A nice voice and some musical talent are great tools to have at your disposal, but software maker Khush thinks all you need to create music is an iPhone and one its apps.
“Most people aren’t trained in music, and they’re intimidated by the idea of creating music themselves,” Khush CEO Prena Gupta told me in an interview. “We want to remove that barrier.”
To that end, Khush has focused its app-making efforts into products that put music creation tools in the hands of novices. The company made a splash last year with LaDiDa, which it bills as a “reverse karaoke” app that provides pitch correction and accompaniment for your singing. Khush’s latest app, Songify, doesn’t even require you to sing—just speak into your iOS device, and the app will turn your words into an auto-generated song.
I put both Khush apps through their paces and found a lot of fun—as well as more than a few flaws—in their approach to music creation.
Let’s start with LaDiDa. Launch the app, and you’ll go to a home screen that features an image of a microphone and volume level readout. (I found the readout to be slightly distracting, as it continually fluctuates even when you’re not recording.) Tap a record button and start singing; when you’re done, LaDiDa processes the results in just a few seconds and produces a finished track that you can play back. The track plays with a default accompaniment, but you can go to a settings screen to adjust the style, tempo, and reverb. You’re also able to adjust the amount of pitch correction that LaDiDa uses—a feature that will be welcome to anyone whose desire to sing is greater than their ability to carry a tune.
LaDiDa’s pitch correction capabilities are quite impressive, actually. I like to flatter myself that I have a respectable singing voice, though my range is a bit limited and I’ve been known to hit my share of flat notes. Still, LaDiDa did an admirable job smoothing out the rougher edges of my voice. Even when I tried to intentionally sing off-key, the app made my miscues resemble actual human singing. If you listen to my LaDiDa-created opus “Pants!”—I implore you to not click on that link—there are a few notes in the original version that would have made all the dogs in the neighborhood howl in protest; in the sweetened LaDiDa version, you can hardly notice their presence.
My results with LaDiDa worked best when I sang original songs—be it improvised words about pants or, if I had more talent and inspiration, actual lyrics an aspiring songwriter might pen. LaDiDa did a pretty good job adjusting the background music and beat to my crooning. The finished product was less satisfying when I tried to sing actual songs; the accompanying music didn’t quite match the singing, and the end result was fairly cacophonous. (LaDiDa does feature an a capella mode, which would be useful in those kinds of situations.)
In addition to A Capella, LaDiDa ships with three other musical styles. You can buy Guitar Style and Rap Style packs of additional background music as in-app purchases. In what I’m pretty sure is a bug with the current version, though, I was able to record and share songs using styles from packs I hadn’t purchased—my masterwork “Pants!” is just such a track. One of my Macworld colleagues was also able to create songs with unpurchased styles. I imagine the developer will fix this apparent flaw by the time it takes you to read this sentence.
Version 1.5 of LaDiDa actually features a lot of these kinds of quirks. Normally, when you tap on the musical styles, you’ll hear a sample to give you a flavor of what kind of background music to expect. On occasion, though, the only thing I heard was the sound of silence; tapping around usually fixed the problem. In other performance bugs, the recording countdown screen would periodically speed up to a breakneck pace—the tempo usually slowed back down once the recording began.
These performance burps aside, LaDiDa is an app that produces some pretty pleasing musical results. An ability to share your finished work via Twitter, Facebook, email, and LaDiDa’s own music library only adds to the fun. I wouldn’t go so far as to say you’re producing your very own music with this app, but LaDiDa certainly fulfills the goal spelled out by Khush’s Gupta when she talks about “bringing the joy of music creation to people who don’t consider themselves musicians.”
But does Songify deliver on that promise? Like LaDiDa, this new app features pitch correction and builds a melody around your input. The difference here is you’re speaking, not singing. The concept is inspired by The Gregory Brothers, whom you may recognize from such auto-tuned YouTube sensations as Double Rainbow and I’m Not a Witch. Indeed, Khush developed Songify with the Gregory Brothers, who contribute a few musical styles to the finished app. Songify claims to use artificial intelligence and speech recognition technology to turn your words into a Gregory Brothers-style sensation.
The results, in my opinion, are kind of mixed. I recorded myself reading Richard Nixon’s 1962 Farewell press conference, applied a club-style beat called Testy, and came up with a generally pleasing end result. (It’s certainly better than “Pants!” but one could say that about a lot of things.) But I was a little disappointed that the app didn’t single out particular phrases for repetition. It just seemed to drop a sentence here or there—usually the last sentence in what I recorded—before looping back to the beginning. The ending of Songify-generated songs can also feel a little abrupt.
Songify doesn’t provide much in the way of editing tools. You can’t adjust which phrases get repeated or how the song ends. There is a Re-Songify option, in which you can have the app take another crack at your recording, either with the current style or by applying another musical track. Note that the app ships with three styles, but you can add more tracks and style packs through in-app purchases. (LaDiDa’s bug with unpurchased tracks doesn’t occur here. In Songify, you can’t record or share anything with these options until you buy them; you can, however, listen to a brief sample, which is a nice touch.)
As with LaDiDa, you’re able to share your finished product through email (either as a link or an attached file), Facebook, or Twitter. Use either of those last two options, though, and the app also uploads your creation to its Winning! music library, where other Songify users can listen to and rate your efforts. I found that to be a little off-putting to be honest—I like more control over who I share my content with, and if there’s an option to turn off the automatic uploading to Winning!, it’s not readily apparent, either in the app itself or in Songify’s slender FAQ.
The controls in Songify are also modest, sometimes to the app’s detriment. Recording your voice is simply a matter of tapping a large circle in the middle of the screen. Songify also includes buttons for selecting music styles, looking at your library of saved records, and accessing the Winning! feature, though those buttons aren’t clearly labeled, and it can sometimes be a guessing game as to which one will take you where.
I think there’s a lot of fun to be had with Songify—my friends certainly got a kick of out of my dramatic readings of Richard Nixon speeches and assorted poems. (Poetry actually blends quite well with the backing tracks on Songify, as I discovered in a recording I dubbed “The Love Song of J. Alfred Pru-RAWK.”) I’m impressed by how the app can process a recording in seconds and churn out a finished product, even on older hardware like my iPhone 3GS. But Songify is a decidedly more passive experience than LaDiDa. Until it gives users more editing control, the app is not much more than a neat party trick.
[Macworld.com executive editor Philip Michaels will live to regret sharing that recording of “Pants!”]