Whether you are a songwriter, or a musician who plays in a gigging band doing lots of functions (weddings, parties, etc.) and have to have access to a wide repertoire of songs to suit the occasion (or requests from the floor), trying to keep all those songs – and all those chord charts – in your head is an accident waiting to happen. Most of us resort to a notebook or binder/folder of some sort. This is safe… well, safe-ish until you leave it somewhere. The alternative is to use a computer; easy to backup but difficult to transport to your next gig for instant recall and not so helpful when you are out and about and want to continue working on a song idea.
A mobile computing device such as an iPad is, potentially, a solution to all these issues; the display is large enough to see a typical song chord chart on, it’s portable and easily mounted on a mic stand at a gig or propped on a table while you work on a song idea and, like a desktop computer, the data can be easily backed up so if you lose the actual device (painful enough) you haven’t also lost all your song details as well.
And, if you attend the occasional indie artist or solo performer type gig, you will not have failed to see just how widely an iPad or iPhone appears on stage alongside the musicians. This is a technology that is getting widespread use as a practical aid to the gigging masses.
All we need, of course, is a suitable music app to manage this song cataloguing, set-list managing, chord and lyric chart displaying, process. There are a few available but one of the most widely used is SongSheet from the development team at Ghostdust.
The essence of SongSheet is very simple; it provides an environment where you can create chord/lyric sheets for your collection of songs (your own songs or those written by other songwriters – this is, therefore, also a tool for collating your own song ideas). These are then catalogued within the app, can be searched quickly and, for live performances, organised into set lists, allowing you to step through a series of chord sheets with just the swipe of a finger.
What’s more, songs and set lists can be emailed either to yourself (for backup purposes) or to other band members so you all get to play the same songs in the same order at your next gig (always a crowd pleaser!). In principle then, SongSheet sounds like a very useful tool.
Big or small?
Until now, SongSheet has been an iPad-only app. To a certain extent, that’s an obvious design decision given the larger – and therefore, more easily viewed – screen of the iPad, iPad Pro or even the iPad mini. In an ‘on stage’ environment, bigger is probably better when it comes to reading chord charts or lyrics as you are performing.
However, regular users have been requesting an iPhone-friendly version of the app for some time. While the smaller screen format might mean a bit of squinting (although perhaps not too much if you happen to use an iPhone Plus model) on stage, as a means of carrying around your song catalogue and your ‘song in progress’ ideas at all times, an iPhone version would undoubtedly be a good thing.
To answer those requests, as I mentioned last week, Ghostdust have now released a specific iPhone version while the iPad version gets a ‘Pro’ tag to separate the two apps. And, yes, before you ask, these are two separate apps so, if you already own the iPad version, you will have to pay for the iPhone version if you would like to use it.
At UK£7.99/US$9.99, I’m sure regular users will already appreciate that this is pretty small beer for such a useful utility. I can also appreciate that reworking of the SongSheet interface to work within the smaller iPhone screen real-estate will have required a considerable investment of time for which some financial return will be required. Even so, I do wonder, whether Ghostdust might offer a ‘complete my bundle’ option at some point so that existing customers can be rewarded with a bit of a discount if they want to add the iPhone version to their current iPad ‘Pro’ version?
Having reviewed the iPad version of SongSheet on the Music App Blog previously (back in 2013), and provided coverage of the many updates and feature additions since then, interested readers might like to dig into those various posts to catch up on the key features and details of the app. There is also a very comprehensive PDF manual now available on the Ghostdust website that provides an excellent introduction to the key features of the app.
In essence, what you get here is a number of functions. First, you can use the app as a songwriting tool by creating a ‘new song’, setting the key/tempo values (these can easily be changed if required) and then entering both lyrics and chords as your song idea develops. The app helps you in this process by offering you a set of chords appropriate to your chosen key but you can easily tap on a chord and change its form with a very wide range of chord types available (yep, even enough for most jazz folks!). There are also options for transposing or applying a capo…. and the chords in your song will automatically adjust to suit. This is great if you need to shift a song to a different key to suit a specific singers range… or just to make the chords easier to play on a guitar for example.
If you happen to play a lot of covers, thankfully, the second key feature is that you don’t have to enter all those lyrics and chord charts by hand; SongSheet has a pretty good set of ‘import’ options. This includes making a pretty good stab at importing PDFs that you might have taken from your favourite chord sheet/tab websites. This process is well worth experimenting with because it can save a huge amount of time when you are initially transferring your catalogue from either a paper format or from another electronic format (such as PDFs).
Third, once you have created your song catalogue within SongSheet, you can then create custom setlists – essentially collections of the as many or as few songs as your require – and save these for later recall. Setlists can also be sent to other band members who are also using SongSheet and this is a great way to make sure that everyone turns up to the gig knowing what’s due to be played on any particular night. There are all sorts of options in terms of sharing… it is a pretty flexible process.
