Today, Ge Wang has decided to step down as Smule’s Chief Creative in order to focus his time and attention this next year on his research and teaching at Stanford. He will continue informally as a spokesperson and advocate for Smule.
Ge and I have had an amazing experience creating Smule. I met Ge in 2007 at Stanford. I was a PhD candidate in Computer Music at the time (still am — almost done). Ge’s guest lecture as a finalist for the new tenure-track teaching position at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) was memorable and left an impression with me.
I spent the next year taking classes from Ge. I decided I wanted to go deep with Chuck, the strongly-timed audio programming language that he had developed for his PhD thesis. I loved it. I used Chuck to write some fairly bizarre computer-music pieces, including this one. Eventually, I asked David Cowan and James Cham of Bessemer Venture Partners to come meet Ge at CCRMA. I wondered whether it were possible to form a company that would allow a billion people to create music together. David and James wondered whether I was insane. After meeting Ge, they confirmed I was insane, but they also agreed it was possible to build a new, anonymous social network around music creation. A few days later, Ge and I met again at the Dutch Goose and Smule was born.
That first summer was interesting. The plan we proposed to Bessemer: $300k in/30k downloads out. We wanted to test distribution, iPhone hardware, our own technology, and whether users actually wanted to create music together on these new devices. We started recruiting an initial team before Apple even announced the App Store, and immediately began building Apps and the Smule network. During this time, Smule squatted at Bessemer’s offices in Menlo Park. Free rent, free food, free network, how can you top that? Before exhausting the $300k, Sonic Lighter and Ocarina hit #1 in virtually every major market. As our reward, Bessemer kicked us out of their offices and made us find our own place, but only after they invested several million dollars.
I still love Ocarina, and yes, I often play in the Zeldarian mode. I found the globe Ge designed in Ocarina to be inspiring: hearing someone’s breath from the other side of the world and watching their notes emanate from terra and ascend into the cosmos felt intimate and personal. Ge always believed everyone was creative, “they just needed a nudge”. After Ocarina, I no longer had doubts about the opportunity to create a new network which allowed people to connect through music.
We now have over 100 million users who have played and created over one billion songs in products like Magic Piano, Sing!, Guitar!, and AutoRap. On a typical day, Smule users will share over 500GBs of songs they have created on our network, which means every two days we currently store a terabyte of new user generated content in the cloud.
Having given everything to Stanford and Smule for the first four years, Ge took this past year off from both Smule and Stanford. He returned to Beijing to be with his aging Grandmother. Today, Ge is formally departing the world of the insane and will step down from his role at Smule and focus on his role at Stanford.
I want to thank Ge for helping me build Smule. I couldn’t have done it without him. Five years later, Smule remains insane yet promising. I remain inspired by the creative potential of the people in the Smule community. It’s amazing to wake up each morning and discover a new song, a new voice, a new person.