July 3, 2012 at 12:28 pm

This Week in Music Apps: Illustrative Synth, Socially-Integrated Radio, Android Mixtape Downloader

As the music technology awaits a reportedly massive iTunes overhaul, the Flaming Lips were busy setting a Guinness World Record, while a remarkably beautiful audiovisual presentation in Cannes integrates flying robots and the music of Oneohtrix Point Never.

In digital music news, the act of urination is now more fun for some Brazilians, and we took a look at what the Google Nexus Q will have to offer music fans, among other things.

Not to be outdone, we  tracked down the latest music apps — everything from instruments to players and beyond, as part of our regular This Week In Music Apps feature. First, the reviews:

This Week in Reviews

  • Thrillcall Wonders What You’re Doing Tonight and It Has Some Ideas
  • Shimi: The Robots Are Coming, and They Want to Dance
  • App Test: Can Stereomood, the Emotion-Based Playlister, Make Me Angry?
  • Roadtrip Mixtape Plays Artists From the Towns You’re Driving Through
  • Advertising Condoms on Facebook? There’s a Music App for That


Playlost ($1, pictured right): The latest playlist maker to catch our eye, this one works only on the iPad, where it creates a virtual web of songs out of your music library from which to create a playlist. The nature of the design (think back to your high school chemistry days) makes it so that you can only choose two or three different songs at a time. This, according to developers, helps you “rediscover your music, finding the songs you’ve forgotten and great songs you didn’t know you had,” and they say it works best if you have a lot of music on your iPad.

Sketch Synth FX ($3): If you’re looking for a way to create, edit, and layer audio loops into music, Sketch Synth could be just the thing. First, you choose between three thematic templates; then you can add effects to loops and tweak their parameters using the X and Y axes . After playing with this visually-striking display to your heart’s content, you can export clips via Audio Copy & Paste or iTunes File Sharing. (The app is somewhat based on an earlier, beefed-up iPad version.)

Drumstep Studio ($5, pictured): Drumstep Studio brings a clean new approach to the well-tread territory of iOS apps that pretend to be MPCs, which are essentially sample grids that let you perform or produce music. It takes a while to get the hang of the MPC layout, but with practice, anything is possible. This app helps by pre-loading and labeling pads; its ingenuity reminds me somewhat of Tabletop, although Drumstep Studio is limited only to the sample-based pad. The app lets you grab music and samples directly from your desktop, so you can load up fresh beats, loops, and samples with ease, whether you made them or someone else did.

AutoCompose ($2): Yes, AutoCompose is limited in scope. Its developers admit as much in their description. But their intent is to provide a novel approach for the unimaginative or otherwise stymied musician. AutoCompose design takes the shape of a cartoon tree, whose cross-section from roots to canopy provides a variety of notes and rhythms to goad creativity. You can export the resulting MIDI files to your digital audio workstation, to use it as the basis for your composition. The $2 price is a bit steep, but for desperate musicians, AutoCompose may be a saving grace. It could also work for making art about generative music.


TubeMP3 Machine (free, pictured): We recently toured the wild and crazy world of so called “music downloading” apps. TubeMP3 Machine is somewhat along the same lines, but it differs in two important ways. First, it’s for Android; second, TubeMP3 Machine culls music exclusively from YouTube (sort of like presto.fm). Simply search for a song and the app does the rest, saving the video’s audio file to an MP3. This sort of thing is frowned upon by some, and YouTube is reportedly taking action to stop people from doing it, but in a pinch, it can be a great way to grab a song you can’t get elsewhere.

Dat Piff Mixtape ($1): Android users who like hip-hop, rejoice: Dat Piff, the Internet’s foremost mixtape source for up-and-coming rappers, has finally released their app for the Android platform. The service provides free mixtape downloads from directly to your phone, making it incredibly easy to keep up with your friends who think they know about the next big thing.

Stereomood (free): Some may already be familiar with Stereomood the website, but the app recently made its way to the Google Play Marketplace as well. It works somewhat like Songza, in that the app lists a set of moods or activities from which you can choose, and then builds a playlist around that feeling. However, you’re also able to tag songs with activities and moods for later incorporation into the playlists and, when applicable, download the MP3 from a legal source within the app (full review).

Web Apps

Songstr (free): This web app searches Spotify, YouTube, Grooveshark, and Deezer, and presents the results in one unified list to give you a better shot of finding what you’re looking for (sort of like Tomahawk). If YouTube can’t provide, surely Spotify can solve the problem (and vice versa). The only caveat here is that if Spotify isn’t already launched on your computer, the ensuing startup could crash either the web browser you’re on or Spotify itself, as it did during our testing.

Seesu (free, pictured): The hottest thing to come out of Montenegro since Marina Abramovíc is this new Chrome app, Seesu. It works closely with Last.fm and SoundCloud to build a wide web of artist biographies and legally downloadable MP3s. The kicker: integration with one of Europe’s most widely used social networks, VKontakte, which has over 100 million active users. Seesu uses that website’s information to power a strangely-worded feature: “People who listened to this track look like this.” If you’re signed up with VKontakte, Seesu also gives you the opportunity to contact those people to share your mutual musical love for a particular song or artist.