Apple's Music Memos

Musicians on iOS got a very unexpected treat today when Apple released a free new app to help capture musical inspiration. Called Music Memos, it's a music-specific spinoff of the built-in Voice Memos app, but it's more than just a simple recording tool. Apple brought a lot of special features to Music Memos that make it a very powerful and unique app to add to your toolbox.

At its core, Music Memos sets out to solve the age-old problem of capturing those beautiful, fragile moments of creative inspiration with minimal fuss and overhead. Nothing kills the creative process like fighting with technology just to get an idea down before it disappears from your head.

With Music Memos, if you can play it, you can capture it. And once you've captured the idea Music Memos provides a number of ways to enhance, catalog and share those ideas for further refinement or sharing.

Capturing The Moment

It all starts with capturing a recording. There are no dialog boxes of text fields to fill out. There are no prompts for key and time signatures. There is just a big record button. You press it, you play, Music Memos captures the sound and you press the stop button. This is the single most important step in capturing inspiration and Music Memos makes this fast and dead-simple.

Let's record something! 

Let's record something! 

Refining The Moment

After you finish the recording Music Memos reveals its deepest magic by auto-detecting chords and rhythm. Your captured audio is placed on a staff-like visualization allowing you to see and edit your idea.

Music Memos chord detection is pretty good. But if guessed wrong it's easy enough to fix.  

Music Memos chord detection is pretty good. But if guessed wrong it's easy enough to fix.  

In this "lead sheet" view Music Memos will overlay the chord changes and bar lines it calculated from your captured audio. My first demo was with a series of plucked chord fragments and Music Memos did a surprisingly good job figuring out what the chords were. For the ones it missed, it was easy enough to edit the named chord in a given section of the bar. Not only is this important for reading back later, but having the correct chord types identified makes it possible for Music Memos' bass player feature to work correctly.

Each "bubble" in a bar represents a discovered chord. Not only can you tap these and change their quality, but you can also resize the bubbles to fit properly with your audio. Again, this is important for getting good results from the bass. For any bubble you can also choose not to have any detected chord and also tell the band not to play in that section.

You get a little customization of bass and drum sounds and styles.  

You get a little customization of bass and drum sounds and styles.  

If you've ever used Apple's Drummer feature (in both GarageBand and Logic Pro) tapping and holding on the drum icon will present a familiar interface for modifying the drum track playback. You have the choice between two kits, one of three percussion pieces and the familiar complexity-vs-volume grid. You can customize the bass part in a similar fashion which gives you a surprising amount of creative control in an app ostensibly just about capturing musical inspiration.

If you're a data-nerd like me, you can take advantage of a number of tools Music Memos provides to catalog and find ideas in the future. Tags are often a good way to quickly categorize ideas for retrieval later. Tapping the tag icon brings up a simple list of built-in tags to choose from along with the option to create your own.

Tag your ideas for easy searching later.  

Tag your ideas for easy searching later.  

In addition to the name, key and time signatures you can also add notes to your idea. Music Memos seems to have a particularly fondness for guitarists by having specific Capo and Tuning settings. You can also add freeform text notes with any other context or details you might need later.

Add notes and meta-data like tuning! 

Add notes and meta-data like tuning! 

Sharing The Moment

Once you've captured your idea it's surprisingly easy to get that idea out of Music Memos and off to better places for refinement and collaboration. The premier destination for your Music Memos ideas will be GarageBand. Fortunately exporting to GarageBand is a breeze. Simply tap the ubiquitous sharing icon and then tap GarageBand.

There lots of ways to get your ideas out of Music Memos

There lots of ways to get your ideas out of Music Memos

Once exported to GarageBand, your idea is broken out into three separate tracks: the original audio recording, the drum track (as a Drummer track) and the bass (as a MIDI track). Once you're in GarageBand a whole world of creative options open up to you. You can add more parts, extend the tune, add plugins and so forth. And if, like me, you prefer Logic Pro you can easily export GarageBand tunes to Logic Pro X. This pipeline of Music Memos to GarageBand to Logic Pro X is a uniquely powerful workflow for musicians on the Apple platform. 

Music Memo exported to GarageBand

Music Memo exported to GarageBand

Of course GarageBand isn't the only place you can send your ideas. You can also add them to your iTunes Library, your iCloud Drive and any number of third-party apps. For example, with the Soundcloud app installed it's a snap to get your idea from inspiration all the way to published.

Music Memos runs on both iPhone and iPad. If you choose to use iCloud Drive you can keep all of your ideas in sync across multiple devices, if you have them. The iCloud sync'ing works pretty much the same way that iCloud will sync your GarageBand projects. For the most part, "it just works".

I have longed for something like this but never thought anyone would build it. The fact that Apple created such a tool and integrated it so well gives me a lot of confidence that this is going to be a powerful tool to add to my musical workflow. For an initial release it's quite polished. The chord and rhythm detection aren't flawless, but they are delightfully better than one should reasonably expect.

In the spirit of many of Apple's iOS apps, this one has a singular focus on solving one problem. In this case it's the process of capturing creative inspiration and Music Memos is in a class of its own. Quite simply, there is nothing like this out there that combines convenience, features and smooth workflows like Music Memos.