5 Fun Stocking Stuffers for Any Musician’s Smartphone

I have fond memories of making do with whatever I had to record tracks and make some music. I was that kid with a two boom boxes – recording, rewinding, then recording while the other one was playing. Then you’d flip that tape into the other one, and do it again. Hell, 4-tracks seemed like voodoo magic when they came out. “You mean it’s backward masking on Side 2? Mind blown!” I had a Tascam, and of course, a Vestax. While they lacked in quality, those methods provided a solid foundation for knowing you could just hit record and get something down. Now, it’s so easy with DAWs and even portable audio recorders to do it at a much higher quality level.

2013 has been the year where music production apps for your phone or tablet have really come of age. The algorithms and processors are now fast enough to handle a whole lot of data. The old standby, GarageBand (iOS $4.99), has improved immensely since the old Mac desktop version. If you have a screaming new tablet, you can really carry a studio with you. Impressive standouts on tablets include FL Studio Mobile (iOS /Android $19.99) and Steinberg Cubase 7 (iOS/Android $9.99).

But sometimes, it’s nice to get out of sequencing and multi-tracking and get back to just messing around making something cool. I’ve noticed that a lot artists I know feel like they need to create amazing tracks whenever they record. We’ve lost that child-like, playful instinct to just mess around and have fun.

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With that in mind, here are some cool apps for your smartphone that make music. Some are probably on tablets too, but mostly these are the cheap or free ones for your phone. These aren’t for pro productions, they are meant to be fun and to provide you some inspiration. Most of them have social sharing and saving. Some have more mixing capabilities than others. So, this holiday season, mess around with some apps for making music, get out of your comfort zone, and have some fun.


(iOS – $.99)

Figure is beautifully simple. It’s great for beginners, and has a really easy way of sliding across the screen pad to create sounds. Loaded with drums, bass and lead synth. You can set loop length, and export files to iTunes cloud, SoundCloud, Twitter, and Facebook.



(iOS – Free) 

It’s voice-to-music technology that the makers describe as “turning your phone into a Synth Kazoo.” Vocolo is an app that is “played” like a kazoo, where you hum or sing into the microphone and it creates an instrument. But instead of just one sound, there are multiple instruments; multiple effects settings allow you to jam to backing tracks, too. You sing in a melody and it translates it to a bass or clarinet, or other instruments.

solo liteSolo Lite

(Android – Free) 

Purely for guitar enthusiasts, this app does it flawlessly. If you play guitar, the interface for chord finding is fantastic and the layout for chord structures really helps you visualize exactly which strings are making up the chord. And as far as strum touch apps on Android, I believe this one is the most responsive


(iOS – Free) 

Musyc falls in to the category of matrix creators. By using planes on the screen matched with tonal or instrumentation settings, you can easily “plot” a song. You do this by “drawing shapes” and then tweaking their sound and attack like a sandbox creation. And with 64 instruments, it’s quite the playground.


(iOS – $2.99 /Android – Free) 

Another entry into the burgeoning “voice-to-music” category, Songify takes your voice and turns it into a song. They call it “songification” and you don’t even need to be able to sing, just speak. The results can be mixed, but it is fun to burn a few hours with.


-Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development.

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