Making Music on the iPhone: Q&A with Jeff Smith of Smule

Not too long ago we took a look at the latest musical app for the iPhone from the folks over at Smule called Leaf Trombone: World Stage. With rhythm games such as Leaf Trombone and Ocarina, Smule has been doing wonders for those of us with “less” than quality musical talents. In a nutshell, these games take the iPhone and turn it into a wonderful-sounding instrument. However, it is the social World Stage of Trombone that has piqued our interest most.

Luckily, we recently got a chance to speak with CEO of Smule, Jeff Smith. Here’s what he had to say:

[Inside Social Games] Thanks for your time Jeff. From what we understand, Trombone is doing much better than Ocarina. What are some of the numbers you are seeing thus far?

[Jeff Smith] Ocarina’s downloads are approaching a million, but shipped Nov 6th. Leaf Trombone has crossed over 100K downloads and continues to grow, noting that Leaf Trombone has only been shipping for a month.

In terms of the user community, Ocarina’s users created 1450 online scores of Ocarina songs in the past six months. By contrast, Leaf Trombone users have created over 2000 online songs in just one month.

[ISG] Have any of these been particularly surprising to you? Pleasantly surprising I hope.

[JS] We were particularly surprised at the rate of growth for online song composition by the user community. These songs, once written by a user, are available for anyone using the application to play and compete on the world stage. This allows our users themselves to enhance the experience for everyone else.

[ISG] Indeed, the sharing of compositions adds a lot to the games social elements, not to mention the popular “World Stage” feature. What other social tie-ins does Trombone have?

[JS] We actually integrated Leaf Trombone directly into Twitter. Anyone using the application can automatically tweet when they are performing on the stage, or writing music (via the online composer mentioned above).

[ISG] Last we checked there were over 100,000 performances on the World Stage. Suffice to say, it’s a popular feature. Are there any plans to add to it?

[JS] Yes. MMO world stage capability is another tool in our arsenal, and you should expect to see this asset manifest in future titles from Smule. It’s extremely fun to use.

Candidly we were terrified as to whether our servers could handle the load of the application, and moreover whether the actual game play dynamic would work across a distributed massive player environment. We actually ran into a few scalability issues the first week and were up all night a few times dynamically tuning and optimizing our servers. We were also curious if we would have the right equilibrium between those performing on the world stage versus those judging. We fortunately had introduced a ‘token’ system and so you had to earn the privilege to perform on the stage by judging. We found that performing was more popular than we initially anticipated, and so cranked the token count so performers would have to judge twice before being able to perform.

At two tokens, the system has been working flawlessly for the past three weeks.

[ISG] Being “musically challenged” myself, I didn’t much care for the Composer. Any plans on something like a version of Composer that would be easier for people like me? In fact, are there any updates at all coming down the pipe?

[JS] Well, the composer is not for everyone. But, as mentioned above, only a few talented composers can benefit hundreds of thousands of online users. I think the intent of the composer tool was to enable the more musically inclined to share their talents with the masses. If you go into the leaf trombone and search for a song, you’ll be surprised at how many songs are now available. It’s absolutely amazing.

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