Mobile Music Sequencer is here

The Yamaha Mobile Music Sequencer (MMS) is a fun tool for roughing out arrangements. MMS is an iPad app that uses a phrase- and section-oriented approach to building up full arrangements. A lot of rock, pop and dance music is repetitive, so once you have the basic building blocks (phrases), you can create loop-like musical passages (sections) and then combine the sections into songs.

I’ve been working with MMS for a few months now. I’m trying to create jam tracks for some of my favorite old soul jazz tunes like “Memphis Underground” and “Comin’ Home Baby.” The overall work-flow seems to be one way: create a song on your iPad with MMS then export the song to a computer-based sequencer or keyboard workstation for polishing. You cannot directly import a MIDI file into MMS. I have “imported” MIDI tracks by recording them with MMS — not a procedure for the faint of heart or MIDI novice.

By and large, MMS is intuitive and easy to use. The manual covers most of what you need to know in order to create new songs. If you intend to drive an external synthesizer (like the Yamaha MOX or Tyros) with MMS or if you export your songs as a Standard MIDI File, the manual does not cover important features such as the MIDI messages sent by MMS, program change numbers, etc. I’ve posted a page with this kind of helpful information.

Even though Apple has taken great pains to hide iPad files and the file system, musicians like to share their work. At the very least, we need to export and transfer our work to other computer-based tools and keyboards. No way around it, we need files.

Mobile Music Sequencer manipulates and produces four different finds of files.

  1. Individual MMS projects are stored in project files with the .yms1 extension.
  2. Individual phrases are stored in phrase files with the .yms2 extension.
  3. Sections and songs are exported as standard MIDI files (SMF) with the .mid extension.
  4. Mixdowns are exported as WAV audio files with the .wav extension.

When you are working within MMS itself, project and phrase files are transparent; you don’t see them. When you want to share or transfer these things, you need to know about them.

Apple provides two standard means of getting files on and off of your iPad: iTunes File Sharing and iCloud. You can directly access project files, MIDI files and WAV files through iTunes File Sharing. If you want direct access to your phrase files, however, you must have an iCloud account and use iCloud. The MMS manual strongly promotes SoundCloud as the way to access and share your audio files. SoundCloud is purely optional since you can transfer your WAV files from the iPad to your computer through iTunes File Sharing. This is a great relief because a free SoundCloud account is only good for two upload hours and thereafter you need to subscribe. BTW, would someone please explain what an “upload minute” is? I tried SoundCloud and frankly, I don’t need it or want it!

So, how do you use iTunes File Sharing? First, I’m assuming that you have a Mac or PC which syncs with your iPad. I use both Mac and PC and the procedure is the same. Plug in your iPad and let it connect with iTunes. Click to select your iPad device and then click on the “Apps” (pseudo-)button in the button bar for the iPad device. This is the same page that you would use to manage your Apps and home screens. Scroll down to the section titled “File Sharing.” You see two panes: one pane showing Apps and a second pane showing Documents. Select the “Mobile Seq” app and iTunes displays the documents belonging to MMS. Now you can add and save files. As I mentioned before, you have direct access to project files (yms1), MIDI files (mid) and audio files (WAV). iTunes also displays a few internal MMS files with plist, json, etc. extensions. Leave these the heck alone!

Life gets interesting under iCloud. You can publish projects and phrases to iCloud. First off, you need to turn iCloud on using the MMS SETTINGS > SYSTEM > GENERAL tab. Projects and phrases are handled differently.

  • Projects are published through the SETTINGS > FILE page. When iCloud is enabled, a little cloud-like icon is displayed to the far right of each project name. The icon shows the published or not-published status of each project. If a project is unpublished, its icon is grey and shows an upload arrow. Touch the icon to publish the project. The outline of the icon turns bright white after upload, indicating that the project is now published.
  • Phrases are published by saving them with iCloud enabled. You can use either the PHRASE > EDIT > SAVE button or the Save option that appears in the contextual menu for a selected phrase.

Published projects and phrases are accessible to MMS on other mobile devices connected with the same iCloud account. Please note, however, that you cannot access published projects via iTunes File Sharing. That’s right, iTunes file sharing doesn’t even show published project files.

Let’s say that you want to back up your projects and phrases to your Mac or PC from iCloud? Currently, if you’re on a PC, you’re hosed even if you have the iCloud control panel installed on your PC. You cannot transfer files through the control panel; you can only delete them. There are HOW-TO’s on the Web for turning on the iCloud daemon, etc. under Windows, but these techniques involve messing with the registry among other advanced Windows thingies. I’ve done this sort of stuff professionally and don’t really have much appetite for it when I’m not getting paid to futz with Windows.

Fortunately, I have a MacBook Air. Mac OS X has a double-secret directory to hold iCloud documents. First, open the Finder to your user directory. Press and hold the option key and open the Go menu in the menu bar. You will see a menu item called “Library.” If you don’t see “Library,” then you probably aren’t holding down the option key; the user Library directory is normally hidden. Select the “Library” item and the Finder goes to your Library directory. Double click on the “Mobile Documents” directory. This is where OS X keeps your iCloud documents. Double click on the directory with the identifier “mobilemusicseq” in its name. Then double click on the “Documents” directory. Lo and behold, you should see the project (yms1) and phrase (yms2) files that were published to iCloud. You’re now free to make a copy of your files. Go ahead. You own them.

That complete directory path, by the way, is:

User/XXX/Library/Mobile Documents/YYY~yamahamusic~mobilemusicseq/Documents/

where XXX is your user name and YYY is some iPad/iCloud cruft.

I believe that you should be able to copy project and phrase files to this directory, too. I haven’t tried this as yet, but you should be able to share songs and phrases this way. I want to share some of my songs and phrases in the future, so please stay tuned.

Hey, that you should get you going with MMS and file transfers.

Finally, an editorial. Hey, Apple! This is where the whole hermetically sealed tablet environment of the iPad breaks down big time. I find using iTunes and iCloud in this way to be a total kludge. A complete sack. Applications that create and edit media — like MMS — need to manipulate and transfer arcane files. Please find a clean way to transfer and share media files! And, please give iCloud Dropbox-like features. It’s really kind of tacky to maintain a closed environment like this. We own our files, not you.