ToneStone is an application designed to make it easier to produce music even for users with no music experience, and was created by people who have worked Guitar hero and Left 4 Dead. Although the app will be officially released today, it is still in closed beta and there is a waiting list for those who want to try it. As a music production enthusiast, the ToneStone interface and game-like features seem very much to my detriment, based on the videos I saw about the app and my conversation with founder Greg LoPiccolo.
If you’ve never heard of LoPiccolo, you’ve probably heard of the games he helped make. He worked at Harmonix, a studio that made music-based games Rock band and Guitar hero. Another ToneStone founder is Tom Leonard, who has some of Valve’s biggest hits, such as Left 4 Dead and Half-Life 2, listed on his LinkedIn site. LoPiccolo said ToneStone’s mission is to “enable the global community to create and share music,” which he sees in making songs as “a critical human need that everyone wants”.
In an effort to make music production beginner-friendly, ToneStone uses loops and covers. Imagine loops as the building blocks of a piece – they can be used to add drums, synthesizers, tongues, etc. The loops are then arranged as covers representing different genres of music such as synthwave, trap or pop. ToneStone has built-in covers, but you can also create your own and even add your own sounds or recordings in loops.
This tutorial video illustrates what the process of making music is in the app.
The ToneStone team also hopes to act as a kind of social platform for creating music by making it easier to share your music and remix songs made by others (currently most sharing is done on Discord). There have been other games that allow users to make music, but the line between being is difficult to navigate too complicated for beginners and too simple.
Renewing another ToneStone user’s song (currently shared on Discord) gives you access to the entire project file, or, as LoPiccolo said, the musical DNA that allows you to really change things from the original. You can also share the songs you make by exporting them as an MP3 file and uploading them to services like SoundCloud.
For founders with years of experience making games, it’s no surprise that ToneStone has played elements. LoPiccolo told me that tutorials designed to teach the basics of both software and music composition are lightly playful. He also talked about the similarities between building a loop deck and building a deck of cards in games like Hearthstone or Magic: Gathering -There are also built-in decks, but the real fun comes when you start making your own.
LoPiccolo told me that the team has “some, dare I say, revolutionary ideas” that are currently under development that “allow people to make musical decisions and write and perform music as a game”. While the actual gameplay seems unclear, the idea is to give the player enough decisions to get him into a career, like what can happen when playing more traditional games like Call of Duty. The difference would be that in the end you would have a musical creation.
I came out of the conversation to imagine a series of quick events where you decided where a song was going, which sounds like really fun playing (although it’s unclear if there’s any kind of seed or other process) that prevents everyone from ending up with similar-sounding songs). LoPiccolo said the ultimate goal was to make the experience either single-player or multiplayer, allowing you to collaborate with someone else to make music.
While ToneStone seems to have a lot of advanced features, simplicity remains the primary goal of its creators. They say users should be able to move from opening an app to making music in “seconds” – more advanced things can wait if you’re not interested or ready to learn it.
I’ve spent hours learning to make music in apps like FL Studio and Logic Pro (mostly for fun), and when I hear LoPiccolo is excited about ToneStone, I wish I had something similar years ago. I doubt I can use it for fast drafts and soundtracks that I would have used Logic for, just for the sake of speed and ease of use.
Of course, ToneStone isn’t the first app that allows music beginners to create songs. Apple GarageBand has a Live Loops feature that includes at the same time a user-friendly interface on the iPad. I remember my experience using Live Loops as fun, but very frustrating when I was really trying to make the song my own. GarageBand is also limited to Macs, iPads, and iPhones, where ToneStone runs on Macs and PCs and shares Via Steam.
ToneStone strives to combine the social aspects of gaming with creator-driven content on platforms like Instagram and ultimately create music. While the social aspects of music production that ToneStone relies on are not new (especially in indie and hobby music life), it does have a point that making music can be daunting for beginners. When I started, beginner tutorials looked like this, which is much scarier than ToneStone’s own tutorial.
ToneStone is still in its infancy, but the team has high hopes for it. LoPiccolo painted a picture of what the app can currently do, saying it can be used to “create unlicensed audio tracks for indie games or streaming,” and said the team is working to enable, for example, live performances and collaboration. Since the app is still in closed beta, there isn’t a stone-based business model yet, but LoPiccolo told me that the intention is to offer the basic app for free, and access to additional features that the subscription doesn’t open (even if he doesn’t share pricing information). He also said the app includes a marketplace where you can buy new loops, effects or modules.
You can sign up for the beta waiting list ToneStone site.