June 25, 2012 at 3:17 pm

This Week in Music Apps: Mashup Makers, Android Songkick, Rock/Rap Battles, and More Efficient Facebook Stalking



The music world was hectic this past week, the most newsworthy item being the lethal pre-show stage collapse of the structure housing Radiohead’s beautiful and engrossing performance visuals. We also saw an art installation in L.A. turn heads with its ingenuity and the free release of a normally $200 Moog keyboard.

The week’s recent music apps brings a diverse batch including ethereal music creators, fans’ favorite concert app (now for Android), a hot new radio streamer for the web, and more. First, our latest reviews.

The Week In Reviews

Apple iOS

Cantor ($2, pictured): Rob Fielding, the developer behind Mugician, recently released this follow-up app that picks up where the first one left off. Inspired by the work of the maniacal mathematician of the same name, Cantor aims high. It’s a complex, microtonal synthesizer for creating stuff that definitely doesn’t sound like what you hear on the radio (“microtonal” means it includes notes between the 12 ones you’ll find in one octave of a piano). Fielding stressed to me that the app was designed to work like a real instrument, in that you’ll need to practice before you can master it. His assertion that “non-musicians should stay as far away from this instrument as possible” should not be taken lightly, unless you want to end up with Tim Hecker-style soundscapes. Nevertheless, given the MIDI capability and wide sonic possibilities, this $2 app could be worth a shot for amateur musicians looking to paint between the lines.

Songnote ($1): The most successful apps do one thing and they do it well. In this case, the goal is to let you share songs with people fast, via Facebook or email. Say you’re listening to “She’s The One” by Bruce Springsteen, and you think, “Aw, I want my girlfriend to know that she’s the one, and I don’t care of all of Facebook knows it.” To fit that scenario, you’d simply select the song from the eye-catching interface and follow the prompts to send it to one or more people via email or your targets’ Facebook walls. You get to attach a note — fine. The only bummer: It works through iTunes only, so not only are weird releases (such as Pantera’s glam metal phase) not available for sharing, but people can also only listen to the 90-second samples. Hey, at least it’s better than the 30 seconds iTunes used to play for free. -Wren Leader

Perform a Track (Free): This newcomer should thrill the high school version of yourself — the one who bought a used Stratocaster guitar and started a Metallica cover band. As its name implies, this iOS app lets you play along with 350 songs in the app’s library, with the ability to control the volume of each “stem,” or track (i.e. if you’re a bassist, you could mute the bass and play along with everything else). The music tends towards the Nickelback and Maroon 5 end of the spectrum, which is either great or a total dealbreaker depending on your point of view.

Rap Rivals/Rock Rivals ($1): Do you consider yourself the illest rapper who ever lived? Are you the embodiment of rock and roll godliness? Rap Rivals and Rock Rivals purport to help you prove it. These sibling apps from Stagename let anyone record and arrange songs with relative ease, then share them in an online competition. It places people into battles against each other (sort of like a much-easier version of OurStage), where people vote for their favorite. As in the real world, you can gain an advantage by creating buzz or offering bribes. It’s unexpectedly addictive, both from the artist and voter sides. You know how the early rounds of American Idol — the ones with the really bad singers — can be more fun to watch than the later stages? Well, I particularly enjoyed choosing between two off-key singers or two horrible rappers (not that I should talk because I rap at approximately a preschool skill level).  - Wren Leader

Google Android

Songkick Concerts (Free): The concert app that everyone loves on the iPhone has finally arrived in the Google Play marketplace — and in full force. The premiere version boasts integration with your Android’s music library, Google Music account, Pandora, and Last.fm profiles, so whenever you listen to or collect anything in any of these places, Songkick knows about it. The app uses that information to power your gig recommendations so you don’t miss shows anymore. Like its iOS and web-based predecessors, the Android version appears to be the most complete and informative live music app around, with the ability to track artists, look up concerts in your area, and gauge ticket prices for venues around the world.

MikroWave ($1): Plenty of synthesizers can be found in the app world, but we feel comfortable making the case that MikroWave separates itself from most of the pack. This sequenced synthesizer (as in you can not only play live, but set stuff up to play at a certain time) strikes an almost perfect balance between easy usability and creating the sense that you’re actually working to create music, rather than tweaking simple parameters and letting the app do the rest.

Wave Toy ($1): Although it’s by no means earth-shattering, Wave Toy is neat, in part because it’s so simple and relaxing. It asks you to select from a range of visualizations and tones, in order to easily create wispy but satisfyingly-ethereal combinations of colorful waves and sounds.

 Web Apps

Presto.fm (free, pictured): At first glance, presto.fm looks like nothing new — a radio station that helps you discover music by finding artists similar to the ones you already like. What a novel approach! The app culls music from YouTube, which its developer says leads to more obscure music than you’d find otherwise, and they have a point. Second, if you have a Last.fm profile, it can build you a presto.fm station in seconds.

Friends’ Music (Free): Facebook is great for stalking people’s music listening, assuming they have granted permission to their Facebook-connected music apps. All you have to do is check out the Music section in their profile, or keep an eye on the activity feed on the right side of the page, and you’ll be able to spy on their jams. You can take this concept even farther with the Friends’ Music Chrome app (as in it requires the Google Chrome browser). The app neatly organizes all of the music your friends share over Facebook, whether it came from YouTube, SoundCloud, or just about anywhere else, and puts it all in one place, so you don’t have to hunt it down on a friend-by-friend basis. The default view shows you everything your friends post in the last week or so. Alternatively, you can enter a few friends as favorites to keep tabs just on them.

Mac App

Mixed in Key Mashup ($40, pictured): Apps like these are why some so-called “real” musicians and even DJs scorn technology that lets you make music without even trying. A seemingly-infinite number of DJ-centric apps that help you mix songs live; Mixed in Key Mashup app might take the proverbial cake, when it comes to expediency. This desktop app for the Mac (what we used to call “software”) takes any MP3 file, analyzes its tempo, and helps you figure out what to mash with it from your library based on “harmonic compatibility.” The mash-up possibilities are pretty much endless, and the hand-holding continues right to the end: It can even upload your creations directly to Soundcloud so you can let people hear it.

  • http://twitter.com/prestofm Presto.fm

    Thanks for the write up guys – we’ve worked really hard to make our web app more than just another “similar artist” recommender. 
    presto.fm

  • igorski.nl

    And a thank you for the kind words on MikroWave, nice to see shared enthusiasm for the project!