BUILDING AN APP THAT STRIKES A CHORD
We have to admit: we almost called this post "James & Jamie Make Sweet Music Together." Alternative titles may or may not have included: "Two WNW Members Hit a High Note" & "An App That's Music To the Ears of Kids and Parents." Now that we've gotten our terrible music puns out of the way...
Members #10045 Jamie Kosoy and #10101 James Bartley created a game called Melody Jams, which just launched in the app store today. How do you play? You drag any combination of extra cute monsters up on a stage, where they start playing a tune with the instrument of your choice. You can add lots of monsters on the screen to create and compose your own songs. From there, you can tap to select instruments to play alongside them. It’s easy enough for a baby genius but fun for everyone, even parents.
Though collaborators on this large undertaking, Jamie and James have surprisingly never met. Living on opposite coasts, they figured out how to work together through what was James' first foray into app development, "We’re basically total strangers 3000 miles apart who decided to embark on this prolonged hack day together. Figuring out how to work through that took an immense amount of care and respect of one another, and I think we handled it well."
We spoke to Jamie and James about their experience, inspiration, and the educational opportunities of Melody Jams. They made it clear that this kid (and adult!) friendly game can be enjoyable for even the most tone-deaf among us. Jamie add, "I played saxophone and piano back in the day. I was terrible at both. I love Melody Jams because I can finally play music and sound good."
Tell us a little bit about your creative backgrounds.
James: I’ve been freelancing as a motion graphics animator in New York City for about 7 years now. I originally went to school for interactive but soon after graduating decided to follow my growing interest in animation. I’ve also played music my whole life and still casually play in bands outside of work. I’m super excited to be involved in a project that combines these worlds.
Jamie: I got a BFA in Multimedia before I went to work making movie websites for awhile. I always loved programming and art and motion and interactivity. I still kind of want to be a Disney Imagineer. After close to 10 years working at an awesome agency in New York, my wife and I moved to San Francisco to be closer to family and I struck out on my own.
How’d you come up with the concept of Melody Jams? What were each of your roles?
James: I wanted to create a project with good intentions that brought together a mix of different creatives. When I began developing the idea of a Melody Jams type project, I knew it’d be the perfect project for me to connect with all of the inspiring animators and musicians I'm fortunately surrounded by. In addition, I've always been interested in getting involved in education. We just needed someone that could bring it all together. Jamie and the guys at Arbitrary brought the skills and the know-how to bring Melody Jams to life.
Jamie: James got in touch with me through a mutual friend with a motion test of what he was thinking about for Melody Jams. When I decided to start doing my own thing, I made a promise to myself to keep time open for projects that were inventive and fun and fostered personal growth as a creative person. I put together a small team alongside myself to help build the app out.
How does Melody Jams work? Is there an educational element to it?
Jamie: When you open the app up, tons of extra cute monsters appear on the bottom of your screen. You can drag each of them up to a designated spot to bring them to life. Once they’re up on the main stage, they start playing a tune with their instrument of choice. You can add lots of monsters on the screen to create and compose your own songs. From there, you can tap to select instruments to play alongside them. It’s easy enough for a 2 year old but really fun for everyone, even parents.
James: The animated characters linked to each melody hopefully keep kids engaged visually while recreating the intimacy of creating music with friends. I’m really excited to see how kids and adults like playing along with their own instruments. I believe that exposing young kids to creative improvisation early on can be really beneficial.
"I didn’t see why music apps couldn’t have music that parents could enjoy at the same time."
We can imagine the musicality of this game will be more enjoyable for parents than the beeps, sirens, and honking horns featured in other games. Did other like-minded games inspire you?
James: Yes, absolutely. While working on this project I did come across a handful of similar music apps for kids. They were full of beeps, sirens, and honking which, as a music guy, I couldn’t really enjoy. I didn’t see why music apps couldn’t have music that parents could enjoy at the same time.
Jamie: The landscape for kids is really pretty dire! There are a couple of app makers out there making really beautiful and interesting things (Toca Boca, Tinybop) but most of the rest of it is really bad. I hadn’t really dug into it until we started on Melody Jams, but it feels like there’s so much room for improvement.
Are either of you parents? If so, brag about your kids here :)
Jamie: I’ve got a niece now, but no kids [yet]. My wife is a design-thinking teacher, so I’m inspired by her when it comes to kids and educational technology.
James: I have an awesome nephew who was a big inspiration in the creation of this app.
Do you play any instruments? If so, did that influence your approach to the game?
James: I’ve played a ton of instruments over the years but I’m primarily a bassist. Nathan Mckee, who composed the first music for Melody Jams, and I currently play in a band together in NYC. Throughout my childhood my parents were very supportive and let me have a practice studio in our basement. Over the years I had dozens and dozens of musicians over just to mess around, explore, and “jam”. My favorite thing was always improvising with friends and I hope the app re-creates that experience for others.
Jamie: I played saxophone and piano back in the day. I was terrible at both. I love Melody Jams because I can finally play music and sound good.
"We’ve never collaborated before. We’re basically total strangers 3000 miles apart who decided to embark on this prolonged hack day together. Figuring out how to work through that took an immense amount of care and respect of one another."
What were the biggest lessons you learned during this process? Any unexpected challenges along the way?
Jamie: Oh dear, I could write a dissertation on optimizing assets for iOS here if you wanted. One of the most interesting aspects of the project for me was that James and I were working on this together, but we’ve never collaborated before. We’re basically total strangers 3000 miles apart who decided to embark on this prolonged hack day together. Figuring out how to work through that took an immense amount of care and respect of one another, and I think we handled it well.
James: I can say as I write this that I've still never met Jamie or the guys at Arbitrary in person. We did video chat daily throughout the project while using Slack to stay connected throughout the work day. Through this all I feel we developed a great working relationship. As for the app itself, every phase of the project was a learning experience for me. I’ve never built an app before as I primarily work in motion graphics. In my world it’s animate, render, deliver. The app process requires a ton of planning, testing, and as Jamie mentioned, optimization. You have to constantly be investigating the limitations while trying to find new ways around them. There were a lot of new factors that I had to consider with every design and animation decision. Since we were working without any budget and in our off time, we had to move very strategically and make decisions with respect to what was possible to achieve with everyone's schedule. It was a very challenging experience but I really enjoyed it!
Best advice you’ve received:
James: I received a ton of advice during this project that was extremely helpful. Knowing I was entering an area I knew little about, I made sure to ask anyone I could get in contact with for guidance. Also, collaborating with someone who had the experience I lacked made this all possible and provided for a great learning experience.
Any WNW members whose work you admire?
Jamie: We’ve got more jams on the way, and I’m planning to make more apps with spirit just like this.
James: I look forward to collaborating with new animators and musicians to create more jams. Outside of that, I hope I can continue to work on projects that I’m proud of.