Some of you may actually remember the days when you casually strolled into your local record shop and bought a CD to, you know, listen to. Everything was pretty simple back then.
If an artist wanted to get more creative and showcase more than just their music, they maybe released a CD-R with video content. There may have been a bit of web-based interaction too, but it was fairly basic stuff.
But with the rise of the mobile device and the inevitable draw of Apple’s app store, musicians and record labels have nowadays identified apps as a means to let their fans get more involved in the act of playing back the music.
There are now plenty of artist-linked apps…
There are now plenty of artist-linked apps in the app store of varying quality and imagination, allowing the audience to “play” the music in varying ways and blurring the lines between listening to it and performing, or “DJing”, it. Today we’ll take a look at just five of the current crop. (You can jump straight to each mini-review using the links.)
Mashbox by Beatport
Apps which allow the user to either remix or mash up tracks based on loops and samples are quite popular at the moment. These are unlikely to draw in new fans for an artist, but are appealing for existing fans.
Mashbox is quite good fun although perhaps limited in its use at the current version. It comes bundled with three tracks. When you load a track into the old school reel-to-reel unit at the top, six columns of loops become available, each row of each column representing a different loop or single sample (for the purpose of this article, I’ll refer to them as loops). Each column groups loops by type: Drums, percussion, bass, theme 1, theme 2 and “sweetener”.
You can adjust the volume and also apply some basic effects to each column in turn. To trigger a loop, you press the button of the column that you want played.
The developers have realised the importance of BPM and key.
Only one loop will be fired per column (so a maximum of six loops can be played at any point). This allows you to instantly rearrange key sections of a track, so it works best with tracks that are mainly loop-based; the Tone Loc Funky Cold Medina free track which is included is an odd choice as the lyrics have been split and I’m sure some are missing.
You can also load a second track into the other slot in the reel-to-reel, which then allows you to fire a drum loop from track A with the bassline from track B, instantly mashing up the two. Rather neatly, the developers have realised the importance of BPM and key, which are both present in the track selection screen, so you should be able to ensure that your choice tracks are complementary to each other. You can adjust the BPM using another retro-looking dial on the right.
Triggering loops is all quantised, so it’s pretty much impossible to miss a beat and cause a trainwreck. I found the audio a little glitchy at times on my first-generation iPad during multiple loop swaps, so probably not something I’d like to try in a live environment – at least not on my device!
Although this app is great fun, its limitation (as with some of the other apps in this article) is the library of tracks to choose from and the price you would pay for them. You need to buy tracks via in-app purchases at US$1.99 each. Currently the choice here is very limited. It would be great to see a wider range of tracks, artists and genres, however I suspect that this is a testbed and if successful it would be broadened.
You may have noticed that the development team behind this app are Beatport, who are behind beatport.com (an online MP3 store). The prices of tracks in the app are about a third more expensive than the same tracks listed on their main website. However perhaps over time this may change as the number of tracks available for the app increases.
The interface is very intuitive and slick in presentation, however it would be great to see in-app recording as a feature so you could use your mashups in one of the many DJ apps available.
Remiix Dubfire by Liine
This is another loop-based remix app, however rather than purchasing releases via a marketplace you purchase a different flavour of the same underlying app for each artist. This suite of apps has been developed by Liine, a company with a rich pedigree in music and touch-based interfaces (Ritchie Hawtin is among the founders and Axel Balley is a collaborator – he was the lead developer for JazzMutant Lemur).
As such, the Remiix series of apps work well. I gave the Remiix Dubfire app a run through recently (during a limited discount period!), although as mentioned all Remiix apps operate on a very similar basis. They take quality source loops / single shots from a number of tracks by a given artist and present them in a structured, intuitive and uncluttered format for the user to re-arrange on the fly.
Rather than purchasing releases via a marketplace you purchase a different flavour of the same underlying app for each artist.
In a similar way to Mashbox, Remiix groups loops in columns: Kick & Bass, Percussion Sounds, Toms / Synths, and FX hits & loops.
Fewer columns means fewer sounds playing at once, which isn’t an issue with the style of music involved since it tends to be fairly minimal house / techno. This also allows the interface a little more space and so it feels much easier and quicker to flick between loops.
Rather helpfully, all loops are clearly labelled (eg Crash1, KickBass, TomRise etc) so you have a decent idea of what you’re about to play as you’re scrolling through them.
As loops are playing, their progress is shown by the circular rotation at the underneath the column. You can quickly mute the column loop by pressing the progress loop, and as with Mashbox, all loops are fired in a quantised manner so it’s impossible to trigger anything out of sync.
You can adjust the volume for each column as well as apply an EQ filter, reverb and delay using the text links at the bottom of the screen.
You can also adjust the BPM (using the text link at the top of the screen); this displays a BPM slider across the page.
All the graphics and sliders used in the app have a certain feel of quality about them, which is unsurprising given the involvement of the JazzMutant Lemur developers. In fact, Liine has also just released Lemur for iPad, which is a very exciting controller proposition (however, outside the scope of this article!).
The neat trick with this app is that you have a number of tracks to play with (listed on the right of the screen) across the four columns. On selecting a track you can then load loops from that track into any one of the columns. If you’re feeling creative you could end up with all four columns with loops from four different tracks.
The major advantage on this app is that it provides in-app recording
The major advantage on this app is that it provides in-app recording, so you can record your remix attempts. In fact, with a number of different tracks by the same artist you can create your own mini-mix. The Remiix apps are from the likes of Plastikman, Joris Voorn, Oliver Huntemann, John Acquaviva & Olivier Giacomotto, International Feel, Luna and Minus.
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