Smule is the new way to community singing with over 50mn global users: Bill Bradford

Bradford, President, Smule unveils the app's journey so far, vision in India, partnerships and future plans

e4m by Priyaankaa Mathur
Published: Feb 27, 2019 9:13 AM  | 9 min read
Bill Bradford

The social networking music app 'Smule' connects the global music community with 50 mn active users promoting community singing, creation and participation across the globe bringing the old way of music creation back.

Bill Bradford, President, Smule unveils the app's journey so far, vision in India, partnerships and future plans. 

Tell us about the genesis of Smule and what makes this app different from other music apps in the market? 

Smule as a company has been founded by people who have studied music formally like our co-founder Jack is a PhD in music so a lot of research has been put in. In the olden days music used to be a social activity where people used to sing in communities sit around and play instruments, clap and participate with other people and that used to create music. So the company was found to connect the entire global music community, so that they come together on a platform to create something really meaningful and social again.

Smule is essentially about two things that are to sing and perform music and not just lip syncing with a track and also performing with other people to create music content. If you look at our app you see a lot of activity like people singing duets with each other. Some can record half a song and people from different places, other countries can join in, sing the other part. We stitch the two videos side by side, synchronising the audio, so as to enable them to create a virtual music video together.

What is the USP of Smule? 

Smule makes it easy for you, as it provides three things to make it easy to sing, first is its vast catalogue of songs that is kind of a structured musical content across genres and languages from around the world, Second, it has backend tracks with lyrics along with the timing of the lyrics, that prompts each syllable. Third, it has the pitch information, so you need to know if the pitch is low or high and what the exact pitch of the song is, that helps in correcting and auto tuning if required. 

How is the synchronising done on the app to prevent any time lapse? 

There is no time lapse since it’s done in a typically synchronised way, so once you record half a song and upload it on the app and someone maybe in a day, week, or a month later can restream your voice and sing the other part of the song may be in their own scale too. We can also sync the scales, touch up the pitches, and add reverb and echo in your voice on the app to give a finish to the song, and then the two videos are joined from our backend that is put on the server that users can share with their friends and family. 

Is it possible to lower or raise the keys on the app as per the singer's scale? 

"Yes, it is important to have your own key for a singer to sing, so you can upload your own key on the app and sing along we have licenses of all the compositions, so our users can upload tracks in any style may be a jazzy version, or a fast or slow version of the track, with a piano or a guitar etc. So the users can upload backend tracks and if you don't have your key they can upload a key that suits their voice and record their song. Once you are done people share the content on Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp and so it helps to create small communities may be same genres and they bond over the genre because they sing the same kind of music.

To whom does the app cater to and how Smule has been engaging with global artists and many Indian artists, giving a platform to collaborate with their fans? 

The app is for the regular people who are not superstars and who share the passion to sing. But we also know that people love to sing with top artists so we have celebrity singers. We are proud to be associated with artists like Armaan Malik, Kajol who did lip sync, Ishaan Khattar, Darshan Raval, Raftaar, Yasser Desai, Gajendra Verma, Sukhbir, Rochak Kohli, Jonita Gandhi from India with whom we have recorded half a song and then people sing with them. We join the videos and then it does viral. So it's a platform to create a music connection and an expression with their hero that brings out a great piece of content, that is good fun! 

Smule entered India in October 2018, through a strategic partnership with Times Bridge with an investment worth over $20 million to scale up its operations in India and guide Smule in engaging India’s multi-lingual music culture. Tell us about your partnerships in India and future plans for 2019? 

India happened to us organically and we did not do any partnerships initially, but it was the Indian community which downloaded the app and participated in great numbers and so we noticed the growth. Eventually, we started including Indian artists on the app. We came to know that India has many different markets genres, languages, regions, traditions, festivals and has a vast repertoire in each of these categories. 

Meanwhile Times Bridge approached us who offered us to optimise our growth in India and grow the community because they knew the culture here. Initially we could not do much here all alone so we looked at a strategic partnership with Times Bridge, who adviced us on how to tune our value prepositions for the Indian market and artists, how to reach our target users with radio, channels, brands and events, also connecting us to the local people with local expertise and resources. Also, they helped us to work on the creative plans right from the point of formulation, implementation and launching  the campaigns and also guide us into which cultural events we should tap in to reach the maximum users and musical audiences, so as to amplify the brand to the global community.

So is there any music festival Smule plans in future since it has so much talent onboard and of course a lot of interesting content to showcase? 

Well, that's a great idea, we haven't done a Smule fest yet, but what's happening now is that our users organise group meetings without any help from us and so we have had one in south of India where 100 or even 1000 people show up. 

Tell us about your association with Mirchi awards? 

Mirchi awards was a great initiative. We learnt that singers in India are more concerned about improving their singing and performance skills and also the music industry here is driven by movies and especially Bollywood films. Times Bridge suggested to create a music contest to find the singer who sings the best cover will perform in Mirchi Awards. This came out to be a perfect fit for us and thus we partnered with Mirchi Awards that came up as a natural way to showcase our brand. The winner of the contest Ashmik Patil got a chance to perform at the Mirchi Awards held in Mumbai recently. 

To popularise the brand the contests were announced on the radio network, digital, print and social media and also teams were sent to colleagues and malls to encourage people to participate and make entries. The contest had over 30000 entries this year and we had our winner who is a smile user who performed at the Mirchi Awards. 

Could you tell us about the number of users and the artists using the app? 

We have roughly 50 million monthly active users globally and several 100 artists. We try to go for 1 or 2 artists per month as we look for quality and not a quantity. So we try to go for songs that are recognised, it could be an old song or a recent song. So it doesn't need to be a big artist as long as the song is big in itself.  

How good is the app to discover new singing talents? 

We would love to discover new talents through the app we have done little and want to improve on that. In fact, some of our users have gone to singing reality shows like X Factor, while some of them have signed record label contracts. Our mission is to help them become professional artists and master their art. 

Tell us about the genres on the app? 

Smule has many genres but has majorly pop music, while in India we have every genres although Bollywood songs are a little tough and that's why we are working with Times Bridge to get in the artists who can attract new Indian users to the app. 

So what is the revenue model for the app? 

Most of our users are for free. One can join someone for some songs and also use some filters like pitch correction etc that can be used for free too as part of the free trial that they can continue as long as they want. While the paid users have access to use our power features like certain voice filters etc. that are monetised.  

What opportunities do you see in the digital space? 

I think for us there is a lot of scope in terms of digital streaming services and it's an opportunity for us. We have partnered with Apple music, Gaana, Indian Idol, etc as we don't compete with them because we are happy to send traffic back and forth. 

How is the Indian market for Smule and what future partnerships and advertising plans you see in 2019? 

India is a great market for us it is important for us to integrate with cultural events here. We are looking at multilayer advertising through our partners in radio, prints, and digital and are trying to send the message to tell the end users that Smule is an app where you can sing with your favourite celebrity artists. We look forward to having many more partnerships in 2019 with artist, brands events and festivals in India.

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