On Monday (May 8), mobile app developing company Smule announced one of its biggest feats yet, having raised $54 million in a funding round led by Chinese conglomerate Tencent and upping its overall value to more than $600 million in the process. It’s a sizeable feat for a company at the forefront of the music app market, where karaoke apps are competitive.
Smule, which was founded in 2008 and is best-known as the developer of the wildly successful I Am T-Pain 2.0 and Guitar by Smule apps, leads the charge in the space with Sing! Karaoke, a social network-meets-karaoke app that recently partnered with Train for its first national ad spot that launched on Friday.
With karaoke options dotting the iTunes free music app chart -- not to mention pop culture at large, given the rise of James Corden's Carpool Karaoke over the past year -- here’s a look at the top programs in the app store to help make the right choice:
Sing! Karaoke by Smule
Released in 2012, Sing! allows users to join for no cost and offers one downloadable song up front as a gift. There’s a catch, of course: It allows you to try the app for free for seven days before having to pay a tiered fee of $7.99/week, $19.99/month and $99.99 for a year. It acts as a sort of social networking app where you can sing along to backing tracks on your own, as a duet, or as a group, but its option to sing with videos that artists like Shawn Mendes and Ed Sheeran have prerecorded is a strong selling point. Once a video is complete, users can save and share it on the app for public viewing, which has yielded its own array of in-app stars. The song selection is vast, and somewhat surprising in terms of popularity -- featured top hits include Nick Jonas’ “Jealous,” James Arthur’s “Say You Won’t Let Go” and John Legend’s “All of Me,” while the currently trending songs are Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” Hootie & the Blowfish’s “Only Wanna Be With You” and, of course, Train’s “Soul Sister.”
AutoRap by Smule
Smule strikes again with AutoRap, a karaoke app released in 2012 that allows users to rap along to a vast library of beats or speak into the mic and have the app automate it in time to a beat. Like with Sing! Karaoke by Smule, AutoRap comes with a seven-day free trial before you have to choose an all access pass at the aforementioned price points, which is a decent introduction. But it’s a solid concept that's executed well. Some of the most popular beats selected on the app include 50 Cent’s “In Da Club,” Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.” and Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” as well as non-rap hits like The Chainsmokers’ “Closer” featuring Halsey and Maroon 5’s “Animals.”
Karaoke – Sing Karaoke, Unlimited Songs! by Yokee Music
It seems as though most of the free karaoke apps come with a monetary catch, and it’s no different here. Though it touts itself as a free app, this one allows for a seven-day trial period that preempts a $2.99/week access point, but given the contemporary selections and tools available to modify your voice with effects in real time, it’s reasonable. Karaoke — Sing Karaoke, Unlimited Songs! acts in a more traditional karaoke vein, scrolling lyrics across the screen as the instrumental plays in the background for popular choices like Adele’s “Hello” and Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself.” (They even have Disney options for kids.) It’s been successful so far: According to Crunchbase, Yokee raised a total of $1.1 million in two rounds of funding by June 2015 since its launch two years prior.
Musixmatch Lyrics Finder by musiXmatch srl
Musixmatch used to have a built-in karaoke option where it would strip the vocals from an MP3 in your collection and allow you to sing along, but that recently came to an end. (“Sing by Smule is a fantastic app for Karaoke but Karaoke is not massive and it works only on Xmas,” said CEO Max Ciociola). It’s a drawback, sure, but this lyrics-finding app is still useful for singing along to songs you can search by connecting it to your Spotify or Apple Music account. As the track plays, lyrics scroll across the screen and you can sing along just like with Yokee’s app, with the added bonus of a separate built-in function to identify and discover any song that’s playing, a la Shazam.
Sing Karaoke Songs Unlimited with StarMaker
Similar to Karaoke – Sing Karaoke, Unlimited Songs!, Sing Karaoke Songs Unlimited with Starmaker does a simple scroll of lyrics as a song plays with a twist, with tabs that run at the top prompting you when to sing and a points counter for a competition incentive. There’s also a social network component where the most viewed and liked artists are ranked in categories split between Best Solos, Best Collabs and Rising Stars, while top hits are similar to other popular karaoke apps: Charlie Puth’s “One Call Away,” Ruth B’s “Lost Boy,” Bieber’s “Sorry” and Anna Kendrick’s “Cups.” It’s billed as free, but various in-app purchases ranging from $1.99 to $24.99 include early access to releases and full access to sing all songs without ads (one of its detracting features).