As many working musicians will know, most of what is created, stored, organised, accessed and performed start their lives on paper – chord sheets, lyrics, sheet music, set lists, etc – and many will stay on paper for the entirety of their lives. Some of these get organised; others rot at the bottom of the guitar case pocket, only to be rediscovered when desperately looking for a scrap piece of paper (because your ‘phone battery is dead, of course).
OnSong promises to “replace the mess of paper and binders with performance-ready, interactive, digital chord charts on your mobile device” – no question, this it intuitively does with distinction. And in this process of cleaning up guitar case pockets, it manages to streamline other off-stage tasks as well, either by default or by providing more functionality strings to its bow.
Some of my favourite features, selected and edited from iTunes and OnSong’s website, are as follows:
• Simple song and chord entry
• Highlight or bold chords for visibility; change font size and style easily
• Add sticky notes to songs
• Import, export and synchronize with Dropbox and others
• Print your set wirelessly to an AirPrint printer (for other band members yet to get with the program)
• Flip or tap through all the songs in set
• Pull and change songs for set lists fast
• Go hands-free with foot pedals (eg. AirTurn BT-105, Griffin Stompbox, iRig Blueboard)
• Share on-the-fly with band members over Bluetooth, or use master/slave setup (for band members who have seen the light)
• Project lyrics or use a stage monitor with VGA, HDMI or AirPlay video support
• Transpose and capo with the brush of a finger
• Play along from song library
• Use chord tablature library
• Practice with a click track to a metronome (err, drummers, take note)
Although the list of features does go on much further, like me, I suspect that most musicians will care most about the ease of setting the App up prior to an event, and how it performs live.
Made me smile
The UI is clean and well thought out; you can keep the layout as spartan as you like to help with quick on-stage referencing, or load up the screen with even a picture of a kitchen sink, if that rocks your boat. In short, it’s customisable to the nth degree, via a simple menubar at the top. The low light mode is a nice touch, too.
Multiple events can be organised within song ‘Folders’ to create a ‘Folder list’, and each event can be loaded with as many sets as necessary. Each set can then be populated with songs by simply using the ‘+’ button, and selecting from a song list (these songs can either be imported via iTunes sharing or directly via the Internet). And as if by magic, the selected songs are added sequentially. Change your mind? It’s as easy as entering ‘Edit’ mode within the set – move or delete to your heart’s content.
Once on-stage, each page can be set to ‘Autoscroll’ based on the tempo of the song, or can be scrolled manually by setting up shortcuts under ‘Navigation Zones’, and tapping away. And page turns are just as simple – single taps flip the pages this way and that.
And once you’re done for the night, archive the event for prosperity if you wish.
Made me frown
Since I use sheet music only very occasionally, I have yet to test it on this App. I have however seen some digruntled users complaining about difficulties scrolling back and forth when faced with repetitions and codas, especially with hands full of instruments, and even with a Bluetooth pedal. Something to think about.
Also, quick word of advice if using a pedal. If you’re trying to conserve your iPad’s battery and decide to flick the Airplane Mode on, be sure to re-establish Bluetooth connection with the pedal before the start of a set! Yes, I learnt that from experience.
After 3 years of weekly on-stage use, I can happily say that I never leave home (for a gig) without it. This App has done to my live music performance what word-processors did to my pens and paper.
One more thing: This App was independently purchased by the post author. He has no affilliation whatsoever with the App maker, but will confess that this App was the main reason he purchased his first iPad.