ToneStone is a music production app from the creators of Guitar Hero and Left 4 Dead


ToneStone is an application designed to make music production easier even for users without any musical experience, and it was created by people who have worked on Guitar Hero and left for dead. Even though the app is officially announced today, it is still in closed beta and there is a waiting list for those who want to try it out. As a music production enthusiast, ToneStone’s interface and gameplay features sound a lot like my kind of jam, from the videos I’ve seen of the app and my conversation with founder Greg LoPiccolo.

If you’ve never heard of LoPiccolo, you’ve probably heard of games he helped create. He worked at Harmonix, the studio that made music-based games like Rock band and Guitar Hero. Another ToneStone founder is Tom Leonard, who has some of Valve’s biggest hits, like left for dead and Half Life 2, registered on his LinkedIn. LoPiccolo said ToneStone’s mission is to “enable a global community to create and share music”, which he considers a “basic human need that everyone wants”.

In an effort to make music production user-friendly for novices, ToneStone uses a system of loops and decks. Think of loops as the building blocks of a song – they can be used to add drums, synths, strings, and more. The loops are then organized into decks, which represent different musical genres like synthwave, trap or pop. ToneStone has built-in preset decks, but you can also create your own and even add your own sounds or recordings as loops.

This video tutorial illustrates what the music creation process looks like in the app.

The team behind ToneStone also hopes that it will act as a sort of social music-making platform, making it easier to share your music and remix songs that others have created (at the moment most shares are done on Discord). There have been other games that allow users to make music, but it’s hard to navigate between too complex for beginners and too simple.

Remixing another ToneStone user’s song (which are currently shared in Discord) gives you access to the entire project file, or as LoPiccolo put it, music DNA, allowing you to really change things from the original. You can also share any songs you have created by exporting them as an MP3 file and uploading them to services like SoundCloud.

With founders who have years of experience building games, it’s no surprise that ToneStone has game elements. LoPiccolo told me that the tutorials, which are meant to teach the basics of software and music composition, are slightly gamified. He also talked about the similarities between building a deck of loops and building a deck of cards in games like Foyer Where Magic: the gathering – there are built-in decks too, but the real fun comes when you start creating your own.

LoPiccolo told me that the team has “some, I dare say, game-changing ideas” that are currently in development, which would “allow people to make musical decisions, to write and perform music like gameplay”. While it’s unclear what the actual gameplay will look like, the idea is to give the player enough decisions to put them into a rhythm, much like what can happen when playing more traditional games like Call of Duty. The difference would be that at the end you would have a musical creation.

I came away from the chat imagining a series of quick events where you decide where the song is going to go, which seems like a really fun thing to play (although it’s not clear if there’s some sort of seed or some other process that prevents everyone from ending up with similar-sounding songs). LoPiccolo said the ultimate goal is to make the experience single or multiplayer, giving you the option to collaborate with someone else to make music.

Like video games, LoPiccolo says ToneStone will also be editable and expandable. Its engine is written in JavaScript, and he says that users will be able to contribute not only music but also interactive content like tutorials, guides, or even game modes. As someone who has spent time in the world of DIY music production, the idea of ​​these kinds of community contributions reminds me of YouTube tutorials, shared project files, and VST plugins.

Compare this image of ToneStone’s UI from one of its tutorial videos to the FL Studio UI shown below.
Picture: Tone Stone

A project file for a relatively simple song in FL Studio.

While ToneStone seems to have a good number of advanced features, simplicity remains a priority for its creators. They say users should be able to go from opening the app to creating music “in seconds” – the more advanced stuff can wait if you’re not interested or ready to learn it.

I’ve spent hours upon hours learning how to make music in apps like FL Studio and Logic Pro (mostly for fun), and hearing LoPiccolo get excited about ToneStone makes me want something like this years ago. I suspect I might end up using it for quick sketches and soundtracks for which I would have used Logic, just for speed and ease of use.

Of course, ToneStone is not the first application designed to allow music novices to create songs. Apple’s GarageBand has a feature called Live Loops, which has a similar user-friendly interface on iPads. I remember my experience using Live Loops as fun but extremely frustrating when trying to really make the song my own. GarageBand is also limited to Macs, iPads, and iPhones, where ToneStone works on Macs and PCs and is distributed via Steam.

ToneStone’s goal is to blend the social aspects of gaming with the creator-focused content of platforms like Instagram to ultimately create music. Although the social aspects of music production that ToneStone relies on are nothing new (especially in the independent and amateur music scene), there is a point that making music can be daunting for beginners. When I started, beginner tutorials looked like this, which is definitely scarier than ToneStone’s own tutorial.

ToneStone is still in its infancy, but his team has high hopes for him. LoPiccolo painted a picture of what the app can currently do, saying it can be used to “create unlicensed soundtracks for indie games or live streams,” and said the team is working to make things like live performance and collaboration possible. With the app still in closed beta, there’s no set business model yet, but LoPiccolo told me the intention is to offer a basic app for free, with access to advanced features unlocked by a subscription (although pricing information was not shared). He also said that the app will include a market where you can buy new loops, effects or modules.

You can sign up for the beta waiting list on the ToneStone website.

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