April 11, 2014 at 4:57 pm

Hum: A Songwriter’s Notebook for iPhone

Artists often find inspiration in their surroundings. Unless they are quick to jot down their ideas, those can be lost forever.

This is precisely why some recording artists use the notepad functions of their smartphones and tablets to capture song ideas and lyrics, although that approach fails to take advantage of the fact that the smartphone is also a recording device, not just a replacement for paper and pen.

Hum ($2, iOS) enables rudimentary songwriting on the go by combining note-taking and recording, so that artists and band members can share ideas with each other via text messages and email. The differentiating factors for using this app instead of a notepad are its recording, tagging, and sharing features.

After adding your first draft of lyrics and recording a melody and other elements, you can tag your creation with key, tuning, and capo placement, plus ratings for mood and liveliness. As you create more song sketches in the app, these tagging characteristics come in handy for sorting through your ideas.

If you really use this as your main song-sketching technique, it’s value increases, because once you have a diverse collection of ideas, the filtering function app makes it easy to show your band members the different songs you’ve written or recorded. You can filter songs by ‘Lyrics Only’ or ‘Audio Only’ as well as filtering your library by the tags you used when putting the songs together.

We found Hum to be a well-designed, convenient option for aspiring recording artists looking for an easy way to capture song sketches and shards of ideas, as well as for those who write a lot and need to share it with their collaborators. It does more than a notepad or a portable recorder put together.

That said, it does seem most effective for an acoustic singer/songwriter, because it caters to guitarists with the tuning and capo placement filters — a feature that a rapper or electronic artist would not use. Besides, people who make electronic music or DJ have ways to make music on their devices without using the microphones, because the instruments can be virtual. However, rappers would definitely benefit from the lyric writing and note taking features, and might appreciate the ability to capture their freestyling too, whenever the feeling strikes.

Whatever you use it for, you’ll find this app’s controls intuitive; you can navigate lyrics, tags, and notes with simple swipes. While recording with your iPhone’s microphone doesn’t produce professional-sounding recordings, it’s definitely good enough to capture your ideas (and if you really wanted, you could attach a better microphone).

All in all, we consider Hum worthwhile for iPhone-or iPod Touch-toting singer/songwriters looking for a convenient way to capture their moments of inspiration using the device that’s already in their pocket.