by Clive Young.
Ask anyone with an Apple iPhone what he thinks of it, and odds are you'll hear a rave about how it can do most anything. As if to underline the point, indie band The 88 recently created its latest single, "Love is the Thing," on the ubiquitous device, using FourTrack, a recording app by Sonoma Wire Works. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the song is now for sale on iTunes, where it's the top-selling song of the band's online oeuvre; what is surprising, however, is just how good the quirky chamber pop song sounds when you consider its origins.
While killing time on the road during a recent tour opening for the B-52s, the band stumbled across FourTrack, which is exactly what you think it is: a four-track digital recorder. Designed as a songwriting and practice tool for musicians who want to sketch out musical ideas, it was perfect for The 88, who soon plunked down $9.99 for the app.
"FourTrack really sparked our curiosity," keyboardist Adam Merrin told Pro Sound News. Upon the band's return home to Los Angeles, Merrin suggested they record a full-fledged single on the iPhone. "Since we love playing music together, the worst that could happen is we’d lose a couple of hours to experimentation."
What followed was three hours of recording and two hours of mixing, using the phone to capture everything from guitar amps to four-part vocal harmonies. "It was very easy to record onto the iPhone; there was nothing that the average person couldn’t figure out on his own," said Merrin. The application provides standard four-track amenities like panning and track bouncing, as well as more advanced items like an onboard compressor-limiter and a metronome with beats in a variety of time signatures.
While the band initially used the metronome, it was replaced by a kiddie drum kit, used in an effort to ensure the iPhone's mic wasn't overpowered. "Due to having no control over the input levels, we were spurred to use some creativity to make certain instruments quieter," said Merrin. "For example, we put a sheet over the drums and the iPhone behind pillows." In all, the band recorded--and bounced--14 tracks.
Not everything went smoothly; when it came time to replace the scratch vocal, the new lead sounded buried in the mix, so the band recorded it again using an Alesis ProTrack, which allows users to connect an iPod or an iPhone to both a microphone and headphones, and adjust the input level.
The band released the song at the end of June, and it was only then that Sonoma Wire Works became aware of the project, reading about it in USA Today and online, before getting a call from Apple's PR department. Michelle Wright, Sonoma's VP of Marketing, explained, "Later, we realized that the 88s had contacted us through FourTrack's MySpace page on June 13th, when they asked if the Alesis ProTrack was compatible with FourTrack. Their question was answered with no further correspondence--we had not realized that they were recording an entire song with it. They also contacted us through MySpace with a link to their video on YouTube on June 30th, which was nice!"
While the single has aimed a spotlight on the band, it's also been a win-win situation for Sonoma Wire Works as well. Wright noted that after "Love is the Thing" started getting attention for how it was recorded, FourTrack moved up from 45th to 18th on Apple's Top Paid apps list in the music category. With more iPhone-based music apps in development, Sonoma Wire Works aims to make the most of this unexpected surge of interest in its products, which include RiffWorks recording software for Mac and Windows.
The single has become an accidental calling card for FourTrack, but if the application met The 88's expectations, fortunately the song has met Wright's most stringent criteria as well: "I think 'Love is the Thing' is a catchy and fun song."
What do you think of all this? Is recording on a phone a potential tool of the future or just a novelty? What do you think of the song? Share your thoughts in the comments below!