“Everyone loves music and wants to be creative, but many people don’t have an outlet to do it. We wanted to make it as easy and accessible and forgiving as possible, so that anyone could make music.”
Zack Sulsky ’13, a self-proclaimed “music theory nerd” and music major here at Wesleyan, has recently used his thorough understanding of music to create a song-making app, Sketch-a-Song. Last summer, Zack collaborated with a handful of high school buddies from his hometown of Denver, Colorado, to design the app. The app, available on both Android and iOS, is designed for amateur musicians. The user places notes on the screen, creating a looped song with the option of then sending their new tune to a friend for collaboration. With a number of instruments to choose from, the final product may even be good enough to download, which the app allows users to do.
Read past the jump for our interview with and photo of the handsome (and charitable) Zack Sulsky.
Why did you create this app? What’s the story?
Last summer, my friends from home and I were looking into internships and jobs, but we decided it would be more interesting to instead team up to do something new that we built from the ground up. Our first plan was to reduce restaurant food waste by connecting consumers to unsold dishes. However, we had trouble selling the idea to restaurants, so we changed gears.
The idea for Sketch-a-Song came from my own experience creating music. Everyone loves music and wants to be creative, but many people don’t have an outlet to do it. We wanted to make it as easy and accessible and forgiving as possible, so that anyone could make music. I built the musical system behind it, which makes it so that no matter where you place notes in the field, nothing will sound too dissonant. However, it still gives users enough freedom that they really are the ones creating the music, not the app.
Wait, so you’ve restricted what music can be played?
I’ve restricted the notes that can be played to an extent. The average person can’t make music that sounds good to them, because they don’t know how to combine pitches harmoniously, and when they guess, they’re often discouraged with the results. We take a lot of that guesswork away so anyone can make something they’re proud of.
How successful have you been? Is it a total cash cow?
It’s been quite successful so far. It’s been live for about a month, and we already have over 5,000 downloads and a five-star average review in the App Store and Google Play. The goal was always making something we believed in rather than making money, and the app is free to download and ad-free, but we do have extra instruments and chord progressions available as in-app purchases.
How did you acquire the skills to do this? Was it tough?
Two guys on the team are Computer Science majors at Carleton College. They were our lead programmers, and everyone else learned from them, as well as what we could pick up from the internet. It wasn’t easy, but with all of the programming resources on the web, it wasn’t too hard to pick up. We basically just flew by the seat of our pants and learned how to do it along the way.
Tell me about your promo video.
The two actors both went to our high school in Denver. The filmmaker who put it together is the older brother of one of the guys at our company, 09 Line Development Co. We wanted to show people what making music collaboratively might look like with Sketch-a-Song, and the kind of music that the app can produce.
Are you hoping others will form a romantic connection through this app, like your video suggests?
Not exactly — that was just the premise of our promo video. But the collaborative element is something we’re excited about. You can play Sketch-a-Song solo or create with others in a turn-based collaborative mode. One player chooses an instrument and places as many notes as they want and sends it to a friend, who can choose another instrument and keep adding and modifying until they create something that both players are happy with.
Where do you personally hope to go with this? Are you going to continue doing projects like this after graduation?
I don’t think I’m going to do more app programming. I’ve had my fix. But I would like to pursue this idea of the intersection between music and technology and how they can work together. I’m really happy with how Sketch-a-Song turned out and what people are saying about it.