Apple’s new Music Memos app makes songwriting chimp-simple


Easy to use music creation app means the end of complex demos.
Easy-to-use music creation app Music Memos does away with complex demos.
Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

Apple’s new app, Music Memos, is hands-down the best free music-creation app I’ve ever used on my iPhone. The amount of tech packed into this tiny little iOS app is nothing short of amazing, and it shows Apple’s continuing commitment to the creative community.

Music Memos lets you sit down with your iPhone, tap the screen, and record music. Then it will totally figure out what you played, and supply fairly decent drum and bass tracks to complement your chords. Wow.

I’ve played in live bands that can’t even do that.

Take my word on this: If you can play even rudimentary guitar, piano or even ukulele, you owe it to yourself to give Music Memos a try.

Before Music Memos, which Apple released Wednesday, recording a quick song idea was a matter of two options: Go super-low-end and record your snippet of music into your iPhone’s microphone using Voice Memos, or take the time to set up your Mac and GarageBand, clicking all the right buttons and setting up all the sounds and tracks before you could settle into recording.

Music Memos takes all this and makes the complex process of recording music from your guitar or keyboard as simple as hitting record, while keeping it as sonically rich as recording a three- or-four track music project in GarageBand.

Start, then stop. Could it get any easier?
Start, then stop. Could it get any easier?
Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

When you launch the app, you’ll see a circle. Tap on it and start playing your instrument (there’s a tuner in the upper right you can use to make sure your guitar is in tune). I used an acoustic guitar and just noodled around with some basic chords and patterns.

Then, just hit the red square button and you’re done. It’s that easy.

Now, the magic: Tap on the little bass or drum icons and Music Memos will do the seemingly impossible. It will match what you played and add drum and/or bass tracks without you having to do a thing. This unassuming little app will listen to what you play, find a drumbeat that will stay with you even if you slow down or speed up a little, and then play a reasonably interesting bass line on top of that.

Is it perfect? No, but neither is my playing. When the chords and performance are solid, the backing tracks are good. When I mess up, so do the bass and drums.

That’s just the beginning, too. You can edit your tracks, rename them, trim them down to just the section(s) you like, rate all your songs with one to five stars, and even send the tracks directly to GarageBand (on your iPhone or your Mac, for heaven’s sake) for more fine-grained editing.

Under the hood details.
Under-the-hood details.
Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

Once you’ve recorded an idea, Music Memos will name it My Idea and add it to the list of any other bits you’ve captured. Tap the File Box icon at the top to see the list, then tap on any track to open the Details screen. This will show you a visual representation of your song, complete with chord names and rhythm marks.

You can tap the Trim button at the top to position two red handles within the song to crop your audio to just the parts you want; saving them will create a new track in case you don’t want to mess up your raw recording.

This will look familiar if you've used GarageBand.
This will look familiar if you’ve used GarageBand.
Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

Better yet, you can tap and hold the bass or drums icon to get a GarageBand-style grid that lets you customize the specific instrument (electric versus stand-up bass, for example), complexity and volume of either software instrument. The drums even let you have a say in how loud or complex the individual parts are, like hi-hat and ride cymbals. Music Memos creates all this on the fly, which is one of the most magical things I’ve seen on an iPhone.

In Details mode, you can send your song right to GarageBand with the Share button located in the upper right. You can also send it right to iCloud Drive, iTunes or any other apps you have on your iPhone. I’ve sent my tunes to SoundCloud, letting me choose to allow downloads or just streaming and to specify the audio quality.

Here’s a track I recorded with Music Memos with my acoustic guitar. It took me about as long to play it as to get it ready for sharing.

Sharing directly to GarageBand will place the song you recorded into the app on your iOS device, letting you open it in GarageBand and fiddle about with the recordings and the accompaniment that Music Memos created for you.

GarageBand handles Music Memos tracks with no problem.
GarageBand handles Music Memos tracks with no problem.
Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

I opened up the drum track in GarageBand and found that you could easily edit the entire drum performance, just like one created by GarageBand.

Another bit of GarageBand tech appropriated for Music Memos.
Another bit of GarageBand tech appropriated for Music Memos.
Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

In essence, you can now create an entire demo song just by sitting near your iPhone and playing some chords. That’s stunning, and will give musicians and creatives a fresh new way to get their music out and into other people’s ear holes.

It’s hard not to get excited about using this fantastic new app. I plan on recording some demos this weekend. What will you do with it?

Apple’s new Music Memos app is free in the iOS App Store.


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