Out of the studio and on to your phone: the apps musicians use

From something as simple as Apple’s Voice Memo to the Animoog synthesiser, here’s what 10 Irish musicians love having to hand

Digital technology has democratised many things, and the recording process for music is certainly one of them. Studios have a seemingly endless array of choice for tech. But what about the mobile world of apps and how they facilitate making music? And can nonmusicians have a bit of fun with the same apps that musicians play around with? Here 10 Irish musicians explain what apps they use, why and how.

Níal Conlan Bassist, Delorentos "We use Apple Voice Memo to record jams, live acoustic performances (when together) and melody or lyrical ideas (when alone). And guitar tuners on our phones when we land at a radio station with bashed-up, out-of-tune guitars.

“In recording, the best choice we made was a quarter-inch to eighth-of-an-inch adapter. This means you can play an iPhone or iPad through an amp, which is cool in and of itself, especially for making massive brass sounds through guitar and bass amps, or alternating synth sounds.

"But it also means you can open up a world of analogue pedals. For example, I found that using a piano simulator on an iPad, setting it to arpeggiate on 32nd notes, at a rate much faster than I could ever hope to play, and putting that app through a Cathedral reverb pedal gave an uplifting, choir-of-angels feel, which, if you subtly mix it under a chorus, creates more of a euphoric feel. Little Sparks and Night Becomes Light have a lot of this kind of stuff.


“Using apps that mimic real-world instruments, and playing them in a nonhuman way – which is to say faster or more dextrously than a human hand can – means that you can come up with unique sounds that can’t be easily reproduced by a person sitting down with an instrument.

“We usually can’t afford to hire string sections, but [using apps] we can score strings, and play them in the idiosyncratic way that we, as amateur string musicians, come up with. Hopefully this means the sound is unique, not pastiche or well trodden – and, ultimately, isn’t that the whole point?

"Apple's GarageBand is definitely the 21st-century version of the Fostex four-track cassette recorder that so many great albums were recorded on, although bands like Ducktails still embrace that. The Propellerhead Figure app is also fantastic for lead-synth and drum-machine stuff, as are the various sequencers." Delorentos (delorentos.net) play festivals in Mexico and Spain this summer, and Ravelóid, in Dublin, on June 11th

Elaine Mai "I use Easy Voice Recorder on Android, which is as simple to use as it sounds. Sometimes I'll get an idea for a melody, and this app is superhandy to record the idea quickly, for later. There's no limit to how long you can record for, and it's really easy to share files later.

"iMaschine for iPhone is an unreal app. It's supereasy to use, and the sounds that come with it are top notch. I have a new EP due out in the coming months, and it includes a track featuring the deadly Temper-Mental MissElayneous. That song was made on that app, which I then imported into Ableton to mix and add to.

"A great one for android is Caustic 3. If you're into your synths this is well worth a look. It's a bit confusing when you start using it, but I'd recommend messing around with it, to get a feel for it, or checking out some tutorials. It's really powerful for an app, and has plenty of effects and toys to play with, but you'll need to buy the full version, for €6.99, to save stuff.

"Music Maker Jam is simple to use and has lots of preloaded loops. I like it because you can record audio directly into the app and loop vocals really easily with it. It's superhandy when you're away from the laptop. For musicians my recommendation would be Tap BPM: tap along to a tune and it'll give you the beats per minute – really handy." Elaine Mai's new EP is out this summer; elainemai.com

RSAG "I use Take by Propellerhead. It's a quick and easy way to get down some ideas on the fly, and it's free. You can record three separate tracks, balance a mix, and add some basic effects. There is also a voice-pitch correction on it. You can share your song or idea and get others to collaborate on it. I like to record some rough vocal ideas underneath a bridge near my house. It has a fantastic natural big reverb thing going on. Some of these sonic doodles have been the beginning of one or two tracks on my new album." RSAG (rarelyseenaboveground.com) releases his new single, Leave a Light On, on April 30th

Kormac "I use Evernote about 10 times a day. It's a really handy way of quickly writing or recording ideas that spring to mind, organised into various notebooks. I've one for song ideas, one for visual ideas, and so on. I also use Rhythm Necklace for coming up with rhythms on planes. It's handy, as you can export Midi pretty easily." Kormac (djkormac.com) plays Forbidden Fruit, in Kilmainham, Dublin, on June 4th

Julie Chance Evvol "I use one sometimes to warm up my vocals called Sing Sharp. One thing I do use over and over again is the Notes function that comes with the iPhone. I use that all the time for lyrics and ideas. We always use the recording function that comes with the phone if we are out and about and come up with a melody or hear a sound we want to use." evvolmusic.com; Evvol's new EP, Physical L.U.V, is out on !K7 Records on May 13th

Ross Dowling Ocho "BPM Lite is a free version of an app that allows you to tap along with a song and it will display the tempo. I could see myself using a controller app for recording automation for software synths, so I could record multiple movements at the same time. I've tried a few, but they weren't responsive enough. That was a few years ago, so maybe there's better ones out there now." ochomusic.ie; Ocho's new single, Vines, is on Feel Good Lost

Daithí "I've been using Animoog as a full synth for a while. It sounds incredible, better than most full digital synths I've come across. It's fun and easy to make unique sounds with the weird TV screen-line thing. iMaschine is the best drum-sequencer app out there. It has great sounds, is easy to use, and is really fun for putting ideas down quickly. It also has a sampler, so you can loop your voice and mix it into your beats.

"Figure is a great app for people who don't usually make music but want something to mess around with. I've seen SertOne's daughter make some incredible stuff with this app: kids go nuts with it. Cleartune is probably my most used app, and also the simplest, a dedicated tuner that can tune my fiddle before shows." daithi.bandcamp.com; Daithí's EP Tribes is out now

Toby Kaar "I don't use any apps to make music, but I have this generative sound app on my phone called Sleep Machine. It's supposed to create an ambient environment for you to fall asleep to. You can layer up tracks of white noise, rain, trains, crickets, that kind of thing. I use it now and again if I can't sleep on a bus – though it's a bit messed up to listen to the sound of a train while on a bus." @tobykaar; Toby Kaar's EP Gumbrielle is on Music Is for Losers

Ellen King aka ELLLL "There aren't any apps in particular I use for writing music other then the standard Voice Memos app that comes with the iPhone. It can be pretty handy for recording interesting sounds or making field recordings on the fly. I would also use it when improvising on piano; if I feel like I'm on to something I can just hit record rather then interrupting what I'm doing and trying to write it down.

“I’m reluctant to pursue other apps due to the small screen size of my ageing iPhone 5s. I’d find it really frustrating. It might be a different story if I was a tablet user, though.

Brian Eno has developed some cool apps: Scape, Trope and Bloom, which are really accessible and fun, even for nonmusicians. Just by touching the screen, colours generate to produce textural sounds that you can build to produce soothing ambient landscapes. No musical knowledge is required. They are really fun to play around with" soundcloud.com/ellll; Gash Collective, King's new collective of women electronic musicians, DJs and producers, is at gashcoll.com

Ian Ring Young Wonder "I have a small few music apps on my phone, including iMaschine, Synth Station and iKaossilator, but the most valuable app that contributes to making music for me that I use most is the simple Voice Memos app.

"A really cool app I used to use was Quiztones, which is aimed more at engineers. It deducts and adds different frequencies, and you have to guess what they are. It's good ear training – and pretty fun if you're a geek, like me." youngwonder.me; Young Wonder's debut album, Birth, is on Feel Good Lost