Here are 5 awesome, free apps to help your songwriting.
It is a follow up to Songwriting Power in Your Pocket – optimizing your phone for songwriting with onboard apps.
If you want to get straight to them, click the links to jump to the app description
All app links go to the Apple App Store, they are not affiliate links, but included for your convenience. If you use Android, please leave your app recommendations in the comment section of the article to help out all the other songwriters that read this article 🙂
More Songwriting Power in Your Pocket: Summary
- Tuner: play in tune
- Metronome: play with good time
- Shazam: what’s that song called, who is playing that song
- B-Rhyme: slant rhyme dictionary
- GarageBand: multitrack recording in your pocket (Apple devices only)
- BandLab: multitrack recording in your pocket (for Apple and Android)
Tuner – Control Your Tuning
Nothing screams amateur louder than an out of tune guitar 🙁
True story, I tuned my guitar at a songwriting workshop, set it down in the case for 10 minutes, picked it up and started to play my song for a songwriting critique. I must have bumped the tuning peg because I had to stop after the 1st chorus and retune the low E string. My choice was stop and retune or “the show must go on” and finish the song expecting to get critiqued for being out of tune and not knowing it. Glad I had a tuner app, I slipped it out and had the string properly in tune in record time. Lesson: unless you have a dependable roadie passing you an instrument, always double check the tuning by ear before you start playing.
Is my favourite tuner app. It’s clean, easy to read and it also tells you the tuning in Hz (cycles per second… super useful when you’re mixing a song with Equalization Plugins). I like the Digital Meter with cents (1/100ths of a semitone) deviation from pitch.
I paid $2.79 to upgrade to the paid version (no ads) because I liked it and to support the app developer.
Note: clip on tuners (or a tuner in your guitar pedal effects chain) are still a good idea in a noisy environment. I was playing outside in the winter once and the battery failed in my clip on tuner, it was too loud to use my phone so it was a struggle to get my guitar in tune!
Metronome – Control Your Time
It keeps a steady pulse, measured in beats per minute (bpm).
Learn to play with a metronome, play songs, play scales, improvise… do it all. If you have solid time, everything else is easier.
Ever hear someone say they don’t or won’t play with a click track when recording? They’re making excuses for sloppy time and are acting and thinking like an amateur. They say they don’t like the click track, but they really mean they can’t play with a click track.
Playing comfortably with a click track is a crucial skill for the recording studio, whether recording in your home studio or recording in a professional studio. It solves endless editing and mixing issues before they happen!
You can use any metronome app. The features I look for are:
- Sounds good (I prefer clicks to ugly beeps)
- Easy to change tempo (no pushing + a hundred times, give me a dial or a slider), or better yet
- Tap entry (tap the tempo you want)
- No ads, or easy to ignore ads (I’m busy, don’t distract me!)
My favourite Metronome app is ProMetronome. The basic metronome app is free, but you can upgrade for more advanced features.
- Tap entry, a must have feature, tap the tempo of a song into the metronome
- 10 bpm – 500 bpm, simple dial quickly changes the tempo
- Easy to push mute button
- Pleasant click instead of a noisy electric beep
- Easy to read, not too complicated or visually confusing
What’s That Song? Shazam
This app blows my mind… turn it on and it can listen and figure out a song… sometimes in less than 2 bars. An algorithm matches the sounds to a database through the internet.
It would be awesome even if it only told you the name of the song and artist…
- Read lyrics in real time
- Click to listen on spotify
- Click to connect to iTunes
- Follow artists
- There’s an online community I haven’t checked out
Control Your Rhymes: B-Rhyme
This app is a rhyming dictionary, specializing in Slant Rhymes!
Slant rhymes or imperfect rhymes are “almost” rhymes, similar vowel, similar but different consonants…
The more I rhyme, the more I appreciate and use slant rhymes… they are more interesting and create more writing possibilities.
- Includes pronunciations
- Click on a word on a list and find its slant rhyme
- It remembers what you’ve searched
You can upgrade for $3.99, but I haven’t ever felt the need to yet.
True Story, everyone says you can’t rhyme the word “Orange”
Online Rhyming Dictionary
I love rhyme dictionaries, use them several times a song… there’s always a word I’d have missed.
I haven’t found a free rhyming app that I like.
I like this site because you can also search for synonyms and related words.
Thesaurus.com is my favorite way to find other words that mean the same thing… synonyms are an excellent way to find new rhyme ideas. This site also has advertising.
Multi-Track Recording: GarageBand
Multitrack recording in your pocket! It’s the best entry level DAW (digital audio workstation) in the world. It only works on Apple products, see below for an alternative that works on both Apple and Android.
Try out GarageBand before spending the several hundreds of dollars for a full DAW. It will give you a good idea what to look for and what you really want from a DAW before spending any money.
GarageBand isn’t perfect, it has limitations, it has weaknesses… but it’s intuitive and pretty easy to figure out. I’ve posted a few YouTube tutorials for GarageBand so you can see the app in action.
You can record excellent vocals with a tiny phone mic, because of auto compression… sudden changes in loud and soft don’t overload the recording. You get a better sound if you set the level manually but you can quickly record your ideas.
True story, in under 30 minutes, I taught a 12 year old saxophone student how to record himself on his iPad for an audition. He recorded it on his own, emailed it in and got into the regional youth concert band.
True Story #2, I created a demo to pitch a song co-write on my iPad. My laptop was down and my DAW was nonfunctional… how to email pitch a multi-track song?
I recorded lead vocal, backing vocals, alto sax and used the Keyboards, organ patch, Smart Bass and Smart Drummer to record the demo track.
GarageBand for Mac – is an expanded version with more features and better workflow… it’s included on all Apple computers. The paid version is Logic Pro, the fully expanded version of GarageBand.
- Multitrack recording
- Virtual Instruments, with decent sounds
- Smart Instruments that make sounds like an instrument even if you can’t play it, including guitar, bass, keyboards, drums and more!
GarageBand Upgrades, about $50+ each…
iRig guitar connector connects your electric guitar to record it, just like a DI (direct input) connects your guitar or bass to a sound board. Then use GarageBand amp simulators to shape the tone, every guitarist should have this!
iRig midi connector, connects your midi device to GarageBand, if you play keyboards get one, it will be a huge upgrade
iRig Mic, an external mic plugs into the listen jack… it’s not necessary but it improves the sound quality with a better microphone than the iPhone (or iPad) mic.
BandLab: Multi-track Recording for Apple and Android
BandLab is another DAW for mobile devices. It’s a little less intuitive than GarageBand and the virtual instruments aren’t quite as impressive. BandLab is stronger than GarageBand in sharing your song… there’s an online community where you can collaborate and share your finished songs.
If you use a PC computer like I do, you need to check out Cakewalk by BandLab (not an affiliate link)… I’ve been using it since it was called SONAR. It’s a free, full power DAW (for PC only). I used Cakewalk to show every step as I record, mix and master a song in this free series: The Singer Songwriter’s Ultimate Guide to Home Recording… here’s the first lesson: 6 Must Haves for Home Recording.