June 18, 2012 at 2:19 pm

This Week In Music Apps: Strumify, Spotify for Android, and a Photo-Based Synthesizer

The technology world has been abuzz with news of Apple’s newest iOS. It’s also been an exciting week for the tens of thousands of music fans who gathered in Manchester, Tennessee for Bonnaroo, which kicked off its eleventh annual music festival in cooler-than-usual weather.

Meanwhile, we’ve been busy gathering a new batch of music apps to delight and amuse. This week, I’ll show you an app that augments our reality in a new way: by creating a unique synthesizer for each photo you take. We’ll also check out a Guitar Hero-type app that offers a glimpse of how music will be taught in the future and Spotify’s new Android app.

But first, here are the latest reviews:

The Week in Reviews

Apple iOS

Visual Player ($3): As its name implies, this music player includes visualizations that react to the currently-playing music with nifty graphics. One applies a  kaleidoscope effect to currently-playing music’s album artwork, while another of my favorites spins it like a record. However, I couldn’t figure out how to play specific artists or playlists – and after all, this is supposed to be a music player too. It’s nice to revisit songs I forgot I had, but really, for $3, this app should not force me to listen to my whole music library.

Strumify (free, pictured right): If your summer project is to learn an instrument, this app warrants consideration. Strumify isn’t a music teacher per se, but it helps you teach yourself how to play guitar, mandolin and ukulele for free — assuming you’re not ready to spend hundreds of dollars on gTar. As you learn chords and strumming techniques, the app rates your accuracy by listening with the microphone on your iOS device. I tested Strumify with my own guitar and it was pretty good at recognizing the sound and providing feedback. A few basic songs are included, and you can also import Power Tab and ChordPro files. One playing mode resembles Guitar Hero, in that you have to strum at the right time as chords appears; another lets you play at your own tempo.

Lucid player ($1): If you like to fall asleep to music, listen up: the Lucid player allows you to create a playlist of songs and choose any time between one minute to one hour. When time runs out, the music will stop.

Friendly Music

Friendly Music (free, pictured left): When it’s time to upload your latest video masterpiece from your iPhone to YouTube, you might think about a soundtrack. Friendly Music can help. You can search by occasion, browse the “Editor’s Pick” playlists, or choose a spot on a mood map (similar to the one on Rockola.fm) to find an appropriate song, before attaching it to the video and uploading it. Though the catalog doesn’t have everything you might be looking for, it does have over a million licensed tracks. Still, we’d like to see a feature that let you find the appropriate song from your own music library — after all, just about every song on there has already been cleared for YouTube streaming anyway.

Pollisynth (free): This one turns any photo into a synthesizer, with sounds unique to the photo in question. You can take a photo, choose one from your library, or select one from Facebook, after which the app scans the photo and assigns synthesizer keys sounds according to colors, subject, and composition of the photo. The synthesizer had softer sounds when we used a sunset photo, and rougher, darker sounds with a gritty picture of a subway station. You can view these differences in a summary of how oscillators made the sounds; flicking down flips over the screen, so you can select a beat and start a rhythm going and jam out on the keys.

Google Android

Reactable

Reactable ($10, pictured right): The hardware version of Reactable, a visual music maker that lets you assemble modules to make sounds, used to cost so much that you had to be a pop start to use it. Apps are great at repackaging stuff like that for the rest of us, which is what happened with Reactable. We covered the Apple iOS version in a previous TWIMA, but the app has recently been released for Android. (It takes a bit of practice; if you’re not interested in investing the time required to play this interesting instrument, you might try some alternatives that let you make music without really trying.)

Four Reels (free): 8tracks.com, a playlist-sharing service, offers “thousands of handcrafted mixes.” It has its own 8Android app, but some might prefer this alternative, which also lets you play music from the service. It lets you search for mixes and users, browse the Hot, Popular, or and Recent lists.

Spotify (free): With an interface as clean and user-friendly as the desktop app and streaming access any song from the catalog, the updated Spotify app for Android is really a no-brainer download. I could go on about how you could change the song with a simple swipe, the accessibility of the playlist queue, the elegance of the design, and the ease of sharing songs, but instead, I’ll focus on a feature that sets it apart from the free version of the desktop app: The Android app gives you the ability to download playlists, so you can listen to songs you don’t own even when you’re offline. The first 48 hours on the mobile app are free, but after that the app is restricted to Premium users ($10/month).

Web Apps

Blip.fm (free): Blip.fm lets you “blip” songs, give “props,”, and follow other users — so basically, it’s similar to any other social network, except it’s for music. Creating an account lets you “blip” within Blip.fm, but you can also connect it to Twitter. I suggest checking out this guide for some tips. The idea behind blip.fm isn’t new (think of how Spotify shares listening information with Facebook), it’s interesting to see how one ranks against peers based on how many props or follows one has.

Looplabs

Looplabs (free, pictured right): For budding electronic music-makers, this site offers free tools and specialized remix studios for artists including 2AM Club, Ke$ha, and Willow Smith. Each studios features an a capella version of a track from the artist, as well as loops you can add to make your own version. The more generic Music Lab, Dubstep Studio, and Electro-House Blender let you start from scratch and incorporate your own samples and loops. Each sound has a specific length (drum kicks are usually split into shorter clips than a synthesizer sounds). We found it easy to layer sounds upon sounds, while solo buttons let you concentrate on a particular section without getting distracted by the rest of the track. Each sound also has its own equalizer, so you can fine-tune them within the mix.