November 23, 2010 at 11:30 am

Romplr Plays Music Like a Game, Not Like a Record

The free Romplr app includes loads of "playable" songs you've heard before for $2 a pop -- or you can play relative unknowns for free.

Moderati is not the only company obsessed with turning music into something that can be played like a game instead of like a record, but its Romplr remix app for Apple iOS or Nokia Symbian lets you play with some of the biggest names in pop: Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Diddy, and some guy named James Brown, to name just a few.

The latest version, released Tuesday, adds lots of songs and a 90-second “game mode” with scoring based on “speed, timing and style” and a worldwide leaderboard. Purists can still use freestyle mode to make longer, more free-form remixes.

First, let’s make one thing clear: In more cases, it’s more fun to make your own remixes with Romplr than it is to listen to what other people make with it. Don’t believe me? Just try making it all the way through my 90-second remix of Sir Mix-a-lot’s “Posse on Broadway (Thunder Mix).” It can’t be done.

However, that’s not the point; I had a blast making that remix for all 90 seconds it took me to make it this morning, even though I don’t find much occasion to listen to that song anymore. Even if I wanted to hear “Posse on Broadway” again, I would never pay $2 for it, but I gladly ponied up that price within the Romplr app to get under the hood of that song, which is why some in the music industry see games like this as a way to get people to pay for recorded music. It is legitimately, actually fun — and with a little practice, you could probably learn to make some pretty slick mixes. I can imagine people plugging this app into the sound system to rock a party in freestyle mode without the dancefloor coming to a grinding halt.

The center buttons represent longer loops and vocals that automatically play on beat, while the ones around the edge are single-hit samples that play whenever you tap them, with very little latency.

There are basically just two things to know about Romplr’s gameplay. First, the buttons in the middle of the app are loops; if you activate them, they’ll start at the beginning of the next measure or wherever else the game decides makes sense. The buttons around the outside of the interface are single-hit samples that you can trigger to play instantaneously. That’s it — there’s nothing else to learn, and yet armed with that knowledge alone, one could create a nearly infinite number of variations on the original song. Once you create a song, you can share it via email, Facebook, or Romplr.com.

Six songs, or “MixKits,” are available for free within the app, but you probably won’t have heard of any of those bands (JG Balla, Kaboose, My Hero, Unwoman, Bizarre Sky and Model H). For lesser-known acts, games like this offer a great way to gain exposure. If most Romplr users are anything like me, they’d sooner play this remix game for free using unknown music than to buy better-known tracks at $2.

However, there was one exception to this rule, as mentioned above: I simply had to buy Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “My Posse’s On Broadway (Thunder Mix)” Due to the mix of new chart-toppers and old favorites included in the app’s MixKit store, I’d wager that most other music fans would something worth paying for in there as well.

Romplr posted a quote in its blog from the Japanese entrepreneur Joi Ito that sums up the company’s position quite nicely: “In a world where discovery is more important than delivery, it’s the people who find, remix and direct attention to old stuff that should be rewarded, not the people who deliver it or sit on it waiting for someone to show up.”

Well said. Here’s the full $2 Romplr catalog as it stands today, in order of appearance within the store (links to the apps below):

  • Rihanna – “Umbrella (featuring Jay-Z)”
  • Diddy – “Last night (featuring Keyshia Cole)”
  • B.o.B. – “Airplanes (featuring Hayley Williams)”
  • Lady Gaga – “Bad Romance”
  • Lady Gaga – “Just Dance (featuring Colby O’Donis)”
  • Lady Gaga – “Paparazzi”
  • Lady Gaga – “Poker Face”
  • Kanye West – “Flashing Lights (featuring Dwele)”
  • Inna – “Hot”
  • OneRepublic – “All the Right Moves”
  • Bo Benton – “Handle This (featuring Too $hort)”
  • James Brown – “Sex Machine”
  • Jackson 5 – “I Want You Back”
  • Jackson 5 – “ABC”
  • Naughty by Nature – “Hip Hop Hooray”
  • Stetsasonic – “Talkin’ All That Jazz”
  • Go Chic – “24hr Party Pooper”
  • DJ Randall Jones – “Chord Continental”
  • Psychic Powers – “The Portal”
  • Slightly Stoopid – “Somebody”
  • Slightly Stoopid – “Bandolero”
  • Tone Loc – “Wild Thing”
  • Tone Loc – “Funky Cold Medina”
  • The Pharcyde – “Runnin’”
  • Fat Lip – “What’s Up Fatlip”
  • Young MC – “Know How”
  • The Brand New Heavies – “Never Stop (featuring N’Dea Davenport)”
  • Alchemist – “Lose Your Life (featuring Snoop Dogg, Pusha T & Jadakiss)”
  • Alchemist – “On Sight (featuring Tha Dogg Pound & Lady of Rage)”
  • Alchemist – “That’ll Work (featuring Three Six Mafia and Juvenile)”
  • Chris Fortier – “Despegue”
  • Chris Fortier – “Losing Wait”
  • Chris Fortier – “Whateveritis”
  • Andy Ling – “Fixation”

Download Romplr from Apple iTunes or Nokia Ovi (specialized, single-song versions are available for other platforms).