What a time to be a music producer! The barrier to entry is so low that a flea could clear it by a foot. Thanks to advancements in technology fitting supercomputers in our pockets, just about everyone has all the tools they need to start making beats right from their phones.
There’s a growing number of apps that allow you to record, sample, chop, and mix music right from your smart phone, with unprecedented quality.
These are the best beat-making apps right now:
1. Flip by Andrew Huang
The legend himself has entered the game
If you’re a music producer, odds are you’ve come across mentions of Andrew Huang or his YouTube channel. He’s a monolith in the music community, notable for his love of sampling and repurposing wacky sounds and modular synthesizers.
He’s made an EP in basically any genre you can name, and has one of the most wholesome, holistic approaches to music-making the world has ever known.
Needless to say, Andrew Huang is a true master of his craft, which is why Flip is the best music production app on the market, bar none.
Flip was designed to be equally as capable as a desktop DAW, to be easy to use, and to achieve greatness of sound without a huge price tag.
As a result, this is basically a $10 portable DAW, complete with automation, effects plugins, a piano roll, envelopes, a mixer, and a mastering chain. The app wants to get you from sample to song as smoothly as possible.
All of the effects you can add are fully modifiable, like the parametric EQ, compressors, distortion, you name it. It all functions just like a plugin in your at-home computer, with the distinct advantage of being touch-based.
Sometimes feeling your way around is more natural to the process than trying to use a mouse and keyboard, and Flip makes full use of its tactile nature.
In our opinion, they’ve taken the biggest challenge that a smartphone can face – small screens – and done the absolute best with it that they can. It never feels like there’s not enough room for all the buttons, or to see what’s going on.
Performance mode solves the issue of track arrangement, and now each phrase of your song, like verses, choruses, and intros, can be viewed in a larger side-by-side frame, and clicked for more in-depth editing.
What good would it be if you couldn’t take advantage of your phone’s mic? Flip lets you sample any sound, any time, and has a bunch of ways to edit and mangle those samples into something brand new.
If that sounds like a hassle, there’s also a sample pack store in the app where various producers upload their own packs that you can buy and use royalty-free. Score!
If you aren’t a fan of doing mixing and mastering on your phone, don’t worry! You can export the project as stems to your favorite DAW. There’s a special connection with Abelton Link that allows you to use your phone as a controller inside Abelton, and play/perform in real-time with a project from your DAW.
- Basically, a full-fledged DAW that fits in your pocket.
- Can export project stems to work on a desktop.
- Somehow only $10?
- Beautiful, simple interface with tons of functionality.
- Only available for iOS.
- The app is still pretty buggy and glitches fairly often; be warned.
2. FL Studio Mobile
Baby fruity loops
FL Studio is one of the big mainline DAWs, so it should be no surprise that its mobile version is the cream of the crop. Once again, this app fits the power of desktop audio software into a device that fits in the palm of your hand. Nearly everything you’d expect from a real DAW is achievable in this small but mighty package.
Let’s start with MIDI programming. Not only does FL Studio Mobile have a quick and easy note entry mode, but it also had MIDI controller connectivity, meaning you can take your Akai MPK Mini and use it to play catchy riffs into your phone, and edit them with ease.
You may be thinking “but my MPK Mini is just a controller, it doesn’t make any sounds on its own” and you’d be correct. That’s why FL Studio Mobile comes with high-quality synthesizer plugins too!
You can modulate parameters to create your own unique sounds, and perform them using external MIDI devices, then save them as a project all on your phone. That’s crazy!
There’s a host of native effects that you can use, such as an auto-ducker (great for bassheads who love side-chain compression) compressor, EQ, limiter, chorus, flanger, phaser, distortion, reverb, delay, and even a formant filter.
You can even use your MIDI controller to control the parameters of these effects to capture a more authentic live performance.
Of course, this app can also capture recorded live performances as well, with the built-in microphone, allowing you to sample to your heart’s content, or to lay down some lush lead vocals in the song you wrote.
This app was made with no limitations in mind, meaning you can make heavy beats one day and an acoustic ballad the next, all from your mobile device.
- An entire DAW with very similar format and layout to most mainstream DAWs.
- MIDI controller connectivity.
- Works with iOS and Android, and functions seamlessly when switching between the two.
- Comes with high-quality stock synthesizers.
- Limited screen space on smaller devices can make navigation feel tricky and cluttered.
- Limited selection of effects.
