A recording studio on your smartphone
Nowadays, music can’t be comprehended without a smartphone in your hand with which to compose, practice and even play live.
At this point in time, nobody doubts that the music industry has been completely overturned in the last decade. The emergence of streaming platforms like Spotify and the appearance of smartphones have made it possible to access unlimited songs anywhere in the country with just a couple of finger movements. But this revolution is hiding another similar one that is listening from the other side of the mirror: that of musical creation thanks to applications that mean that classic recording studios are no longer as necessary.
The collapse that the internet caused in the traditional industry at the beginning of the millennium led to a reduction in budgets for recording music: record sales fell dramatically and people had not yet learned to harness the potential of the web. The resources needed to hire a recording studio or contract producers, sound engineers and session musicians were reduced to a minimum, and they could only be afforded by big stars.
But in recent years the whole thing has been turned on its head. At the start of this decade we saw how major artists, such as Wild Nothing, Mac DeMarco and Metronomy, brought out major records recorded and mixed just in their bedrooms thanks to the reduction in cost of digital production. Taking a step forward with this method, the young musician Steve Lacy, who has played in bands like The Internet, has been nominated for a Grammy for producing several songs for the rapper Kendrick Lamar. What’s new is that Lacy does all his work only using an iPhone.
Music is an expensive hobby: paying for classes, buying an instrument, spending money on rehearsal studios, recordings, etc. The smartphone has made it possible for all of this to come much cheaper, and it has become an indispensable support tool for all those who are passionate about creating sounds, from the most amateur to the most focussed professional. Both can find apps that make their work a great deal easier.
Learn to play anywhere
An absolute beginner can start to learn how to play the guitar, the piano or the drums with a simple couple of clicks. There are innumerable apps to learn how to play any instrument, although many of them only direct the user to YouTube tutorials and have little value in themselves. Some, like Coach Guitar (iOS) and Yousician (Android) go somewhat further and offer a mix between teaching and Guitar Hero that better motivates people who are starting out in the thrilling and tortuous world of playing an instrument. That said, although both are free to begin with, you have to dig into your pockets to progress through the classes, paying small amounts for the different levels.
Those who want to make a start with music theory will have an ally in PDFtoMusic, which reproduces any score in PDF format and allows you to export it to be able to manipulate it in score editing programmes. They may also find MusicPal (for iOS) helpful, as this allows you to take photos of scores and reproduce them on your phone. Anyone who is more advanced in their studies of harmony will take pleasure in Escalas de jazz (Android), which allows you to know in an instant which notes can be played over the most complex chords.
Study, study and study
Studying and practicing is something deeply ingrained in any self-respecting musician. Apps are no substitute for hours of study, but they can increase the productivity of those hours. iReal pro (Android) works like a backing group for each style that you need to rehearse, changing rhythms, chords, harmonies and instruments. What’s more, you can record yourself in a thousand different ways and listen back to yourself to check your progress.
If you sing, you also have some great options. One of the most interesting may be VocalizeU, because it helps to improve vocalisation, tuning and technique without damaging your vocal chords in the process. You have the option of recording yourself to keep checking your progress and you can opt for personalised classes: the app is the spearhead of the singing school DS Vocology, which is a specialist in distance learning.
"Apps are no substitute for hours of study, but they can increase the productivity of those hours"
Beyond vocal notes
Anyone who has dared to compose music can rely on their smartphone as an invaluable ally: the voice recorder lets you capture an endless number of hums, guitar phrases or biro percussion rhythms. But its function ends there, with many clips of several seconds with which you can’t do much more.
Bloc musical (iOS) enables you to go further, classifying your compositions, giving them accompaniment with virtual instruments, adding tags and editing clips to be able to share them on different platforms. If you prefer to work with scores, with Notion on iOS and Ensemble Composer on Android you can write whole symphonies from your mobile phone. For those who have ideas but don’t know how to develop them, Chordana is an interesting app that, from nothing more than two beats, can build a whole song for you.
A whole portable studio
If there is one app that has made recording easier for musicians, it is undoubtedly GarageBand. It is with this app that the aforementioned Steve Lacy records his music (with an iRig to be able to connect the guitar or microphone). Its simple interface, its ability to mix tracks and its virtual instruments have made musical do-it-yourself a delight. Others have tried to do something similar on Android, such as Music Maker JAM, but its limitations when trying to personalise loops leave it one step behind. In the professional arena, Avid offers a virtual controller for ProTools, the most famous recording software in the world, although it is not an app that works in isolation, rather it is an add-on to the programme.
There is a mobile app that preconfigures the ideal parameters for the professional recording of any instrument: it is called reSonare, it is available for iPhone and it also contains an extensive help guide for recording and the possibility of adding effects like reverberation or stereo depth.
Don’t get stage fright
In all the previous sections, musicians only have to concentrate on themselves, but what happens when they face an audience? Their smartphone can also be a great help in these situations: the aforementioned GarageBand has also been conceived for live music, being capable of launching rhythms and samplers, and so has Ableton Live (another standard for live music technology that has a mobile version).
Talking of sequencers and rhythm generators, there is a huge diversity of apps that allow you to play with virtual synthesisers, imitate mythical drum machines or have everything in one. Perhaps the most comprehensive and admired is Caustic, a true virtuoso of an app that will take you time to have a good command of, and whose free version is in itself very comprehensive. Program any rhythm, modulate all kinds of sounds, launch several patterns of notes simultaneously or program various sequences from a single device: what would previously have taken up several cases of equipment is now available on your mobile.
Bonus track: DJs
Not everyone is going to be traditional instrumentalists. DJs exist too and djay 2 is an essential tool for anyone who wants to play music from their mobile. It interfaces with Spotify, allows you to manage the tempo and tonalities of a theme, put in loops and do a pre-listening of the selected clip.
If you’re a musician and you want to take the next step forward in your career, perhaps you shouldn’t be thinking about buying a new instrument. You will also need a good mobile phone to develop all those ideas you have inside you and to delight your audience with your melodies
By Marcos Domínguez