Executives at Smule, the startup that turns mobile devices into musical instruments with apps like Ocarina and Magic Piano, say the company’s apps are about to get social in a big way.
Sharing has always been a key part of Smule’s products, but Prerna Gupta (who joined the company through the acquisition of another music app-maker called Khush, where she was CEO) says Smule hasn’t gone far enough — the cool musical stuff gets built first, then the social layer is “tacked on at the end.” That’s going to change with the company’s new products, she says, starting with Sing, an iPhone app that’s launching today. (Android and iPad versions are coming later.)
The Smule team demonstrated the Sing app for me earlier this week. At a basic level, it’s a karaoke app. Users can choose from a selection of songs, sing into their iPhone mic with the help of some on-screen guidance, then they get scored on their performance. That part is nicely designed and looks fun, but as promised, things get more interesting and innovative is on the social side. Sing users can invite other users to participate, or they can search for songs to join. Once you decided to join, you sing your own version of the song (you can hear everyone else’s performance as you sing, so if you’re particularly ambitious you can tailor your performance to complement theirs), then it’s combined into the existing vocals to create a single group track.
Smule co-founder and CTO Ge Wang says the collaborative features should help with Smule’s broader goal of making music performance more fun and accessible. When someone opens a Smule app, he says they shouldn’t ask themselves, “Am I a musician?” because the answer is usually no. Instead, the goal is to draw people in, then by the time they realize they’re making music, “it’s too late — they’re already having fun.” With Sing, it’s it should be less intimidating to join in an already-created song than it would be to start singing on your own.
I did wonder about what happens if someone joins a song and, either intentionally or unintentionally, ruins it. Wang says the current version of the app doesn’t allow users to remove specific vocal tracks from their songs, but that could be added in the future. He also says that if you’re particularly concerned about protecting your song, you could use “duet” mode, where you’re only inviting one other person to join you.
You can also discover other performances by exploring a globe showing recently uploaded tracks (in fact, the globe is the first thing you see when you open the app), and by following other users, whose updates appear in your newsfeed.
Gupta says we can expect to see a similar emphasis on social in Smule’s future products, which will include both new apps and updates to existing ones, though the exact form the social interaction takes will be “a little different for each thing.”
Wang also looks at social as a way to connect the user experience across all of Smule’s apps. In the future, for example, the company could create a single user profile showing all of your performances in any Smule product. Or users might be able to collaborate across apps, with one person supplying the piano part via Magic Piano while someone else provides the vocals via Sing.
Smule says its apps have now been installed 61 million times, and that they have 15 million monthly active users.
You can download the Sing app here.