Screenshot Tour: Soundation Studio lets you create music online for free
With all of the Flash-bashing going on lately, it is easy to forget what a powerful platform it is. It's a good thing that Web tools like Soundation Studio serve as handy reminders, showing us that some very cool stuff can be created with Flash.
Soundation Studio is an incredibly full-featured, desktop-like sound editor. It has a built-in library with hundreds of sound samples that are sorted by BPM. The samples are predominantly electronica-style stuff, but you can buy more samples from the online store. Still, if you want to compose a nice piece of electronic music, the included samples seem to be more than enough.
Despite having no musical inclination whatsoever, I was so impressed with Soundation Studio that I felt compelled to stay for a few minutes, play around with the UI, and even try to compose my own trance beat (which I will not subject you to). After the fold, you can see some of the highlights.
This is the same overall screenshot shown in the beginning of the post, but I'd like to provide some explanations for it now: At the top of the window, you see a menu bar; the left side features channel controls (each "line" is an audio channel). The bulk of the window is taken up by the channel waveforms, while to the right, you can see the expanded samples library. At the bottom are some pretty self-explanatory playback controls.
Now, let's start zooming in on the different parts. First is the menu bar; there's nothing special here, but I found the Fullscreen Mode noteworthy. When you switch to Fullscreen, it feels just like a desktop application (a Mac desktop application, at that). The UI was fast and snappy and samples played quite well on my system, so it really didn't feel like I was using a Web-based tool as soon as my browser UI disappeared.
One of the few reminders of the online nature of Soundation is shown every time you drag a sample to a track; the screen dims and you get a spinner while the sample is downloaded to your computer. Once the spinner disappears, the application goes back to its snappy self.
This is what the controls for a single track look like. The "FX" button lets you select one of a number of effects to be applied to the track; the "Automate" drop-down lets you apply volume customizations and other goodies. This interface should be very familiar if you've ever worked with any sort of serious audio editor.
These are the controls for one effect: Reverb. Unfortunately, I was unable to preview what each setting does, so I had to wing it rather than tweak the sound carefully. The good news is that the effect is applied immediately, without downloading anything; the file seems to be processed on your own system. It's very snappy.
This is a zoomed in view of the sample library. As you can see, each sample is preceded by its BPM, so it's very easy to select samples that go well together. The "Auto Audition" button plays each sample as you click it; that seems to happen off the server, so playback starts immediately, with no download required.
This is another view of the library, this time collapsed so you can see the range of samples available. The "Urban" label made me think of hip-hop, but the samples in that category also seem to be quite electronic. You can see some inconsistency in the folder naming ("125" vs. "90 BPM"), but the interface and sorting are still quite clear.
This is the Virtual Keyboard, and it's the one part that I simply could not make work. I have no idea what I did wrong, but I was unable to figure it out. Feel free to tell me how you got it to work in the comments.
Bottom line: Soundation is a very powerful implementation of existing software, in Flash. If you already know similar systems, it will not teach you anything new. However, if you're just getting your feet wet and considering creating music using your computer, this is one solid-looking free option.