ShowOne review – backing track tool with click track for iOS

Download from iTunes App StoreShowOne logo 1 copyWhile the iTunes App Store is stuffed with a wonderful collections of synths, audio effect/processors, guitar amp sims, drum machine and DAW/sequencers, not every iOS music app has to slot into one of these more ‘sexy’ categories in order to be useful. Indeed, I’ve reviewed quite a number of ‘utility’ type apps for musicians over the last couple of years here on the Music App Blog. The subject of this review – ShowOne by developer One Zero One Audio – is just such an app and, if you are a regular gigging musician, this is one that might well be of interest.

ShowOne has actually been around on the App Store for about 6 months but under the name Sidestage. However, a few weeks ago, a new version (v.1.2) appeared and bought with it a name change to ShowOne. I’m not sure exactly what prompted the name change but, having been invited by Tony Fagenson of One Zero One Audio to take a look at the re-branded app, let’s find out what ShowOne (previously known as Sidestage) might have to offer the gigging musician.

Need to get everyone locked in to tempo for you live sets? Maybe ShowOne might help?

Need to get everyone locked in to tempo for you live sets? Maybe ShowOne might help?

Show starter

ShowOne is firmly aimed at gigging musicians and offers two complementary functions. First, it can be used to play backing tracks organized into user-defined set lists. Second, providing you enter the tempo for each track in your set list, the app can provide you with a count in (up to four bars) and, if required, a click at the set tempo to accompany you while you play.

ShowOne provides a combination of backing track playback and click track support in a single app.

ShowOne provides a combination of backing track playback and click track support in a single app.

The clever bit (well, actually one of several quite clever features of the app) is that, on output, your backing track audio is routed to one side of your iDevice’s audio output and the click goes to the other; you can, therefore, with suitable cable connections, hear the click in your ear while the backing track (albeit in mono) can be passed to your PA for you and the audience to hear. And, if you happen to have an audio interface that (a) features more than two channel audio output and (b) supports iOS, then you can get full stereo output from your backing track and still get that ‘in ear’ click/count in. I didn’t have to chance to try this out in testing the app but, if you were going to get serious about using this kind of utility in a live performance context, then I suspect it would be well worth exploring.

While there are probably a number of ways in which ShowOne could be put to good use, the obvious applications are (a) for the solo musician who performs using a series of backing tracks or (b) for a drummer (or even all band members?) who need to ensure that they at least start off each song at the right tempo. How far you might then take the backing track and/or click track support will obviously depend upon how your live performance is conducted… But if the drummer needs to be locked into a fixed tempo because sequenced parts are being triggered during each song, then this would be one way in which that might be handled.

You can have the click play throughout the whole track or, if preferred, just for a number of bars at the start.

You can have the click play throughout the whole track or, if preferred, just for a number of bars at the start.

At a practical level, the app requires iOS7.0 or later, is a 40MB download and runs quite happily on an iPhone (and scales up for the iPad). It is free to download and you get access to the full feature set to see how the app works but can only import a couple of your own tracks (a few demo tracks are also included so you can go through the process of building an example set list). An IAP costing UK£6.99 will unlock this restriction if you then decide the app is going to be a useful utility for your own use.

Show planner

Importing your own tracks/backing tracks into ShowOne is most easily done via iTunes File Sharing (although other routes, including DropBox and iCloud, are supported also). Various audio formats are supported including a WAVs and MP3s. When the app recognizes new audio files it can begin the import process. At this point you can specify the tempo and the time signature for each file. For each track this is a ‘once only’ process and the app then remembers the data.

As you import new tracks you can set their tempo and time signature.

As you import new tracks you can set their tempo and time signature.

This is all very easy to do but it also identifies two technical details that potential users need to be aware of. First, at present, the app only supports 4/4 and 6/8 time signatures; if you like more esoteric time signatures then, at present, perhaps ShowOne will not give you quite the flexibility you need. That said, if you set the internal click to be just that (a simple click), then as long as it follows the tempo, maybe that’s not such an issue? There is a further IAP that unlocks different sounds that can be used for the metronome/click track feature.

Second, note that the tempo is defined as a single value for each track. This does, of course, assume that your music doesn’t contain any tempo changes. For lots of contemporary electronic music that may be a safe assumption and for a low-key solo performer with a few gentle backing tracks to strum/sing along to, then maybe that’s also not such as issue. However, if you are a band that likes to vary tempo within a track, then ‘set and forget’ for tempo and click track might not be such a good thing. There are some ways you can use ShowOne to work around this, however, and I’ll come back to this in a minute.

Set list creation is very easy and list can easily be edited.

Set list creation is very easy and list can easily be edited.

Once you have imported your tracks, creating a set list (or set lists) is very straightforward and you can edit existing list and re-order the tracks within them. And, once created, you simply see the track listing for that particular set and can trigger play for the first track in the list (or any track in the list simply by selecting it). This part of the software is not so different from using any standard music player and you get the option to set the relative volume of the backing track and click track.

Tweak me

There are, however, some musician-friendly differences. First, on triggering playback, you get that click track to play along to. Usefully, if you prefer, you can adjust a global setting that gives you a count in for a set number of bars (1 to 4) before the track playback starts. I found this very useful and, for a drummer wanting to make sure they set the band off at something close to the required tempo, it would be a really useful option.

If you want a count in before the backing track starts, ShowOne also allows that.

If you want a count in before the backing track starts, ShowOne also allows that.

One thing that can be a bit tricky is making sure that the audio files you have imported actually start right on the first beat of a bar and, as a result, then sync with the click track playback. You can, of course, do some audio editing of your files before importing them but, usefully, there is also a ‘click delay’ setting that allows you to fine-tune this in a range up to 500ms…. You should, therefore, be able to get the click and backing track to sync up without too much trouble.

There are further options for track editing also. For example, you can ‘trim’ the start and end points of each track. This is, however, only at the whole bar level; it doesn’t, for example, provide you with a waveform view where you can top and tail the audio as you might in an audio editor. That might make for a useful addition though if Zero One Zero Audio what some development ideas… and it would certainly be another way to ensure that the track playback hit a proper bar/beat starting point.

The Click Delay setting makes it easier to sync the click to the start of your backing track.

The Click Delay setting makes it easier to sync the click to the start of your backing track.

You can also pitch shift the backing track up/down in semitone steps without changing its tempo. This might be useful if your singer prefers a slightly different key to the original. The pitch shifting works pretty smoothly over a couple of semi-tones although, go much further than that, and you will start to hear some audio lumps.

Back me up

So, if you do use backing tracks, SongOne can be considered as a useful backing track player with both set list and click track features. However, you can also use it just to give the band members a tempo starting guide because you can chose to have the count-in active but no actual click track while the backing track is playing. That might be useful if you have tracks in your set list that do vary in tempo… at least you could get off to a suitable start. Indeed, for a drummer, you could simply have a set list of ‘dummy’ audio tracks for each track in your set list that allow simply allows them to hear a count-in at the right tempo as a prompt to get things right…. although there are perhaps other apps you might use for this, ShowOne could most certainly be used in this way.

The app allows you to set the levels of both backing track and click.

Amongst other features, the app allows you to set the levels of both backing track and click.

I can’t say I’ve tested the app in a live performance context… but simulating the process in my current studio room, the potential is obvious. It might take a little setting up but, if you do a lot of gigs, and perhaps play a lot of different sets (maybe in a covers band?), I could see this being a useful tool.

The show might go (further) on?

Having explored what ShowOne currently has to offer, I couldn’t help but think of some other features that it would be great to see in an app intended for this function. Aside from some different time signatures, perhaps the most obvious feature would be support for variable tempos and I can imagine a number of ways in which such a system might be implemented.

For example, how about an option that allows you to create your own tempo ‘map’ for a track simply by playing along to the backing track as a preparation stage after importing the track? This might be something as simple as tapping on the iPhone screen to create the beat but, equally, it could also just mean getting your drummer to tap out an audio click track that the app records and then plays back alongside the actual backing track. You could then have any number of tempo variations and, indeed, cope with any time signature changes in a very natural fashion.

There is also a pitch shifting function built into the app.

There is also a pitch shifting function built into the app.

A further option might involve something like the automatic beat/tempo detection offered by an app such as Live BPM. However, in this case, the automatic tempo detection could be done offline – again as a stage just after the track had been imported – and, as with the drummer created click track idea above, generate a tempo/click track file that would simply then play back alongside the backing track.

I’ve no idea if One Zero One Audio might already have these sorts of wishlist features – or others – lined up for some future program of development but it certainly would take what is already a neat idea one step further. And, I expect, open up a somewhat wider potential audience for whom the app might become a very useful live performance utility.

Used with a suitable audio interface that has support for more than 2 output channels, you could have a stereooutput for your backing track (that the audience and band hear) and a separate mono output for the click (which only the band hear).

Used with a suitable audio interface that has support for more than 2 output channels, you could have a stereo output for your backing track (that the audience and band hear) and a separate mono output for the click (which only the band hear).

In summary

ShowOne is a very good idea and, as the original download is a freebie, there is no risk in giving it a try, exploring the feature set, and seeing if it might be of some potential use in a live context for your own musical endeavours.

I would guess most serious users would also want to use the app with a multi-channel audio interface so that they could get stereo output from their backing tracks and a separate mono feed for the click track but, that technical issue aside, at UK£6.99 for the ‘unlock’ IAP, if ShowOne is a tool you could use, it will probably pay for itself in convenience before you finish your first gig. Well worth a look for gigging iOS owners who appreciate a tempo guide when getting their band locked in to their tracks.

ShowOne


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