Bandlab is a product that encourages collaborative music-making between people in different locations by providing tools for recording ideas and a social network within which ideas can be shared. All that is recorded using the app is stored in the cloud where it can be heard and potentially added to by others, and everyone is encouraged to share their work in all stages of its development. The app also makes it easy for like–minded musicians to form bands.
To begin using the app it’s first necessary to set up an account, and this can be done by creating a profile or signing up with pre–existing Google+ or Facebook accounts. I went with Google+ and was slightly unnerved to see the app instantly source my profile picture and display it along with my name at the top of the opening page! This first page has counters showing how many people or bands you are following, how many are following you and how many plays you’ve had so far. There’s also a Setting page where profile details can be expanded and another where the user can track their own recent activity and that of the people they are following. It’s similar to things like Twitter and Google+.
The app is set up so that recording an idea in its most basic form can be done in the blink of an eye. For example, touching the microphone button that appears in the bottom section of the main page launches a new idea page where there is a prompt to write some notes, plus another mic button which immediately starts recording audio when touched. If the idea is something worth keeping it can be given a name and saved, and will thereafter appear in an Ideas folder that also lives on the opening page. At this level, the app functions as a handy notepad.
To take things a little further, the user has to create a song, but the option to do this appears only after something has been recorded. From there on it’s possible to record along with the first idea and then save the result as a Revision. It’s unclear where these revisions can be found, but it seems like each new revision replaces the previous one.
For proper multitrack recording the user must head one level deeper into the app by clicking the Pro Mode option that only becomes available on the Create Song page. Doing so opens the Mix Editor, which is something that looks like a very basic DAW multitrack display. Crazily, there’s no way to get straight to the Mix Editor from the first page.
Each new take made within the Mix Editor is assigned its own track channel with level attenuation and mute and solo options. It’s pretty simple to delete a track or drag the audio from one place to another, and there are undo and redo options amongst the transport controls.
Helpfully, the Mix Editor’s tools include a metronome with tempo, time-signature and count–in adjustments, but for some reason the metronome is not available when laying down the initial recording, so it’s sometimes necessary to start off recording a throwaway part just to access the Mix Editor and its metronome.
Touching on a clip brings up an editing panel with options to Cut, Copy, Slice, Loop and Delete. If Loop is selected the option to Sample appears, but there is nothing to explain what happens to the sample! I should mention at this point that the app currently has no help menus or manual and is pretty minimal in terms of information.
Building a composition in the Mix Editor is straightforward enough, however, one major problem I found was that after leaving the mixer and returning to the initial menu page, where the mix can be listened to, my tracks had slipped out of sync! No doubt these bugs will be ironed out in the near future, but it’s clear that there is work to be done on the multitracker.
Overall, I’m not sure what to make of Bandlab, which seems to combine social networking, cloud storage and recording tools into something that is a bit back–to–front in some ways. I can’t help wondering if it isn’t better to record using a dedicated bit of software and then import the finished mix. Still, Rome wasn’t built in a day, so perhaps this is the start of something special?
For those willing to take the plunge, one thing worth doing before beginning a collaboration is check out the Terms Of Service notes, as there are all sorts of copyright issues to consider when creating a shared composition!