The past week has been dominated by Apple Music news, but how about creating some tunes rather than just listening to them?
GarageBand is a brilliant bit of software – the polar opposite of its eternally-frustrating cousin iTunes – that makes composing songs on iOS and OS X really easy. But the trouble is, it’s an Apple-only affair.
Soundtrap is a new browser-based music creation programme that harnesses the same simple but powerful approach and combines it with an HTML5 interface and video features that make it easy to collaborate with other musicians wherever they are.
Continuing Sweden’s track record for music startups – Spotify, SoundCloud and Tidal all started life there – the company is based in Stockholm. Its CEO Per Emanuelson explains:
Music has always been strong in Sweden, not just with startups but also bands. Abba, of course! We have a strong music education system. You play instruments from an early age, not just in school.
I think it’s also because Swedes are quite good at English which means our music can take off abroad. We’re such a small country, we have to go beyond our borders.
And if you think I hammered the GarageBand comparison a little too hard earlier in this article, Soundtrap’s co-founder doesn’t agree. He brought it up first:
When Steve Jobs introduced GarageBand, he said half of US households had an active musician in them. Most tools out there today focus on the pro-musician though. Some people can’t deal with all those options but are still very musically talented.
We thought: How do we make this as useable as something like Instagram, but still have quality?
The result is an app that features the familiar multi-track timeline of most modern recording apps, coupled with an extensive library of loops (which are automatically transposed into the key you’re using), built-in instruments and the ability to record your own in a variety of ways.
The in-app instruments are easy to play with both touch on mobile devices and your keyboard when you’re composing on the desktop.
Under the hood Soundtrap uses the Web Audio and WebRTC APIs, which has got the company plenty of love from Google since it released its minimum viable product back in late-2013. It was invited to Google I/O last year and has been highlighted several times for applying new Web technologies.
Emanuelson says the user base of the app has gone from 20,000 users to 120,000 in the past couple of months, with educators being particular fans.
From my brief time playing with the Soundtrap, I can definitely see the appeal. Switching from an unreliable Skype conversation to a video call in the virtual studio with Emanuelson was incredibly refreshing.
Lag means you’re not going to use the service for live jamming but it makes collaborating on a song very simple and if your connection is good enough, it can even work well as a virtual practice room.
The real potential is for Soundtrap to become the delightful lovechild of Garage Band and Google Docs. By allowing you to share and collaborate on tracks both simultaneously and asynchronously, it makes working on music with anyone in the world much, much easier.
The free plan gives you access to 480 loops and allows you to create up to 5 projects with 125 instruments. There’s a 30-day free trial of the paid plans.
The ‘Premium’ option costs $9.56 (£6.14) per month if you pay yearly or $12.74 (£8.18) on a month-to-month basis and gives you 1,290 loops, unlimited projects and 152 instruments.
The cheaper ‘Pro’ option is $4.76 (£3.06) per month if you pay annually or $6.37 (£4.09) month-to-month for a 930 loop library, 50 projects and 133 instruments.
If you want a place to make music that will work on any of your devices and are after a place where you can collaborate with friends regardless of what platform they favor, Soundtrap is definitely worth a look.
With a free trial of the paid features, you’ve got nothing to lose. However, if you’re already dug in deep with an existing recording app, there’s still likely to be learning curve and you might not want to make the switch.