And perhaps the final key element of the package is playback of those setlists…. This allows you to step through each song in the setlist (of course) but there are also other features in this element. This includes an auto-scroll feature so that longer songs will move across the screen as you play them.
Equally, if you choose, each song chart can be linked to an actual audio file. This could, of course, be a commercial track if you are simply using SongSheet to learn a new cover… However, it could also be a backing track – whether in rehearsal or live – and, as such, for a solo performer who has prepared suitable backing track audio (maybe drums and bass?) to accompany their live guitar and voice, SongSheet could provide both your song charts and your backing audio source in one integrated environment.
All present and correct?
Given that there is a considerable difference in size between and iPad and iPhone screen size, you might expect that the iPhone version of SongSheet would have a somewhat streamlined version of the feature set found on the iPad version. In fact, there is not a lot that’s MIA….
Having chatted with Gabriel Hauber from Ghostdust, he indicated two main differences between the iPhone and iPad (Pro) versions of SongSheet. At present at least, the iPhone version lacks (a) the full library search (with tagging, etc.) features found in the iPad version and (b) the option to create and edit custom ‘themes’ (colour schemes), although you can import themes created on the iPad version.
These differences aside, the iPhone version contains all the key features of the iPad version aside, of course, for support for the SongSheet ‘remote’ where you can use an iPhone to control SongSheet running on the iPad. The last of these is, therefore, perhaps not such a surprise.
I have a number of friends who do more live performance work than I do and who use SongSheet on a regular basis as both solo performers and when working in a band context. They are all very complementary about the app and, while everyone would acknowledge that building up a catalogue of songs electronically is, initially, a bit of a slog, I think SongSheet does its very best to make that slog as painless as it can be.
Personally, I use the app to catalogue both my own songs – it’s a neat editing environment for lyrics and chord charts – but also for keeping track of covers I might be interested in learning and/or practicing at some stage. The import features are particularly useful here and, if the app succeeds in capturing the chords correctly from a PDF (for example), it’s great to then be able to transpose it to find a key that suits my own (somewhat limited!) vocal range.
Having used the iPad version in these roles for some time, I’ve grown used to the larger screen format and it is a pretty comfortable place to work. With a suitable mic-stand clip holder for my iPad, I’ll often use the app in the studio when I’m working on acoustic guitar parts or vocals…. and that’s also great in a live performance context.
Substituting the iPhone version in for all these roles is, of course, now a possibility. In the (sometimes) chaotic world that is live performance, I think I’d still prefer to larger screen to work with for ease of use. However, if your eyesight is better than mine – or you have an iPhone Plus model – then the new iPhone version of SongSheet would, I’m sure, work just as well.
However, where the iPhone version really excels for me is in its portability. My iPhone is always with me (OK, not in the shower) so, whether it’s an impromptu bit of a jam through some Beatles covers with a friend, or a sudden bit of inspiration to fine-tune an ‘in progress’ song/lyric idea, the iPhone version is a great option. Yes, I’d still choose to do my real donkey work on the larger iPad screen, but for convenience when out and about, the portability of the iPhone version is a real positive.
For busy songwriters or function-playing bands, it is easy to see how SongSheet could make organising all your chord/lyric charts so much easier. For example, if you make a living – full-time or part-time – from playing in a covers band, this could well be a real time saver and a comfort blanket when you need to pull out a song you haven’t played in a while at short notice. In that context, the app’s price – even if you by both the iPad and iPhone versions – is a snip and will easily pay for itself in convenience.
Yes, if you have a big library of songs, whether stored in a paper format or ‘captured’ from chord sheet websites, it will always be quite a task to get them all set up within SongSheet. This is not a criticism of the app – it would apply to any digitisation of such a catalogue – but thankfully, it is a one-off task. Entering or writing songs from scratch is easy enough and the only real downside is provided by the limitation of using the touchscreen keyboard for lyric entry. Adding or editing chords associated with the lyrics is easy because of the well-designed user interface.
SongSheet is a very neat utility app and the development team at Ghostdust seem responsive to their users and keen to keep it moving forward with new features. And while some might grumble (they always do) at having to pay a second time for the iPhone version, development of the more compact version of the app has undoubtedly involved some considerable work; that investment needs to be recouped…. and maybe a bundle pricing will come along at some stage? The iPhone version is great to see though. I suspect I’ll use it in a somewhat different fashion than I do the iPad version because of the extra portability/smaller screen combination but that’s a positive thing….
If you are constantly cursing those lost paper-based chord/lyric sheets, then SongSheet – whether the ‘Pro version for the iPad (UK£10.99/US$14.99) or the new friendly version (UK£7.99/US$9.99) – might be just the solution to your problem and, for regular live performers or serial songwriters who get into the SongSheet swing, will undoubtedly represent a good investment.
SongSheet for iPhone