Spark

Now everyone can write a song

Now that music-making tech is so advanced, can it finally free the musician in all of us?

With all these great apps, can everyone be a musician now?

5 years ago
Duration 0:59
Ben Shannon wonders, now that music-making tech is so advanced, can it finally free the musician in all of us? 0:59

by Ben Shannon

Hey! Stop dreaming about learning to play that dusty old guitar and start making music right now — with your phone!

It's common wisdom that learning a musical instrument takes time, but I wanted to examine some apps that could help make musical composition as easy as Candy Crush.  ​
 

So, if you've got a song in your heart, a knack for experimentation, and no musical training whatsoever — this note's for you!

First, I tricked…  er… convinced CBC Digital producer Althea Manasan into being our musical guinea pig.  

 

Then, I loaded up her phone with apps and gave her two weeks to experiment. (Some of these apps are iOS only.)

Apps Althea used:

iKaossilator ($19.99) Her main sound source and favourite.

Loopy ($5.49) What she used to record her voice.

Song Key Finder ($6.99) What we used to find the key of a song she liked. 

NOIZ (free) She eventually abandoned this one because she found it a little too simple.

Figure (free) She also abandoned this one because it was a tad confusing.  

The total cost of all the apps Althea used was about thirty dollars.  

Which compared to the price of a guitar isn't all that bad.  

Now, Althea is what you'd call a novice when it comes to composing music.

"I learned how to play the clarinet in Grade 4 and 5," she told me. "I've been interested in it my whole life but I've never stuck with any sort of instrument to be really good at it."

Despite her lack of musical training, she always dreamed of making music.

So I was excited to see what she came up with after two weeks with these apps.

The results were surprisingly professional!

You can hear Althea's impression of the process first hand in the piece, or check out these two examples in the player below.

Althea Manasan made two songs using music-making apps for novices. 1:20
 

So, is every person on the bus buried in their smartphone potentially the next big super producer?  It can't be that easy, can it?  

For a reality check I talked to Nick Batt, editor of the music and technology website sonicstate.com.  

 

Get to Know Your Pro: Nick Batt at a Glance  

• One-half of the group D.N.A., he's responsible for the classic remix of Tom's Diner by Suzanne Vega.

• Frequent collaborator with Goldfrapp.

• Host of the weekly music technology podcast SonicState .


Nick gave me some real insight into how viable apps are as a burgeoning musical tool.

He even offered up some more pro quality alternatives to the apps Althea used.

Apps Nick recommends:

• KORG Gadget ($54.99) A full on music production app for your phone

• GarageBand ($6.99) A stripped down, but highly usable digital audio workstation.

At the end of the day, if you want to learn guitar there's only one way to do it -- blow the dust off of that old thing and spend hundreds of humbling hours plucking away.  

But if you're just interested in making music ASAP, apps may just be for you.

In a way, they bear a striking resemblance to my daughter's toy piano.

It's locked to a simple C Major scale so she can never play a wrong note, but then...that's the point!

It's positive reinforcement to keep a beginner coming back.  

So who knows? Before long you might just be you high fiving Skrillex in front of a stadium packed with screaming fans.

When you're there, though don't forget your old friends at Spark, because we love backstage passes!  

All illustrations in this piece are by Ben Shannon.
Ben Shannon wonders, now that music-making tech is so advanced, can it finally free the musician in all of us? 8:24

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