How usability evolved with Song Rhythm Tracks

The best way to choose one of over 3,700 rhythms – use categorisation

The challenge

The initial concept of Song Rhythm Tracks was always of an app having much more usability than what was then available. That was the key motivation for the app. The then available products were all far too limiting for the challenge – “

creating rhythmic backing tracks of high audio quality, for backing songs, in less than a minute, even less than half a minute, and have the track easily searchable on my mobile”.

Workstations are not fit for the purpose.

We used PC workstation products that had quality. Still, they took far too long to use and didn’t provide a mobile usability experience – no easy download to a mobile device and no MP3 tags once they were there. The iOS music player could never be considered a musician’s player.

Below is our list of usability improvements, bringing Alive Drumming to its current day, the Song Rhythm Tracks app.

A ‘table’ mobile app

Table-first is a proven mobile app experience, innovated by Apple with their iOS.

We have wrung every last bit of utility out of this iOS collection, adding comprehensive search facilities and section headers, providing complete setlist functionality for the tracks and more.

Recently we have added features to help with very large setlists – next and previous setlist buttons, and a setlist folds part to selectively close entire setlists while you are browsing.

Arrangements Visibility

The backing track’s arrangement clearly visible has always been a critical usability feature. We found other backing track vendors failed to do this, so when we used their ways, we were constantly guessing what arrangement they had used. Did it have an intro section? How many repeats (choruses) did it have? Was this the last chorus? It seems clear that the arrangement details always need to be visible if you are vending a backing track. So it is with Song Rhythm Tracks, in the main table, the player, and later, in the audio file itself.

We recently took this approach further and consolidated colouring throughout the app to be consistent, one colour for rhythms, always, and another for arrangements. It was such a simple but powerful change; we couldn’t believe we hadn’t thought of it before!

A musician’s player

Musicians have different needs for audio players, so we added speed (tempo) control to the playing, displayed the arrangement in the text while it plays, and showed a progress bar. Hence, the musician knows how many repeat choruses are left. Our latest innovation is to include a configurable fade ending. Country folk like this. Oh, and with those setlists, you can play the whole setlist at once, with a configurable pause between them or an auto-pause at every track, and we always show what’s up next and count down to the following way. Musicians have different needs when it comes to audio players.

The evolution of ‘help.’

Apps, particularly innovative ones, have always needed some help within the app to explain and guide. We added a guide button with explanations of the interface. Then in a later release, we included a ‘video’ button that opens Alive Drumming’s website with video instructions. Most recently, we have added balloon-type tooltips, which some will prefer.

Selecting an arrangement

One key to Song Rhythm Track‘s usability has always been Alive Drumming’s innovation in arranging the rhythm track. We believe we are the only developer ever to take Alive Drumming’s approach or anything like it. Instead of using the digital audio workstation (DAW) system to arrange the playing sections, complete with fills, pre-fills, pushes and stops, and everything else that drummers do, we take the approach that ideally, our user should never need to know anything about that. All they need to be able to do is describe the form of the song, and the app will do everything else – arrange the sections, the repeats, the middle choruses, any intro and outro sections, and always include a count-in and characteristic ending. We look at it this way, the app should do what you expect your drummer to do. You wouldn’t be telling them how to arrange their Drumming, would you?

Alive Drumming has analysed all the artists’ audio; we know where everything is. We catalogued all the artists’ recordings and categorised them all. Our interface is a page of ‘pickers’ where you select your rhythm and arrangement. It usually takes less than a minute to complete. That’s it – your ‘arranging’ is complete.

Later we figured that a common need was to create an almost identical track with everything much the same but minor changes, such as a new rhythm, so we added a ‘copy track’ feature. Some excellent arrangements now take less than 5 seconds! No other app has this sort of usability!

Let’s let everyone share!

Sharing has kept evolving within the app: Now, you can share arrangements, setlists, and audio. This makes the app so much more usable.

Sharing Arrangements

Press the share button when viewing the arrangement details, and that arrangement gets posted for everyone to copy using the track’s name. Simple, almost silent and tremendously effective.

Sharing Setlists

There is a similar mechanism for setlists – view the details of the setlist, press the share button, and your entire setlist of tracks is shared using the name you have given your setlist. Anyone else can get a copy of it by searching for that setlist name from the same place in the app.

Audio File Sharing

From the main table, pressing a track’s share button share’s its audio. This uses the familiar iOS interface, allowing you to use whatever you have configured on your device, such as email, messaging, the filer app, and pretty much anything. Moreover, that shared audio has MP3 tags describing the arrangement and the rhythm. So useful.

Everyone appreciates a demo.

Early on, we figured out that having ‘factory tracks’ in the app would help newcomers understand how to use the app. It did, and we never looked back. Later, we took this a step further and developed sampler apps. These had over twenty pre-arranged tracks, and the app included audio. They might not be precisely the arrangement you wanted, but they showed the way! They have been an enormous success. Folk love them. Our latest release of the core app, Song Rhythm Tracks, includes all the samplers apps’ track definitions in the main app, in folded setlists, so that folk can download whichever tracks they like. We hope this allows our users the best of both worlds.

And then we had an ah-ha moment.

The Future

If accessing pre-arranged songs is what many folks appreciate, why not give them exactly that! The idea of the Rhythm Tracks Collective was born, a Netflix-like service of pre-arranged rhythm tracks that you search and consume, much like Netflix. We are working on it now and can’t wait to bring it to you.

We feel the evolution of Song Rhythm Tracks and its focus on usability are nearing completion. There is less and less we want to change. Instead, we will focus on Rhythm Tracks Collective and making it available. Song Rhythm Tracks distinguishes these two products as the ultimate powerful arranger. At the same time, Rhythm Tracks Collective, we hope, will be the most available rhythm tracks, being easily accessible and powerful to use.