Let’s make sweet music with our guide to the best apps for musicians
“Never fall in love with a musician,” warned Lucy in Charles Schulz’s timeless Peanuts comic strip, as she pined, unrequited, for the Beethoven-loving Schroeder. But what about a musician who uses a music app on their smartphone or tablet to record or make music? Are they still undeserving of our love?
No, of course not. Why, if anything they’d be ahead of the game if they embraced the technology that was available – and so who wouldn’t want someone who used their own initiative to enhance their creativity?
With that being said, here are TechWeekEurope’s favourite apps for musicians – you can thank us in the sleeve notes of your debut album.
The game-changer of music apps, GarageBand is an already recognisable piece of software as it comes ready-installed on OS X and iOS (look away now, non-Apple users) for you to make your aural masterpiece on. With an array of Touch instruments at your fingertips, you can flit between laying down drum tracks (using a virtual drum kit as your guide), piano chords and slick bass grooves, recording as you go along. What’s possibly the best thing about GarageBand (at least for amateur musicians, anyway) is how you can blag it: using “Smart Instruments”, you can pass off professional-sounding strums, notes and rhythms as your own without having to actually know how to play them on an actual instrument.
So now that you’ve recorded your prog-rock opera, you need some listeners, right? Well, what better way to do that in 2015 than by using the excellent streaming site SoundCloud? Set up an artist account, create your own profile page, and upload your tracks in mere minutes to a global audience. Once you’ve done that, download the free accompanying app and watch the play count stack up into the millions. In a nutshell: it’s pretty much what Myspace was for musicians back in 2005. And look how long that lasted!
- Guitar! by Smule
Guitar! Exclamation points really do sell an app, don’t they? Smule’s interactive guitar platform lets you first choose your axe – Acoustic, Grunge Rock, Pop Rock, Classical and Alternative Country (!) – and then permits you to rock out, Guitar Hero style. Simply tap the notes as they appear (or strum the virtual guitar) to perform a famous pop song – which you can also do in tandem with users of Guitar!’s companion app, Sing!. There’s also scope for improving your tempo, technique and timing, as well as adding your own flourishes to the performance. You can also utilise its ‘Freestyle’ mode to pen your own compositions for the app’s soundtrack, and listen back to your performance with the recording function. A tad pricey for the full service ($39.99 annually), but still fun.
- Guitar Tuna
Not an acoustic-wielding fish, but a tuning app that’ll help you keep your beloved instrument in perfect tune whenever you need it. Made by the excellently-named Yousician Ltd, it’s a virtual tuner that’ll work for electric, bass, and 12-string guitars, as well as banjos, ukuleles and mandolins. Apparently “the number 1 guitar tuner app on the App Store”, Guitar Tuna certainly benefits from its “built by guitarists for guitarists” M.O – there’s alternate tuning settings (drop D, open, etc., which are in-app purchases), an ‘auto mode’ that lets you tune string-to-string quickly, and, perhaps most importantly, it’s ACCURATE. SO VERY ACCURATE.
- FunkBox Drum Machine
If you’re looking to lay down some fat (or was it “phat”?) beats, FunkBox is the music app for you, oh yes siree. Used by Gorillaz, tUnE-yArDs and Mark Lanegan – among a host of others – FunkBox comes ready-stocked with a smorgasbord of vintage drum machine sounds (808s, CR-78, LM-2, etc) for you to play around with. Looking like a classic drum machine in its interface (but with some much more attractive colouring), there’s many dials and levers to play around with – perfect for someone already enamoured with drum machines, and, at, £3.99, an absolute steal for anyone who wants to get into this sort of thing.
- Traktor DJ
Available only on iPad and iPhones (sorry again, Android users), Traktor DJ claims to be the “world’s first professional DJ software for iOS” – that’s exciting for you Apple users, isn’t it? So, with the help of Traktor DJ, you can now unleash your killer playlists and mixes on an unsuspecting audience whenever you want – fade in, accomplish transitions and scratch virtual discs (presumably) to your heart’s content with this music app. Who needs decks, anyway?
- iDrum Tune
So you’re a drummer, eh? Good on you – we drummers never get much of the credit. But where would The Who be without Keith Moon? The Stones without Charlie Watts? The Beatles without Ring… oh, right. Anyway, if you’ve a penchant for bashing tom-toms, rattling hi-hats and kicking the heck out of cylindrical drums, then chances are you’ll want them sounding tip-top. iDrum Tune tries to simplify the surprisingly-infuriating task of tuning drums – yes, that is a thing – by providing a graph that shows what frequency your drum is currently tuned to, which, if you know your stuff, will help you gradually adjust it to the ideal setting. There are also tutorials and other bonus features at your disposal, naturally.
‘“Simple, useful, and good looking! Love it!” – D. Yang.’ What an endorsement! MetroTimer is your pocket metronome, which claims to be “more accurate than any other metronome app for iOS.” And D.Yang didn’t even say that (or maybe he did)! Anyway, metronomes are an important tool in any recording environment as they help musicians keep in time, so it’s quite handy that MetroTimer claims to be the most accurate service of its kind around. There’s also “visual indication [that] allows you to ‘see’ the beat”, which sounds about as sexy as you can make a product description about a metronome sound.
- Walk Band
It’s surprising that no endeavouring indie four-piece has yet to adopt the name Walk Band as their artistic moniker, but then the world has a lot of surprises, doesn’t it? Anyway, Walk Band is Android’s answer to GarageBand – what do you mean, bandwagon-jumper? Come off it now… Delivering the user an array of virtual instruments for them to compose their masterpiece – or, let’s face it, mess about on – there’s also support for External MIDI Keyboard over USB, meaning you can connect your YAMAHA or Roland midi keyboard/controller with Walk Band – nifty.
- The Booth Rap Studio
Fancy yourself as the next Ghostface, Pac or Fetty Wap? Of course you do. The Booth Rap Studio – an Android exclusive – will help you achieve this kind of goal: “Have you ever had a dope punch line while driving, or even while sitting on the toilet? No studio, no pen, no pad – no problem.” Finally, an app that’ll help me whilst I’m being creative in the bathroom! Transforming your smartphone into your own personal studio, you can whip out the app whenever you like to record your vocals, upload your own beats (or take advantage of the library of instrumentals on offer), and share your fruits of labour with the world. What do you mean, “no”?!