The Sonic Boom Of SMULE With Dr. Ge Wang

There are over 300,000 Apps currently available for the iPhone. That’s not even mentioning the 1000+ Apps at the new Mac App Store. With such an abundant selection, it seems highly unlikely that anyone could ever experience or utilize so many to any reasonable degree. When you point out that the primary source of growth for almost all of these Apps is typically from word-of-mouth and satisfied customers; it’s an almost baffling market.

Viral Marketing at its best.

So how does any one particular App become a big-seller? Common sense would tell you that it’s either through a socially popular novelty effect, or simply based on its own merit. As an iPhone user myself, I can tell you that the latter occurs much more infrequently than the former. So how about an App development company that consistently produces top-sellers and continues to rapidly soar above the rest in terms of innovation? That company would be called:

SMULE is a premier developer of sonic applications for the iPad, iPod Touch, and iPhone. Their incredible Apps include: I Am T-Pain, GLEE Karaoke, Magic Fiddle, Magic Piano, Leaf Trombone, Ocarina, Zephyr, Sonic Vox, and Sonic Lighter. Rather than go into great detail about each of SMULE’s ingenious particular Apps, I would urge you to click each one, read about, and even try them yourself. You won’t be sorry, and I promise you will have fun. (Even the tone deaf can rock out with the ‘I Am T-Pain’ App because, get this: It’s Auto-tuned!)

“If one is willing to be expressive, they can make music out of anything,”

says Dr. Ge Wang, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer of SMULE.

From SMULE’s website:

Ge is an Assistant Professor at Stanford University, at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). He holds a PhD in Computer Science from Princeton University and a BS in Computer Science from Duke University. Ge is the creator and chief architect of the ChucK audio programming language, and is the founding director of the Stanford Laptop Orchestra (SLOrk) and of the Stanford Mobile Phone Orchestra (MoPhO).”

Impressive, right? All that is in addition to his research and development with SMULE. It’s a good thing he loves his research.

“With SMULE, its working with this idea of social mobile music. It’s a combination of mobile devices, like the iPhone and iPad, in conjunction with cloud computing (a server of computers that actually connects all of these mobile devices) to get people to play music in new and interesting social ways. On the Stanford side I’m also conducting research on this idea of ubiquitous and social music. Its really all about how music can change the way we relate to to each other.”

Ge began his career with Stanford in 2007. It was his love for teaching and conducting research on music and technology, coupled with the timing of the iOS SDK (Apple’s Mobile Operating System Software Development Kit) release in 2008; that spawned SMULE.

“It seemed to gel so well with my interest as a researcher. It was such an opportunity for these devices to actually have a real material impact on how people can use computers for music. The two sides of what I do could reinforce each other and be after a singular theme: to help usher in new ways of making music while centered on this idea of connecting people. At the same time we wanted to make musical experiences for everyone. Not just for musicians; not just for novices –  but for as wide an audience as possible. We’ve been really exploring social mobile music ever since.”

Where Did These Guys Come From?

Though SMULE is 23 employees strong now, there was a much humbler beginning. Originally, SMULE consisted of Dr. Ge Wang, and the other Co-Founder: Jeff Smith (who is also SMULE’s CEO). Their initial development team consisted of a director of engineering, a client programmer, and a graphics programmer. Then came ‘The Mule’ who is a field marketing  agent (the one taking products to the street and talking to SMULE’s users). ‘The Mule’ now even has a daily broadcast every Monday at 7PM Pacific on

“We didn’t have a specific idea. We knew we wanted to explore the iPhone and other mobile devices to discover what kind of new musical possibilities there were. We didn’t know exactly what we were going to build. We followed the device and designed around it. It’s wasn’t about taking an idea first and seeing how it worked on the iPhone or iPad. It started with those devices; their capabilities and limitations – and asking, ‘With everything we have here and don’t have, what is a really compelling experience that we can design and create for people?’”

The Big Challenge

“There’s no shortage of things that are challenging in keeping up with the changing mobile landscape. Things are changing so fast: the technology of building products and getting them to work; and building products that will reach people on a human level. With music we owe it to ourselves to do that with every product. The big challenge is learning what this is all about and planning for the future of where things can go. No one really knows where mobile will end up. The only indication is that its growing incredibly rapidly. How people will relate to this technology and what they’ll end up doing with it, and what part we might play in this, is unclear – but that’s up to us. I think we’ll try, in some sense, to do our best to invent our own future in this. In the trenches it’s about every line of code. It’s about every customer support email that comes in that we field. It’s about every new thing we learn from our users. All of those in the day are what adds up to actually learning and hopefully creating great products.”

Dr. Ge Wang at the iPhone Convention

With all of his travelling, including a trip to the iPhone convention where he was outed by Steve Jobs as being the biggest selling male artist on iTunes history, Ge (needless to say) is BUSY. He travels to tech conferences and trade shows – which he calls ‘Burning Man-esque’ in terms of the tech world. He gives academic talks (recently in Spain for CES). He’s going to China for a tour with the Stanford Music Dept; and even to England to present an academic paper.

The Reward.

“There is nothing quite like the sense of connection people get through our apps. I read a tweet where a man in Florida said he just did a random duet with someone from California on the Magic Piano who turned out to be his son. Such a serendipitous coming together.”

SMULE – Ocarina

“I even read an iTunes review on Ocarina from a soldier stationed in Iraq. He stated that listening to Ocarina globe and listening to other people play was something peaceful for him. His days are full of chaos and craziness, but he’s actually able to find his calm through music and feeling this connection to other parts of the world – which are at times much more peaceful. That’s something.”

While Dr. Wang is a little reluctant to give advice, he still offered up these poignant gems to our readers:

“Following ones interest is the most important thing. Be flexible in the ways you get to your goals, but hold steadfast to what’s really interesting; and continue down that path. Let that drive what you do.”

“Its good to learn, and not just about technology, but also in the way people work. Design around the devices we use – backwards. Where and when and how people use these things suggest what to do.”

“Following one’s passion is the most any one can do.”

To learn more about SMULE & Dr. Ge Wang, please visit:

About the Author: Daniel Ballard

Daniel is a Writer and Entrepreneur. He is Co-Founder/Main Author/Editor of BossStart and Co-Editor/Featured Author for BossStart's sister site, PauseStart, launching early 2012

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1 Comment + Add Comment

  • loved the article!! answered a lot of my questions about apps!

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