In the future we will be listening to music produced by Artificial Intelligence (AI), like it or not. However harsh and uninspiring this statement might sound, don’t jump into conclusions just yet. Yesterday, 24th Nov, BPI held a conference “Music’s smart future”, where the main theme analysed to the bone was AI and it’s impact to the music industry. Therefore, as this topic is something we wanted to touch down since long ago, it presented us with the perfect occasion.

2015 and 2016 has seen the rise of the use of AI in music making, research and general investment, claimed BPI in their report on the issue. The scope of AI doesn’t just touchdown on the self driving cars. It’s use is set out to revolutionise the way we create, discover, listen and work with music. So even if the waiting list for your first Tesla is too long, you may feel AI knocking its way into your life with the after-weekend office discussions on the satisfaction on the automated weekly playlist on Spotify becoming a familiar routine around you.

Will Artificial Intelligence be the next Superstar?

“It’s probably fair to say that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will change the music industry and lots of other industries a lot more than the internet did.”. As Music Ally cites, it was a statement, comparing the impact of the artificial intelligence to the disruption that took over the music industry as Napster was launched in the late 1990s was posed by Ed Newton-Rex in yesterday’s conference. His company Jukedeck has utilised the AI technology to compose music and so far raised $2.6m of funding.

The initial customers of Jukedeck have been YouTube channels and creators, who want to quickly create music to use in their videos. Based on the preference the mood, style, tempo and length of the music can be chosen and then created by the AI system to match. “It’s royalty-free and cheap. It’s a cost-play, AI,” he said. “In the early stages at least.”.

Furthermore, Newton-Rex added that AI will be able to make music even more personalised than Spotify is able to personalise it to individuals right now with Discover Weekly and Daily Mix playlists. “AI is going to let su really personalise, not just track by track, but note by note, to the power that a film score has. This is how personalised music is going to be when essentially the thing in your pocket is writing it for you,” he said.

Another product based on IBM’s AI technology, called Watson Beat, based on information output derived from emotion, which the product lead Cate Cowburn describes as an “extensive knowledge of music history as well as all the characteristics of music keys”. Given 20 seconds of certain tune it can “deconstruct that and reconstruct a new melody” based on the instructions of the app’s (human) user.

 Artificial Intelligence vs. the Artist vs. the Audience?

So “Are all composers totally screwed? Is it going to take people’s jobs?” – is a valid question to address. Thus, when it comes to the existential threat that AI poses on the artistry, Ed, himself not a coder but a composer, suggested that “art is about more than just the work itself”. In other words, these days creating music that sounds good is not enough, people need a the personality, an artistic idea they can fall for. Even if just to refer to our own fascination to the legends like Freddie Mercure, Bowie or Leonard Cohen.

“In other words, these days creating music that sounds good is not enough, people need a the personality, an artistic idea they can fall for.”

In a discussion addressed afterwards James Healy, VP of global digital business at Universal Music, agreed with the appeal of human artists being more than their music. “If you’re writing library music, corporate background music, this [AI] is going to start eating your lunch sooner rather than later.” He adds – “People want to buy into an artist, to buy into the artist’s back-story, what they’re about,” he said.

Previously we have pointed to technology that democratises (easier access) music production, and is speculated to have conflictive outcomes towards creativity. Ed touchpoints the discussion by saying that making music has in fact become the act of the elite: “[…] What we’ve seen on our site is we’ve seen a bunch of people who don’t have the skill to write a backing track for themselves. They’ve made a backing track then written a tune over the top and turned it into a music video,” he said. “AI is going to let a lot more people make music, which i think is really exciting.”

Furthermore, the CEO of Jukedeck suggests that the winner in the end is the audience, as he claims that: “There’s just going to be more art, more music in the world when computers can be creative, and this is a good thing in my book as long as it’s decent music,”.

Computers writing music with feeling?

Just thinking of listening to computer generated music, might incite the gag in your throat of its synthetic unnatural way humanity is taking. Thus what can be predicted, when it comes to questioning the appeal of the computer generated music to humans?

Let’s go full geek here. BPI’s CEO, Geoff Taylor referenced Google futurist Raymond Kurzweil’s prediction, that around 2045 of the “technological singularity”, which means that AI will reach a peak of its intelligence and self-awareness. Taylor asked the same frightening question Spike Jones’s “Her”, where the main character falls in love with AI machine, was asking: will AI be capable to appeal to human feelings? Particularly, in the art of music: “[..] when machines start to think independently, will the music that they create engage human emotions in the same way that human creativity does?”.

As Werner Herzog observes in his latest documentary, “Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World the ethics of today will not be the same as the ethics of tomorrow. James Basset, the head of digital creative at Sony Music UK, pinpoints: “AI emotion may not be the same as human emotion.” where he continues on the general predictability  […] “No less a person than Elon Musk reckons AI is the biggest issue facing humankind in the foreseeable future. And that’s a guy with colonising Mars on his to-do list!”.

If you will allow me, I will compare the takeover of the music production by AI to the invention of photography, when to have a picture of a beautiful sight one did not have to be a Rembrandt anymore, emotional outcome wise, the existance of Google streets or google Earth did not make visiting Cuba or Egypt pyramids less special. ‘

One thing is certain, the speculations are and can be only about the near future, as it is obvious, that the scope and the speed of the AI development is unimaginable. Best we can do to develop our subjective take on the topic is listen to the music created by AI and compare to the man-made creations.