When Glee first hit the air I loathed it. Sure, it was sharkfully wicked, but for a show about the joys of simply singing, I found the autotune insulting. I survived. Smule's Glee app makes autotune a blast.
Here's how it works: You sing into your iPhone's microphone along with background music. A live pitch meter will let you know how if you're in tune or not. All pretty standard stuff for a karaoke game.
But what's extraordinarily clever - and technologically impressive - is that Glee doesn't just automatically autotune your voice as it is output through the headphones but also generates live autotuned harmonies from your own voice. It takes your mediocre singing and turns it into overproduced pop pap - and it's fantastic.
Oh, and then it records all of that live so you can share with other users, who then can add their own voice on top. And if you're actually a decent singer, you can turn off the autotuning and harmonies and just go it audio natural.
Now because it's an app from Smule, the social layer is incredibly simple and fun. Click the "Listen" button from the top menu and up pops the now trademark spinning globe. Shining beacons of light show other singers around the world. Touch the light and listen in live. I'm listening to a guy named "quisguous" stumble his way through "I Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore" as I type this.
Whoa. Actually, I'm listening to four people singing versions of this at once. I don't think this is happening live, but that each person has layered their own singing over the track. Too cool.
There are three songs included for the $4 price: "Rehab", "Somebody to Love" and "You Keep Me Hanging On". "Can't Fight This Feeling", "Imagine", "I'll Stand By You", "Lean On Me" and "No Air" are each available for $1.19 each. As Glee is a universal app, buying a song on one device lets you redownload that song for free on another authorised device. (The iPad version isn't really different than the iPhone version, except for the resolution of the graphics.)
I have only one complaint: The background music is too quiet and cannot be adjusted or mixed with the autotuned singing. As anyone who has tried to record themselves singing with headphones on knows, it can be really distracting to hear yourself coming back into your ears in realtime while you're trying to sing. It's even crazier when the voice coming back is autotuned and ever so slightly delayed. I think being able to bring up the volume of the background music would help a lot. (You can also just keep the microphone further away from your mouth, but even that is a bit tetchy.)
Shockingly, the Glee app might be one of the best karaoke games yet made and it's a pity the catalogue will be limited to songs from the television series. If you're a fan of the show or music games in general, it's worth every penny.
Even Mark Wilson, who started to try to cough out some goofy anti-Glee commentary in our edit channel - about Jane Lynch as Madonna of all things! Heresy! - came back from playing the Glee app for a few minutes and was like, "So you're right. This is the best thing ever." It wasn't long before he was daydreaming of a version that used a front-facing camera, a sort of karaoke Chatroulette.