Smule’s Secret Weapon For Sharable Video: Audio

The Makers of I Am T-Pain, Songify, Ocarina and other easy, fun, song-making apps are moving into social video.

Smule’s Secret Weapon For Sharable Video: Audio

The magic bullet in the battle to build services for sharable bits of video might be music.


So far, Viddy and Socialcam have focused on filters and letting users easily make sharable micro movies. Now Smule, the makers of the “I Am T-Pain” software and music-focused apps Ocarina, Songify, and Glee, are using sound in a kind of bid to become Instagram for video.

Smule’s new app, out now, is called Strum. And it’s built on the premise that building an app that lets users create and share original sound and video together should be as easy and pleasing as Instagram, the photo-sharing and filtering service that Facebook bought for $1 billion.

“Our goal is to make musical self-expression as ubiquitous as other forms of social media are today, and our belief is that music is a fundamental form of human expression,” Smule’s CPO Prerna Gupta tells Fast Company. “We’re in a time where technology can enable this for anyone, even people who don’t necessarily have training or don’t feel that they have the talent.”

Smule has learned a lot about user-generated music and filters–its apps have had over 78 million installs across the different products, and 950 million pieces of music have been created.

“All of our apps are audio products, and with two of the bigger apps Songify and Autorap we’ve been wanting to add video,” Gupta says. So engineers set out to stitch moving images into their audio apps, but they ended up with an altogether new product–Strum, which Gupta thinks “has the potential to be the biggest social video app on a mobile device.”

Already, however, it might face competition from another new social video app that uses music and filters–VJAM, co-founded by Grammy Award-winners Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams boasts an algorithm that matches up the emotion in select music (including one original Zimmer score) with the corresponding high points in your videos. (Read more about it here.)


In addition to Strums “filters” that tweak the audio of video clips you’d like to share, the app also composes background music for them, automatically. Parag Chordia, Smule’s chief scientist, explained that the video and audio filters were designed to quickly give a preview of the effect each would give, rather than having to wait–which would potentially put off the customer who may get bored waiting for a video to render.

The processing for each effect happens in the phone, and are designed to be as much of a one-click experience as Instagram’s photo filters are. Some of the audio effects automatically compose background music to go with the video clip, some morph the voices in the recording to sound musical, or even into a rap. And where the effects are more complex, such as repeating sections of the audio to get a rap effect, the video is simultaneously edited. “It’s a fully edited music video,” according to Chordia, but the user can choose whether they want to make a lightly filtered clip or a heavily filtered one (like the choice we all make in Instagram when we jam on the “low fi” effect to a photo and some serious tilt/shift blurring). For some rapping dog action, courtesy of Strum, check out this link.

Gupta underlined the inspiration from Instagram by emphasizing the design of the interface was important–it had to be “the most intuitive and the lightest. We took a lot of the other video apps that are out there and what they were doing. They really are clunky. It felt like they had taken the web video browsing experience and port that to mobile. We wanted to start from scratch.”

Now, if you excuse me, I’m off to make a video clip of my two-year-old rapping a Christmas carol. Because I can.

[Image: Flickr user balleyne]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise.