The advent of the smartphone has made things significantly easier for anyone who plays music for a living - or even as a hobby. In the past you needed to carry many different items with you to auditions, rehearsals or gigs. Nowadays, you can simply download apps (short for applications) to your cell phone for free that will serve the same purposes - and voila! An all-in-one tool!
This list takes into account what happens most often in the real world, and the go-to apps that you'll need to be prepared for any and all circumstances as a working musician. If you had to actually own several different items that only provide one function individually, it would cost you hundreds of dollars - and you can often lose or break any these electronics...which ends up costing you even more money. Not good when you barely get paid much to begin with.
The following apps are available for both Android and iPhone unless otherwise noted. If you don't already have these on your phone, download them immediately. They're free!
In order to get to the gig - in most cases, you'll have to drive. Sometimes far. If you're a responsible musician, you'll leave home so that you'll get to the venue on time. But as we all know, unexpected things happen on the road.
Waze is a community-based traffic and navigation app that offers constantly updated maps, real-time traffic and road info, and a large user base to network with in your area - regardless of where you are.
When you're crusing down the highway and suddenly traffic comes to a screeching halt, Waze will show you the exact location and reason for the problem, how far the traffic is backed up, and alternate routes you can take to get around it - all provided by other drivers that are further down the road.
I've used this app more times than I can remember in the last year. With a point system that plays like a game, Waze makes it fun to be stuck it traffic! Ok, maybe not - but it is an incredibly useful and handy app to have at the ready when you need some help with your travels.
Replaces: GPS, Fold-out maps, CB Radios
2. Smart Voice Recorder
This easy-to-use gem can be incorporated into many different circumstances in your musical life. It's basically just a simple digital recorder, but lends itself well to the needs of a musician - with its basic functionality and custom settings. Here are just a few examples of ways to utilize this killer app.
- keep an audio journal
- record a lesson - either as a student or a teacher
- preserve a sudden lyric idea
- record your vocal warm-ups and play them back anytime and anywhere
You can even capture your band playing live. This app includes the ability to calibrate your mic to the maximum volume of what you intend to record. So you'll get playback that doesn't sound distorted or over-driven, regardless of where you set down your phone. Very cool.
With additional settings such as skip silence option, silent mode (so phone calls and texts don't interfere with your recording), and 65 hours of available recording space, it's a no-brainer to have this app on your phone. (Android only)
Replaces: Digital Recorders, Pen and Paper
3. Mobile Metronome
If you want to take your playing seriously - even if only some of the time - you should have and use a metronome. Especially if you're a drummer.
Mobile Metronome is simple to operate and features everything you would want in a timekeeper. You can set the tempo by beats per minute (BPM) or tap it out yourself. You can also save and load presets, set complex meters, adjust anywhere from 2 to 20 beats per measure, and do everything and anything else you need to keep time.
Use it in the car on the way to the gig to lock in vocals with the groove. Fire it up in your bedroom while you're practicing scales. Make your band rehearse quietly to a steady tempo. Use your imagination! Get this app and make your playing tight. (Android only).
Replaces: Metronome, Hand-Clapping, People Who Can't Keep Time
4. Brightest Flashlight
All good roadies carry a flashlight on their hip. Some smart musicians keep one in their gig bag. But batteries are expensive, and usually die when you most need some illumination. This essential app has one job - and lives up to its name.
There are plenty of times when you'll need it. Stages are sometimes dark and you'll want to see things. People lose their keys and need a searchlight. Vans break down at 1:00 in the morning in the blackest desert area of Nevada with no electricity or light source for miles (yes...that happened to me).
This is one of the simplest apps to use ever made. And there is no excuse to not have it on your phone.
Replaces: Flashlight, Cigarette Lighter, Squinting
This may not be a practical app for use at a show - guitar players and bassists usually have a stomp box or rack tuner included in their stage rig - but for many other situations, this app is super useful.
