In a world where musicians are relying more and more on technology, finding a decent, portable music studio can be a daunting task. In the iOS ecosystem, this market is dominated by Apple’s own GarageBand. However, this leaves a pretty large gap in the Android community.
This is where PocketBand steps in. It is by far the most full-featured music studio running on the Android operating system. PocketBand combines a terrific user interface with irresistible cloud connectivity to create a very pleasurable experience. It comes out ahead of the pack in nearly every single aspect and is absolutely second to none in the very small world of Android music studios.
When you launch PocketBand, you’re greeted with what is called the Workspace where you can add new songs and view the songs you have already created. This is the screen that you will be interacting with for the majority of your time in PocketBand.
You can get started immediately by clicking in the top-right corner to add a new song project to your workspace. Tapping on the newly created song brings you to the main screen of your composition. This is where you will begin to add loops, the heart and soul of your compositions.
To get started, click add loop. Selecting the newly added loop will bring you to the screen where you will pick which devices or instruments you want to use. You can add as many devices or instruments as you want for any given loop.
6 major categories of devices are available: arpeggiators, drums, synthesizers, modulators, microphone recordings, and samplers. Let’s explore them further.
This is what the primary loop screen will look like
The arpeggiator will present you with a small range keyboard. Here you can select up to 4 notes that you want to arpeggiate. Once you’ve decided on the 4 notes, you can choose which octave you want to start in, and the range of octaves for the length of the arpeggiation. You can even change the note length from different beat devisions while also choosing a specific rhythm you want to use.
The drum device will bring up a long list of possible percussive sounds. These sounds range from bass drum and snare drum to tambourines and claves. Here you can select a specific rhythm for as many percussion instruments as you want.
Example of the drum selection screen
The synthesizer option will bring up a very long list of tones. You simply tap and drag on a specific tone to determine how long you want the tone to sound. You can then change what type of synthesizer you want from the very impressive range of instruments. You can literally get any sound you want from the synthesizer, ranging from piano and organ all the way to strings and choir sounds.
The modulator is by far my favorite. It allows you to drag a line across a range of frequencies. Tapping anywhere will create a new rhythmic point. The modulator will then “scoop” from point to point across the frequencies that you have entered.
Example of the modulator device.
The recording option is perhaps the number one feature that makes this application truly professional. You can record your own voice to insert into your composition. Conveniently, PocketBand will play your current loop while you are recording so you can get a feel of it to adapt your singing. It then automatically plays it back without the rest of the loop to let you assess how it sounds like by itself.
The sampler will allow you to record a specific sound, and then use the traditional piano roll notation to arrange the sound to fit with your current composition.
The best part about all these devices is that you get immediate audio feedback on how a specific device sounds with your current loop. In addition to the feedback, you can select how many bars you want each device to sound for, giving you total control over your composition.
What’s so amazing about the way you create loops is the options you are given while using melodic instruments. When you select to use a synthesizer, you can choose to enter notes in the form of a piano roll, or you can use some of the other more advanced input methods.
Example of tradition piano roll notation
In addition, if you tap the treble clef symbol at the bottom, you can choose from a variety of tonalities. For example, selecting the major scale option will only display the notes that are present in a major scale. This makes notating much easier for people who are not too comfortable with traditional music theory.
Combining Loops to Compose Songs
Now think back to all of the options you had and all of the possible combinations of devices you can use to create loops. Remember, that that was just one loop. You can make as many loops as you want and play them all back simultaneously.
Loops can be as simple or as complicated as you need, and that is the beauty of creating music. Imagine a world where each loop can have as many instruments as you want and where each song can have as many loops as you desire. This is the world of PocketBand.
Community and Cloud Features
PocketBand is an extraordinary application because in addition to the absolutely amazing composing capabilities, it allows you to share and collaborate with thousands of musicians all over the world. This is where the possibilities are truly endless. Imagine creating a song, and then sending it to your friend who is also using PocketBand. He can take it, tweak it, and send it on. A single song can truly become a never-ending train of creativity. This exchange of creativity can happen just between your close friends, or between musicians you have never met before.
There is one killer feature that honestly blows me away every time I experience it, and that is Collab Mode. You may notice that while you are creating your loops for a specific song, there is a collab button in the top left. Pressing that will bring you into a section of the application where you can invite your PocketBand friends to come in and begin working on your song with you. It allows for each member to “take a turn”.
During your turn, you have free and unlimited compositional power. You can change and edit any loop to your liking, and when you’re done, simply pass the turn onto the next friend in the room. And because Collab Mode is essentially a glorified chat room, you can make posts to the other users about the composition and talk to them about where you want the composition to go in terms of sound.
Once you are finished with a collaboration, you can leave a note about what you accomplished during the session. This is very efficient because you can then look over a composition after it has been finished and see when and where you made the biggest progress.
Examples of other songs by other users.
You may also notice the “Community” tab when you first launch PocketBand. This is where you can find and search for users that you want to interact with. Each user has a profile that contains the compositions he or she has created. You can choose to search for songs, people or even bands. Once you find a user that you like, you can follow them, block them, or even invite them to a band which will make it possible to use Collab Mode with them.
PocketBand recognizes that users would like to use the application across different devices. For example, I am currently using it on my Nexus 7 and my Galaxy Nexus. This is where cloud syncing comes in. PocketBand automatically syncs all songs and loops to the cloud. This means that you can begin a composition on your tablet, grab your phone on your way out the door, and pick up in the exact spot where you left off. This really helps keep all of your compositions organized and up to date. To me, this is an absolutely essential feature for an application that can be used with more than one type of device. This rounds off a very well thought out application.
Pocketband is a major step forward for music studio and compositional based applications on the Android operating system. Although the user interface isn’t as slick as alternatives available on iOS, it is a fantastic start to what will undoubtedly turn out to be a very innovative application. PocketBand at its very basic function works very impressively, but adding the incredibly useful cloud features makes it almost too good to be true.
All it has to do is incorporate a more elegant and efficient user interface and this application will, without a doubt, be one of the most popular applications for Android. I find myself using this application for both personal and professional purposes and I’m sure others will too as it can very easily benefit a professional musician in addition to the casual composer.