For this week’s #FridayFive I’m going to talk about the apps you NEED as a songwriter. Our phones are with us all the time and they can be a huge distraction, but they can also help us be more productive and creative, so why not take advantage of that? Here are my top five songwriting apps.
1) A Tuner App
This is a no brainer for every songwriter who plays the guitar, the bass or the ukulele. You never know when you’ll need a tuner; even if you don’t bring your instrument with you all the time, it’s easy to find a guitar lying around in social situations, just waiting to be played!
As a side note, If your main instrument is the piano/keyboard, pick up a string instrument already! The ukulele is a really easy instrument to learn and it has he advantage of being extremely portable. You can take it with you pretty much everywhere and won’t have issues with flights either. The guitar is harder; personally it took me longer to learn and I still haven’t mastered many technique aspects, but it’s great to be able to play a portable instrument. As a classically trained pianist, it felt very limiting for many years to be able to play only the piano, which I obviously couldn’t take with me. Long story short, you need to play a string instrument and you need a tuner app on your phone. I use the BOSS tuner app, but there are plenty of others.
2) A Metronome/Tap Tempo App
If you’re figuring out the bpm of your song you need a metronome app, which usually has a tap tempo option. In this way, you can tap the tempo of your song, figure out the bpm and check if you like it. You can also try performing it faster or slower so you already know the bpm settings you’re going to use when recording. If you decide that your song has to have a similar speed to an existing song, you can find the bpm of that song and use it as inspiration.
There are many metronome apps available for both iOS and Android, and I don’t have a specific favourite; I often change due to lack of updates but it’s always easy to find new ones.
3) An App to Record Your Ideas
What if you have a really good idea but have nowhere to write it down or record it vocally?
Sometimes a notetaking app is enough; Evernote is a great choice. I often find myself using it to write down ideas and snippets of sentences or expressions which I find intriguing. I also use it to finalize lyrics when I’m working with a melody which I am already very familiar with. Evernote is available for both iOS and Android, but it has some limitations; in any case, your phone’s basic note taking app (such as Notes for iOS) will probably be just as useful. There are plenty of other alternatives, and apps such as Google Drive can work as well.
In other cases, I need an actual recording app, such as Music Memos, which even analyses the chords you’re using. This can be great if you have a specific melodic or harmonic idea which you need to remember. For me,most of the time it isn’t enough to simply write down the chords because I won’t remember the melody or the rhythm.
Music Memos is specific to iOS, but there are plenty of alternatives for Android. Evernote actually has an integrated recorder, which means you can write down the chords and lyrics if you need to and record a quick draft as well, in order to have everything in one place.
Apps like Garage Band (iOS) and Walk Band (Android) are also great and can take you a step further and help you create simple demos or add a rhythmic section to your song before actually starting the “real” production process. They can even be sources of inspiration, allowing you to jam with preexisting loops or beats or even other musicians.
Photo by Joseph Gonzalez
4) An App For Listening to Music
As a songwriter, it’s important to listen to as many genres and styles as possible, and to always keep an open mind. Even artists you normally wouldn’t listen to can be surprising sources of inspiration, whether for songwriting, sound design or mixing techniques.
For this reason, you really need an app which will allow you to listen to as much music as you want, preferably without limitations. Spotify, Apple Music or Deezer are ideal choices. YouTube can work too but it’s limiting and consumes a lot of data on your phone. Personally, I prefer to use Spotify Premium and I’m happy to pay for something I consider a fundamental work tool.
5) A Rhyming Dictionary
Many songwriters are against rhyming dictionaries and almost see them as cheating. I don’t see it that way. A rhyming dictionary can be a great way to find words that you hadn’t thought of and find new, inspiring concepts. Our brains are finite; they don’t contain every single word in the dictionary and often miss things. We also tend to repeat words we use often and come up with the same rhymes and assonances over and over again.
Rhyming dictionaries can be really helpful in finding words which you wouldn’t normally use. Sometimes, the simple act of searching for a specific rhyme opens up new creative possibilities that I hadn’t thought of and takes me in a completely new direction. Making your life easier is not cheating! Rhyming dictionaries can be a great source of inspiration…so why not use them?
There are plenty of free apps availbile for both iOS and Android. While I don’t mind paying for specific apps which I love, I feel there’s no point in using a paid rhyming dictionary, especially since searching for rhymes in any mobile web browser works just as well. Some paid rhyming apps are available offline as well, so it may be worth it depending on your internet connection. Good free options are PrimeRhyme and B-Rhymes (which has a paid version as well). There’s also an official paid app for RhymeZone, one of the main sites to look up rhymes. I haven’t tried the app personally but I do use the website frequently.
So here are my favorite songwriting related apps, but there’s probably many more out there. Let me know if I missed any other crucial tools or favorites!