The practice of looping by performing musicians has been around for quite awhile. (Check out Andrew Bird, for example.) But recent technology has made it considerably easier for non-professionals and Mancing Dolecules puts the power of looping right in the palm of your hand with its Everyday Looper iPhone app.
“Looping” is the act of recording a few bars of music (called a sample) and allowing it to repeat itself continuously while adding additional samples on top of the original recording. Vocals, live instruments, power tools—anything can be recorded to get the desired effect.
The best way to see what looping is all about and what this app can do is to watch this amazing video demo of Everyday Looper in action.
When you launch the app, the first thing you’ll see are some basic instructions to get you started:
Figure 1: Stick with these simple “moves” and you’ll be proficient in no time.
There’s also extensive built-in documentation that covers every command and option. Kudos to the developer for taking the time to build the help system into the app rather than linking to it on a Web page as so many apps do. This means you aren’t catapulted out of Everyday Looper and in to Safari every time you want to know how a particular feature works. A nice touch and one I appreciated.
One important point made in the documentation is that you’ll get better results if you use earphones and a microphone when you record. The headset included with your iPhone will be more than adequate. That said, there’s nothing to prevent you from using the built-in microphone and speakers on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Just know that recording this way may cause audio feedback and will almost certainly result in lower quality sound.
Tapping the basic instruction screen (Figure 1) takes you to the recording screen. At this point it consists of four colored lines running left to right as shown in Figure 2. Each of the lines represents one of your four audio tracks.
Figure 2: You start with four blank audio tracks.
To record, simply tap one of the lines. The track glows with a red highlight and recording on that track begins immediately. Waveforms representing the audio being recorded appear on the line in real time as shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3: This is what you see when you’re recording on the first (top) track.
The length of your loop is equal to the length of the first track you record. So if you record for 16 seconds on the first track, all other tracks you record will be 16 seconds long as well. When you’re happy with the first track, tap another track to record on it. You hear what is recorded on track 1 so you can sing (or play) along with it.
If you don’t like what you’ve recorded on a track, slide two fingers across that track to erase it and start over.
To adjust the relative volume of a track, swipe one finger over it. Swiping over 70% of the track will change it from silent to full volume (or vice versa). It sounds weird but it works well.
To pause/play, tap anywhere on the screen with two fingers. This stops recording (if you’re recording a track) but the rest of the loop continues to play until you tap with two fingers again or tap anywhere on the screen with three fingers, which stops recording (if you are recording) and stops the loop from playing.
A cool feature called track merge makes it possible to create loops with more than four tracks. To merge tracks, just drag one track onto another. You can drag up to three tracks onto the fourth, which merges all four tracks into one. This frees up three tracks so you can continue to record additional tracks for this loop.
Here’s what that looks like:
Figure 4: All four tracks are full.
Figure 5: After dragging the top three tracks (blue, brown, and green) onto the bottom track (yellowish), all of the sounds from all four tracks have been merged into the bottom track.
If, like me, you want to start out with a beat to record to, choose the “Click Track Generator” in the Tools menu where you can create a click track with your preferred speed and length (in number of beats) as shown in Figure 6.
Figure 6: Use the Click Track Generator to specify beats per minute and number of beats in this loop.
Warning: Generating a click track creates an empty loop with the clicks recorded on the bottom track. If you’ve been working on a loop when you generate the click track, your work will be lost.
In Figure 7, the bottom track is my click track. If my loop was finished I could do nothing with it. Or, if I still want to add more tracks to my loop I could merge it with one or more of the other tracks or erase it so I could rerecord the bottom track.
Figure 7: The bottom track is the click track, which I can keep, erase, or merge with other tracks.
I especially like the option that governs how you start recording each track. The default is to have the recording start as soon as you tap the track. But I prefer the Arm Before Recording option that causes your first tap to “Arm” the track for recording and requires a second tap to actually begin recording. I began recording tracks by accident far too often until I enabled Arm Before Recording. After that I only recorded on tracks when I meant to record on them.
It’s simple to save your finished loops on your iPhone. And the WiFi Sharing feature lets you play or download the individual track of each loop so you can further massage them in the audio sequencer of your choice (i.e. GarageBand or Logic or whatever tickles your eardrums).
There is one last thing: As you know, I’m not a musician although I do play one (at Cirque du Mac) once a year, whether you need it or not. So I’d like to offer special thanks to my friend Tim Basham, who is both a writer (for Paste magazine among others) and an extremely talented singer/songwriter/musician. His notes and observations about Everyday Looper served as both a reality check and a sanity check for the opinions expressed above.
The bottom line
Dedicated hardware looping devices cost hundreds of dollars and are much more difficult to use. The low price and ease of making professional sounding loops make Everyday Looper one of my favorite iPhone recording apps.
Everyday Looper is compatible with iPhone, 2nd and 3d generation iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 2.2 or later.