Since this is my first post, I thought I’d start with something fun.
Last night, I watched the Tonight Show with new host Jimmy Fallon, mainly because Billy Joel was a guest. Not only is he a musical legend with a string of hits and awards that would make most top 40 hit-makers of today drool, but he is genuinely a cool guy. The native New Yorker came off pretty humble and relaxed for most New Yorkers I know, but at the same time, he’s definitely from the city.
Joel was on the show to promote his new live album A Matter of Trust: The Bridge to Russia, which was released yesterday. He also mentioned his franchise of shows at Madison Square Garden this year (don’t bother, they’re all sold out), but he’s also a friend of Fallon’s. After a commercial break, Fallon asked Joel if he wanted to sing a little something with him. The late night host whipped out his iPad and said he wanted to use the Loopy app, which allows users to record phrases and play them on a loop. Joel looked a little hesitant, but agreed, and the impromptu doo-wop duet began to sing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
By looping the back-up vocals, they were able to sing all different harmonies and create a full sound with only two people. It was a pretty special moment and it all happened because of an iPad app. Sure, they could have sung just their own two parts, but by using a simple app, they were able to add multiple layers right on the spot without additional singers.
The company behind the app, A Tasty Pixel, is a one-man indie software development company run by solo programmer Michael Tyson. The company has released multiple iOS apps including the Loopy app, which launched in 2009 and has received a lot of good reviews from app developers and recording artists alike. For example, Pete Mitchell of the band No More Kings gave the app his vote of approval on the Loopy app website:
“This is an incredible app,” Mitchell said. “I’m definitely using Loopy to write my next album.”
Currently, the $7.99 app has a five out of five star rating with 35 total ratings, including a five star rating from Marlco:
“This is my favorite music app on the App Store, and I have dozens of them,” Marlco said. “Any time I write a song Loopy HD is the first app I go to. It’s really stable, has extensive MIDI support, the best clock sync on iOS, and is fun and intuitive.”
Artists have been using loopers for decades, from recordings to live performances. 2014 Best New Artist Grammy nominee Ed Sheeran is a big fan of using a looping station live. For example, at the iTunes Festival in 2012, Sheeran used a looper in his performance of “Grade 8” off his debut album + (yes, just the symbol). Other examples of artists using the Looper app specifically include Dub FX, a reggae hip-hop artist who specializes in beatboxing, and has given the app his blessing through a Youtube tutorial. Electric cellist ecce cello (David Fernández) has also given the app a spin with his rendition of “The Son.”
There are both advantages and disadvantages to using loops in music, according to eHow, a website that serves as an online resource for professional advice in 30 categories, from cooking to budgeting. Owen Wuerker, an eHow contributor who covers the music industry and home recording, described the advantages of looping:
“Loop-based music tends to take the emphasis away from the development of individual instrumental parts and puts it instead on development through layering, which is an exciting new way to approach song writing,” Wuerker said.
On the other hand, some might say that using a looper is almost cheating, allowing the artist to avoid mistakes more easily with less effort. Some might even go as far as to say looping isn’t real music. According to Wuerker, the disadvantage to using looping is that when the method is used sloppily, the human element and need for true musicianship is lost, a statement I definably agree with. However, when used correctly, looping is an innovative way to approach songwriting.
Whether loopers take the authenticity of music away or not, the app seemed pretty cool to me. I see last night’s Tonight Show performance as an example of technology being used to help the average person create music in a personal way. Almost all technology can be used for evil, but it can also be used for good, and sometimes, moments of greatness come as a result. Last night was one of those special moments in the music world.