When Jeremy Fischer bought his iPhone about a year ago, he never expected it would become part of his repertoire of musical instruments. But one day he downloaded East Beat Maker, a drum-machine application, and almost overnight his songwriting process was altered. “I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of writing with this app,” he says. “I don’t write with a band so I just lock in a kick and snare pattern and work from there.”
Since then, Fisher’s downloaded a number of music apps, from Vintage Drum, a program that lets you play the skins with your fingers, to the piano app Virtuoso. In fact, he’s got more instruments and sounds at his disposal than he ever would have imagined possible. He recently took his love of music apps to a new level — the video for his new song “Shine a Little Light” has him playing apps instead of real instruments.
While Fischer’s taken the iPhone and turned it into a portable jam space, others are just beginning to discover the hundreds of music apps on the market. It’s not only changing the way people use their phones, it’s also altering the music business. “There’s evidence the market place is beginning to be populated by media produced on mobile devices,” says Aram Sinnreich, a Rutgers University media professor. “There are so many opportunities; no one can keep track of the many ways these devices can be used.”
Toronto-based jazz singer Matt Dusk uses his iPhone’s voice-recorder app to capture instrumental practice sessions that he can later sing along to. “It helps me get ready for gigs with no surprises,” he says. Musicians are attracted to the apps for two reasons: they’re easy to use and they’re cheap. Dusk likes being able to record ideas instantly, for better or worse. “When you think you have the next ‘Hey Jude,’ you can record it, then listen to it and realize you’re not even close,” he says with a laugh.
Fischer uses his phone for the same reasons as Dusk, but mobile technology also helped him make the cheapest video of his life. He spent about $14 on his apps and that was it. He already had a camera and he edited the spot with software he already owned. That’s a big change from the $40,000 Sony Music spent on making some of his older videos. “It’s really my time that costs,” he says. “Other than that, there was no budget.”
Cell-phone apps aren’t just being used for music creation. Former Torontonian-turned-New Yorker Jared Gutstadt invented Jingle Punks, an app for music supervisors. The program gives supervisors access to 30,000 songs, mostly from independent artists, and allows them to choose and use a track right then and there. Gutstadt says mobile technology is breaking down barriers, giving talented people the chance to rise to the top. “It took me eight years to get music in TV shows and now that’s something that can happen 100 times a day,” he says.
Mobile technology is only starting to influence the music world, but no one doubts that it will have a huge impact on the industry. “When I made my first record I had one guitar and a pad of paper,” says Fischer. “Now every tool you want is available on a phone.”