarily reflect quality or features. The traditional perception of value through price does not apply. We see that with free apps and the apps that have the nominal $1 price tag. So in that sense the customer is expecting everything to be either free or nearly free, which makes it very hard for the independent developers to make any money. The lack of paid updates can also hurt you.
- Are you happy with the sales so far of your two music apps?
My apps have not hit the dizzy heights of the likes of GarageBand and Animoog. It’s been a huge learning experiencing and there’s still a lot of work to be done with advertising and marketing.
- Do you have a vocal community of users regularly offering feedback? How has this effected to ongoing development of your apps?
I’ve incorporated a lot of user requests and feedback into both Molten and Arctic. I try to accommodate people’s requests as much as possible even if this means frequent updates. I’m also working really hard to ensure that the quality of the apps meets expectations and they have as few bugs as possible. That’s a really tough battle.
- What are some apps, you’re really enjoying at the moment, either music-related or not?
I have many music apps but I don’t really get chance to actually use them! I do like GarageBand and the Korg apps. The Foxtel app is essential for searching and booking programmes, the IMDB app, Bloomberg, Twitter, these are the ones I use the most.
- So what can we expect to see for the remainder of 2012 out of One Red Dog Media?
I’m busy developing a major overhaul of Arctic with a new synth engine. In collaboration with a well-respected professional sound designer, the new app will include a new collection of presets. I hope this will address a lot of people’s complaints with Arctic’s factory sounds. The synth engine is also massive; we’ve managed to make some really significant improvements. As the development of this has been very big, it will probably be released as a new app rather than an update. I’ve also been working on a very exciting new product with an ARIA award-winning artist, but that’s all I’m going to say for now!
For more information on the latest developments at One Red Dog Media, head to the official site - http://www.onereddog.com.au/Arctic Keys
Developer: One Red Dog Media Pty Ltd
Developer: One Red Dog Media Pty Ltd