A few weeks ago I found myself looking for a quick, easy 4 track recorder app that would work on multiple platforms. Why? I had a situation where a band’s members lived in separate cities and only got together once a month to rehearse. Problem, yes, very much so. But musical communication of ideas in between gigs was the biggest hurdle to the band’s progress.
I searched around and found a few possible solutions – which I’ll cover in other posts – but one of the solutions in particular caught my attention and fired up my imagination. It wasn’t multi-platform but it ticked every other box.
The app is simple, beautiful to look at, natural to use and makes me want to hit that record button: Take Creative Vocal Recorder by Propellerhead.
Designed for the mobile songwriter
It’s an IOS app. The minimal UI takes a lot of design ideas from its stablemate Figure. The UI in that app made everyone rethink. With its minimal IOS 7/8 design, using big buttons, bold colours and a fluid workflow the app is clearly designed for small screen real estate - namely the iPhone. But it looks and works great on the iPad too.
Ready to go, on the go
I’d put this app somewhere handy on your iPhone home screen or launch bar. Once you hit it, it’s ready to capture your ideas as you have them.
One tap recording
There are lots of voice memo type apps out there, but to my knowledge none of them truly give one tap recording.
Got an idea - phone out - tap - sing. That’s it.
The app fires up with the first track armed to record. Press the red button and let rip.
Overdubbing is as simple as recording itself. Just touch the track, slide the track back to the point you want and hit record.
Three tracks in a stack
The main screen gives three tracks all ready to go. No start points and end points. No cryptic arm record buttons. Just touch the track and go. Now I know Loopy HD does this, but I think Loopy HD only rewards those who are prepared to dig deep. For most people the linear recording track paradigm is instantly recognisable – they feel safe and won’t reach for the user manual before getting anything done.
Four on the floor
Yes there is a fourth track. A percussion track. You reach this via the BEAT button. That brings up a simple percussion browser. You can’t edit the beats but there are enough choices to help you fill in the groove and feel of your song.
By default a new song will take you to the TAKE screen, ready to record. You can add percussion any time. But, once you make your first recording you can’t change the tempo of the beats. So if you simply must have a drummer bashing away in there, and you want a specific tempo, then you are going to have to hit the BEAT button first, select a groove, adjust the tempo by slider (sorry folks, no tap to enter). Then you’re ready to add some vocals or instruments on top.
The fourth percussion track shows up with intuitive little beat and bar markers helping you to enter the groove at the right time with your vocal or instrument takes and overdubs. Nice touch.
Editing your ideas
The obvious edits are overdubs. Easy to do. No studio engineering degree required. Accuracy? It’s a note taker, not full blown DAW. Accurate enough.
Erasing is simple too. Hold down the ERASE button and a big red line over the tracks shows up. You just know it’s going to do something serious. Scroll the track left or right and let the big red line erase what you don’t want to hear again.
Undo. It’s there. You only get one undo and then a redo. But, for a notetaker, it is enough.
The mixer is the next stage in the workflow after take or record. The developers could have gone wild here with exotic effects. And I’ve read criticisms about the mixer being too basic. I disagree with those criticisms. It is just enough. You can do just two things:
- balance the volume of tracks against one another and the overall song volume (master)
- add a natural reverb effect to each track, allowing you to choose it’s space and wet/dry setting.
Really I think that’s all you need in an idea catcher. You just don’t want a good idea to sound dry and lonely before it gets a chance to shine. The simple spatial reverb gets the job done.
The final step in the workflow. What do you do with the song idea once you’ve captured it? Via the last of the four icons on the bottom of the app you can access the app’s song browser where you can save, load or share a song.
One additional inspirational touch is the ability to add cover art to your song. So often ideas are hidden in scribbles on paper or imageless audio recordings. Why not take a photo of the thing that inspired you to capture your idea in the first place?
Sharing the song will irk a few people. It requires you (the first time only) to set up an account with Propellerhead to be able to create a shareable URL. Setting up the account is painless enough. I have read about people complaining about this requirement. But it’s probably part of Propellerhead’s drive with TAKE and its other apps, to head along the community, social network path – collaborative music making. I think that’s a good direction.
And if your track is a bit rough and ready, you can keep your track unlisted if you like, which means it’s not searchable by the Propellerhead community. But you still get the URL to share with friends.
Once you share your track, whether it is listed or unlisted, you can send your music friends the track’s URL. That URL will take them to the Propellerhead site where they will be given the options to play the song, share the song, open the song in TAKE or REASON. Clicking the TAKE option will fire up the TAKE app on their IOS device, import the song with all the tracks bounced into one background track, and provide the opportunity to overlay yet another 3 TAKE tracks on top.
And then you share. And the process goes on.
No doubt the audio quality will degrade over time if we keep bouncing the songs. But in my trials I got to 4 iterations of a song with no noticeable degradation. As a collaborative tool for a couple of songwriters or a remote band, I see no reason why this wouldn’t be the tool of choice to generate ideas whether it be for originals or covers.
Using earphones is a must with this app. It is a multi track recorder after all and uses the device’s inbuilt microphone for audio input. You can’t record and listen in the same sonic space or you will get feedback. Propellerhead recommends not using the the inline microphone type headphones, but using simple buds instead for best results. I did use the microphone type headphones in my trials and experienced no problems but they were Atomic Floyds and possibly the 2 way noise cancellation had something to do with it.
- clear workflow
- overdub without jumping through hoops (or loops)
- unobtrusive mixing options
- price (free)
- no tap BPM, slider only
- locked into joining community in order to share
Propellerhead’s marketing blurb puts it this way: “Sing, rap, hum, strum. Capture your musical ideas – anytime, anywhere.” I have to agree with them it is that simple. If you are looking for a quick, intuitive app that is a pleasure to use and gets out of your way while you seize the creative moment, then you won’t go far wrong with this app. And… it’s free.