The DAW you know and love
It should go without saying that this pick is exclusive to iPhone and iPad users, but if you’re wielding either of those devices, then you’ve got access to a workhorse music-making machine at your fingertips.
Garageband got a makeover between the MacBook and iPhone, but it’s still one of the best free music apps for mobile. The interface is a slightly watered-down version of the classic Garageband look, but it doesn’t miss out on any features. Sporting a fully-functional piano roll, screen keyboard for entering MIDI, and something unique to this app, the Smart Guitar which lets you strum a virtual guitar as a MIDI input, it lives up to its predecessor.
Live Loops and Remix FX are two newer tools given to Garageband and Logic that turn the DAW from a side-scrolling, single-track view to a cell-based, more performative style, which is amazing for saving screen real estate, and organizing your tracks and loops.
It makes structuring full songs a breeze as well, and with up to 32 tracks, believe us when we say it can be a hassle!
With a little practice, it’s entirely possible to cook up a beat backstage before a show and perform it from your iPhone at the end of the set, by triggering the different sections in real-time.
Garageband has generously given us the Alchemy synthesizer too, which has performance-focused controls for the various parameters. Alchemy is one of the coolest synths we know, and comes with a huge sound bank full of presets, as well as eight different variations on those presets mapped to the aforementioned performance controls.
If synths aren’t your thing, the Sound Library has oodles of royalty-free samples, loops, and even remix sessions of hit songs for you to play around with. You can keep track of them with a really slick interface too, so you won’t be digging through folders that are notoriously hard to access from your phone when inspiration strikes.
Whether you are looking for a traditional DAW experience or a more MPC-type beat making session, Garageband can do it. With so many options for creativity and expression, it’s hard to beat this staple of Apple technology.
- 32 track limit is a lot of tracks!
- Flexibility between a side-scroller and a loop cell workstation is great.
- Reliability and no bugs.
- Only available for iOS.
- Limited selection of effects and ways to manipulate samples.
4. iMaschine 2
Iconic as hardware and software
Native Instruments is already well-known for the sampling capabilities of plugins like Kontakt, and its Maschine controller is a familiar sight in any studio, bedroom or otherwise. Now they have mobile software in the form of iMaschine that brings it to another level.
iMaschine looks and feels like a colorful update of a classic MPC drum machine, and behind the curtain sports tons of wonderful features.
One highlight is the Smart Play keyboard which will automatically map notes to be in the key you select, saving you the hassle of editing notes after performing, or worse, messing up when performing live.
We all know how easy it is to play F# instead of G because those keys are so small and your phone screen only has so much space and… anyway, it’s really helpful! There’s also an arpeggiator you can use as you see fit, which makes cool arp lines easier than ever to make on the go.
An underrated feature of iMaschine is that in addition to loops and scenes being arrangeable into songs, you can also color-code them by hand, as any good DAW would.
As far as the sounds go, the app comes with over 750 samples, including 38 pre-made drum kits, in a variety of different genres. They also give you the option to mix and match, so if you want a dubstep kick with a jazz snare, no one’s stopping you!
In addition, you can sample yourself with your phone’s mic, record the world around you, or import directly from your iTunes library! Samples saved to iTunes on your cloud are free reign as well, and there’s an app called AudioCopy that lets you bring in sounds from other apps, like Voice Notes if you want to go the Charlie Puth route.
If you needed a reminder that we truly are living in the future, iMaschine has something called 3D Touch, where you can control some parameters with the pressure of your touch.
We don’t know how they did it, but this can take your performances to the next level, giving you velocity control on input, but also allowing you to speed up note repeats by applying more pressure, or slow them down by letting off a bit. There’s tons of possibilities for added expression.
- Color-coding + an elegant arrangement view helps to keep track of sounds and parts.
- 3D Touch heightens the expression potential of the app.
- Designed to be a sampler, giving you control over any recorded audio.
- Reliable and relatively bug-free.
- Less like a mainstream DAW.
- Restricted to 4 groups, either kits or instruments, and 4 patterns per group, which can only be 32 bars longs, giving your song a maximum of 128 bars.
- No real synthesizers to mess around with.
- Only available for iOS.
In our opinion, there’s hardly a competition between Flip and anything else on this list. Flip is a masterpiece of an app, created in part by someone who knows exactly what producers and beat-makers need.
However, everything else here can at least deliver a surprisingly polished result, whether you’re working with pop artists on the go, or just making beats in your bedroom.
There’s a number of noteworthy loop apps on the great big internet, but far fewer capture the capabilities needed to bring a song to life, more than just a simple beat on a loop.