Featured on gstrings is an ultra-sensitive tuner that uses your phone's built-in microphone to pick up any sound frequencies in the room. Tune up in a snap by optimizing for your chosen stringed instrument with its advanced settings. Set your scale range, mic sensitivity, and temperaments all with ease.
This app also lets you play the sound of any note if you want to tune by ear, or maybe find your harmony while practicing vocals. It'll even auto tune your voice so you sound perfect every time! (Just kidding. That's all on you.) (Android only)
Replaces: Tuner, pitch pipe, harmonics
6. Sound Meter Lite
Sometimes when you're playing a gig, you want the band's volume to be at the proper level for the room that you're in. There are also times when local law enforcement officials will police the sound emanating from the venue. For these instances and more, you want to have a db meter in your pocket.
Sound Meter Lite (which is the free version) is a simple decibel meter that accurately gauges the levels of noise in the proximity of your phone. It displays an analog/digital readout in one, as well as a real-time graph.
Download this to your phone, open it up in different situations as you go about your day, and notice how noisy life is sometimes. (Android only)
Replaces: Decibel Meter, Earplugs, Handcuffs
Isn't it frustrating when you're driving in your car, listening to the radio, and a song comes on, and you really like it, but you don't know who does it, and the DJ doesn't tell you? Darn right it is! Well fret no more...because Shazzam is here.
This app is genius. It "listens" to whatever music is playing, and within seconds displays the song title, artist and any other information you want to know about the track. You can even click a link and buy it right then and there! Super cool!
Shazzam offers several other features such as exploring pop charts anywhere in the world, saving your searches, and networking with other users via Facebook. All this for free!
Replaces: Tape Recorders, Limited Pop Music Knowledge
8. Amazing Slow Downer (ASD Lite)
Are you ever trying to learn a song, but a riff or lick goes by just too fast to pick out all of the notes? Did you ever want to loop part of a tune over-and-over again easily so you could practice it until you have it down perfect? Does it frustrate you to try to learn Guns n' Roses songs because they're a half-step down? Well luckily for you, there is this excellent app to solve all of those issues, and it's available for free.
Amazing Slow Downer Lite is possibly one of the most valuable tools that you can own as a working musician. To get started, you simply import a track into the app where you then can control the speed, the pitch, and the mix. The interface is exceedingly simple to use - and the results are fantastic.
When you slow a song down on ASD, it doesn't change the pitch! So now you can figure out any riff, lick, run or line that you've previously had difficulty with. You can then loop any section and play along until you get it right. You can also pick out a favorite section of a song that you'd just love to jam and improvise over. Just set the start and end point and it'll play repeatedly to your heart's content.
Artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Kiss, Van Halen and many more have recordings that were tuned a half-step below A440, which makes it difficult to learn them having to constantly re-tune your instrument. With this app, just move the slider until the pitch matches your tuning, and you're set!
This is by far my favorite of all of the free apps that I've listed for you. You can shave off hours of frustrating learning time by incorporating this fantastic tool into your practice routine - and get to the real fun of playing!
Replaces: Headaches ;0)
Android apps are available in the Google Play store.
iTunes apps are available in the iTunes store.
If you enjoyed this article, please share it!
Matt on February 05, 2016:
ASD isn't nearly as goos as Tempo SloMo. TS will slow music down to 20% speed with much better clarity. And the free version has everything you need.
Can't believe that IK Multimedia's awesome apps were not mentioned: Amplitube, iGrand, iLectric. Studio quality stuff, and the free versions have plenty.
The free iOs version of iGrand sounds better than full-up PC piano synths, including Komplete's, which I have.
Dave on July 09, 2015:
RTA Analyzer, if you do sound reinforcement (like I do). Sound Meter, if you have decibel restrictions. MorphWiz, just for fun.
Blaze on December 14, 2014:
That kind of thiinkng shows you're on top of your game
Alfa on June 21, 2014:
Check out uFXloops, it's so much fun playing, creating and recording just with my mobile. And a great community where you can instantly download the samples you need.