If you are new to the world of music apps for your mobile device, and bewildered by the choices offered by the App Store or Market Place, where should you start? Well, this is obviously a personal list, and the coming months will obviously bring a whole slew of alternative music apps to tempt us, but here is what would be my current ‘starter for ten’ – a top ten list of the music apps that I have on my own iPhone/iPad. I intend to look at all of these in more detail in later posts but, for now, here are just a few comments to get us started. See what you think of my choices and, if you have some alternative suggestions, then feel free to add a comment. If you want to find out more about a particular app, click on the link which will take you to iTunes. In most cases, this will be to the iPad version but you can then just follow your nose if there is a separate iPhone version also.
Yep, the ’daddy’ of them all but certainly one of the best. Garageband on the iPad manages to combine fabulous virtual instruments, audio recording and some decent guitar recording tones into a single package that is suitable for non-musicians to have fun with and musicians to use as a very respectable ideas platform. If it wasn’t for the lack of post-performance editing, this would be hard to beat – doh! And now they have with the latest update alongside the 3rd generation iPad (although it still works on the iPad 2). Not the most sophisticated of part editing but a useful and welcome addition. Garageband would be a steal at twice the price.
If you like to create synth-based dance music, there are a number of excellent apps that might fit the bill. However, Nanostudio is most certainly one of the best. With the ability to layer three instances of the very usable synth plus a sample-based drum track, it is easy to lay down the basis for your latest club tune. The user interface is easy to navigate and, unlike Garageband, you can edit parts after you have played them in. Projects can also be moved to a desktop computer version of the software for further editing if required.
I know this is not strictly a ‘music making’ app, but it is something that, as a musician, I find extremely useful. There are other music recognition apps available but SoundHound does it for me. Stick it in front of your TV or radio and, providing the audio is of reasonable quality, the app will identify the artist and track. And it even provides links to iTunes if available. The app itself is available in a free (ad supported) or paid version and the latter is well worth the money.
As a guitar player, this is just a brilliant resource. It might seem a little pricey in app terms but a decent hardware tuner costs more than this app so, even if you just bought it for the tuner, it would still be a bargain. As it is, you also get all sorts of useful chord and scale reference material plus an excellent metronome plus support for 6, 7 and 12 string guitars. Not just for guitar players either as the same features are also available for bass (4, 5 and 6 string), banjo, mandolin and ukulele.
I’ve never been a DJ but this is still just excellent fun. Available for the iPhone but probably at its best on the larger screen of the iPad, this makes blending the tunes stored on your device an absolute blast. And with a decent playback system connected, I’m sure you could use this for some serious DJ work and the punters would be more than happy. Very cool.
IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube app is available in both iPhone and iPad formats (different prices and some differences in facilities). Aside from the app, you also need a way of getting your guitar signal into your mobile device (surprise, surprise, how about IK’s own iRig?) but, once you have splashed your cash for both hardware and software, this really is an excellent practice tool for electric guitarists. A decent collection of amps, speakers and effects and there are a range of ‘in app’ purchases to add extra features. While I’d not necessarily want to gig with it, for personal practice of jamming with friends, this is plenty good enough. There are other ‘amp simulation’ options out there, but this is certainly no slouch and, if you want to try before you buy, there is a ‘free’ version with a limited feature set to experiment with.
I love synths and there are some really good ones starting to become available as apps. Animoog has a wonderful retro-looking interface and is capable of some fabulous sounds. It is also fully programmable with lots of onscreen hands-on control options. While you can play it using the virtual keyboard, if you have a MIDI in capability for your iDevice, Animoog will respond to an external keyboard and, if you are feeling brave, connect it to some suitable amplification and play it at a gig.
If you play the guitar, then you may well know the UltimateGuitar.com website which seems to contain user-submitted tabs for almost any song you care to mention. Well, now you can have easy access to the same extensive resource from your mobile device. The user interface is well thought out and, as a tutorial resource, it is very handy indeed. If you need a quick chord chart for a song at a wedding gig, this could be a lifesaver.
9. Cubase iC
O.K., this is not going to appeal to you if you don’t use Steinberg’s flagship DAW Cubase, but I do. And while it can, on occasion, be a bit temperamental, to have a transport remote control on my iPhone or iPad for Cubase on my desktop computer is a real boon when I’m sat on the other side of the control room and trying to record some acoustic guitar. Incidentally, there are other ‘remote control’ apps available, some specific to particular applications and others more generic so, if you are not a Cubase user but fancy controlling your DAW from your mobile device, then get searching.
Also from Steinberg – and it will be familiar to users of Cubase 5 or 6 – but available as a stand-alone app for the iPhone and iPad. This is a mixture of loop playback, sound replacement and beat creation all rolled into one. The interface is excellent and, as a way to spark new ideas from tired old loops, it is great fun. Use it to build some new beats while waiting for the bus! Additional content packs are available as ‘in app’ purchases.