Soundtrap Adapts Music App as Edtech Offering, With Google Tools

Most app and digital tool makers try to make their products as easy to use as possible for consumers who may lack technical savvy or the time to muddle through training manuals. Those developers who succeed might want to think about building a second life for their products in the educational technology market, as Stockholm-based Soundtrap has now done.

Soundtrap’s founders set a top priority on ease of use when they designed the online music recording studio they publicly launched here in the Bay Area in June, says CEO Per Emanuelsson. In addition to making the tools simpler to use than existing digital sound studios like Apple’s Garage Band, Soundtrap also aimed to remove barriers to musicians who wanted to collaborate with other artists—located anywhere, using any device or operating system.

Soundtrap was encouraged by the adoption of its Web-based system during a five-month beta period before the launch, when the startup counted 120,000 users across 175 countries. Of those thousands of accounts, the company found, 150 were either teachers or schools. The simplicity of the program was expanding its use into younger age brackets. Like adult musicians, school kids were using the software to create original compositions by shifting around Soundtrap’s ready-made blocks of sound—drumbeats, melodic phrases, bass rhythms—on its digital mixing board.

“A six-year-old has no problem learning how to use it in a couple of minutes,” Emanuelsson says.

Intrigued by those signs of interest among teachers, Soundtrap has been pursuing that advantage of simplicity to widen its market in K-12 schools, and this week it announced a specialized product, Soundtrap for Education, based on the wish lists it compiled by interviewing teachers and school administrators.

In addition to introducing school kids to the fun of composing their own music, Soundtrap has a video chat feature that makes it possible for students to take lessons on their violins or other musical instruments online, and for school band members to rehearse together from their scattered homes. Users can record their own musical performances or voice tracks with any Soundtrap version, and add them into an audio mix. Through Soundtrap’s communication channels, teachers can send audio project assignments to students. Soundtrap’s school version also complies with U.S. regulations that protect the privacy and safety of children online, giving teachers the power to decide which students, classes, or outside schools can collaborate on projects and share their music or podcasts.

Consumers, such as musicians and podcasters, still make up the bulk of Soundtrap’s user base, which has more than doubled to over 300,000 since June. But the software also percolated into 1,000 schools during that six-month period—an increase greater than six-fold over the 150 counted by the time of the June launch. Of those 1,000 schools, 25 are in California.

The speed of Soundtrap’s movement to adapt its consumer app and become an educational technology provider owes a lot to the evolution of the edtech infrastructure in recent years. In a key step, the startup integrated its app with Google’s suite of tools for online education. That includes Google Classroom, a dashboard where teachers can keep track of individual students’ work across all their edtech apps and assignments; Google Directory, which helps manage individual student sign-ups for each new edtech app; and security safeguards. Soundtrap became a Google for Education partner at the time of its June launch.

Google provides its tools free to schools, competing with smaller companies such as Blackboard, founded in 1997. Blackboard created one of the first classroom dashboards, which are also called learning management systems. It was followed by other companies that organize edtech app use and make it more efficient to adopt, including Moodle, Instructure, and Clever, to name just a few. Instructure (NYSE: INSTwent public in November.

Soundtrap’s device-agnostic system gave it another leg up in the edtech sector, and another kind of symbiosis with Google. Emanuelsson says Soundtrap was the only digital recording studio that worked not only on iPads, Android devices, and Mac and Windows platforms, but also on Chromebooks, the inexpensive little laptops that he says make up more than half of the devices sold to schools in the United States. Google is a direct seller of Chromebooks, as well as Android tablets, to school districts.

Soundtrap is now offering schools and school districts a discounted rate to become paying customers of Soundtrap for Education.

Anyone, including teachers, can still use the free consumer version of Soundtrap, or sign up for a subscription to add more music storage and other features. A basic consumer subscription costs $3.99 a month per person; the premium subscription is $9.99. But U.S. schools, which are subject to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), may want teachers to use only edtech apps with security provisions built in, Emanuelsson says. “They might not want students to collaborate with people all over the world,” he says.

Soundtrap offers schools a 30-day free trial of its system adapted for schools. After that, it charges $4.98 per student per year. Emanuelsson declined to disclose revenue numbers for the startup, or say how many schools are already paying customers. But he said, “It’s been over our expectations. We’re getting in new ones every week, especially in the United States.”

Back in June, the startup announced a $1 million seed round led by angel investor Lars Bergstrom. In December, Soundtrap raised … Next Page »

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Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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