June 25, 2013 at 11:07 am

Let It Flow: SoundBrush 2 Lets Amateurs Paint Music on iPad

soundbrush ipad draw sound

Over 130,000 people snapped up the first version of LeafNotes’ SoundBrush, which might not sound like a lot — except that this is an app that lets you “paint” original music, which makes its popularity a bit more noteworthy. Who knew that many people were budding songwriters just waiting for the right simple, fun way to go about it?

SoundBrush 2 (free with caveats below) represents a significant improvement to its predecessor, while maintaining the simple, easy-to-use concept. You’re offered a palette of twelve colors, and a variety of sound packs with which to draw lines and add dots. The app converts the resulting lines and colors into musical notes — as one would guess, the top of the screen represents higher notes, and the bottom lower ones — like a super-simplified form of standard musical notation.

By tweaking settings, you can choose a key, scale, tempo, time signature, and more for your song, even after the fact, and edit your lines — both the notes and the instrument. Meanwhile, an on-board mixer lets you add sound effects to add some depth to your composition. As the video below shows, it’s possible to whip this app out whenever you have a few spare moments, adding to your song until you have a fairly dense jam. It’s not as powerful as, say, Pro Tools, but SoundBrush uses many of the same principles.

One probable reason for the relative popularity of SoundBrush is that it has its own social network for sharing these creations, called Discover. There, you can play tracks from other users, and check out some tutorials designed to help you get more out of the app.

Adding to the fun of Discover: Songs are represented visually, as well as aurally, and you can collaborate with other users on the same song. Heightening the addictive potential: push notifications when someone follows or likes your song. And unless you find it creepy, you can tag your song drawings by location, to see where you rank compared to other users in your area.

At the moment, SoundBrush developer LeafNotes is running a contest that will reward the creators of the two most-listened-to drawings with Beats Studio Headphones. To enter, all you have to do is upload your creation to Discover (to win, you’d probably have to tell all of your friends to install the apo and vote for you, which is of course the point).

Before you rush off and download this app, be forewarned: It’s not as free as it seems. To access the ‘standard pack’ of instruments, which is a somewhat sad array of a MIDI piano, ocarina and harmonica, you must Tweet or Like the app on Facebook. If you don’t want to spam your friends, you can choose between one of seven other sound packs that cost an average of $2 each. It’s a potentially annoying strategy, but you don’t get 130,000 people to share sound paintings by accident.

All that aside, if you think you’d enjoy a light-hearted exploration of color, sound, spontaneity, and sharing, you’ll find SoundBrush to be a well-designed, fun little app. By challenging yourself with the limited colors and sound available, you can create one, or several soundscapes for minutes, or heck, even hours.

During testing, the author personally found it quite rewarding to draw a bubbly cartoon in space and listen to the resting Stockhousen-esque cacophony, which she must admit to posting to Discover with a chuckle.