Smule Launches Strum, A Social Video App With Musical Filters

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The latest product from music startup Smule isn’t what I was expecting — instead of releasing another music-centric app like Ocarina or Magic Piano, it’s launching a social video app called Strum.

Music still plays a role in the app, but it’s not center stage here as it is with Smule’s other products. Prerna Gupta, CEO of Khush (another music startup that was acquired by Smule last year), said Strum comes from the same ideas that she told me about in August. At the time, she’d said her goal was to make the social experience a more integral part of Smule’s apps, rather than building the music side first, then tacking on a social layer at the end. Video is a key part of that social effort (witness the YouTube videos that Smule’s fans have created), so the team explored adding video to each of Smule’s apps, then ultimately decided to launch a standalone video experience.

At this point, you may be underwhelmed at the thought of yet another social video competitor. Gupta herself acknowledged that “there’s been a lot of talk recently about, ‘Why hasn’t the social video space taken off?'” Some argue that “maybe people just aren’t interested in social video” but she said that people are interested if you give them the right experience. The key is to pay attention to both the audio side and the visual side: “You cannot think of them separately.”

That’s the reasoning behind Strum’s most novel feature. It includes filters that don’t just change the appearance of the video, but also add a musical track, turning your footage into a music video of sorts. Chief scientist Parag Chordia (Gupta’s husband and Khush co-founder) said the music is actually automatically generated to match the sounds in the video. It builds on the “reverse karaoke” technology that Khush developed, where an app could automatically build a music track to match the user’s singing. Some of the filters are pretty heavy-handed, while others are more subtle, leaving the source video still visible and audible.

To give you an idea of how the filtered videos look and sound, here’s one of video blogger iJustine. Here’s one of Gupta singing a Christmas carol. And here’s a filtered version of a video I recorded a few weeks ago featuring a sax solo from my favorite karaoke DJ, DJ Purple.

Are these filters just a novelty? I’m not sure. Personally, there are aspects of the app that I find more exciting (I’ll get to those in a second), so I expect I’ll be posting more unfiltered videos at first. On the other hand, I had the same reaction when Instagram launched, but clearly I was in the minority, and my friends quickly browbeat me into using the filters myself.

Still, Strum has other selling points. Chordia said that existing social video apps are also too “heavy” and based on a “complex video editing paradigm.” His goal was to build something that was much more lightweight and intuitive. So even though the basic mechanics of browsing popular videos and following other users should be pretty familiar, Strum features a very clean and attractive visual design. It’s easy to move from one video to another by just flicking across the screen. And video creation is pretty easy too, with each step of uploading a video, selecting the segment that you want to include, viewing the filtered version, and selecting the thumbnail preview image taking only a few seconds each.

You can download Strum from the Apple App Store here. Chordia said the app is optimized for the iPhone 5, but it also works on the 4 and the 4S, as well as the iPod Touch.