When the team at Sony’s Flow Machines project fed 15,000 sheets of music into a computer, and heard the speakers come alive with the sound of a Beatles-esque pop song, they knew it was a breakthrough. Artificial Intelligence (AI) had just crunched the melodies and harmonies from some of the greatest hit songs ever written, and then churned out a tune of its own.
In a five-year project started in 2012 and funded by the European Research Council, Flow Machines is expected to surpass milestones and release an AI pop music album in 2017. The Album includes the song “Daddy’s Car”, which is composed in the style of The Beatles. French composer Benoît Carré arranged and produced the songs, and wrote the lyrics.
In an emailed statement, Francois Pachet, the director of Sony’s Computer Science Lab and the Flow Machines project said that AI will be able to take us beyond what we are hearing now. “AI will spark innovation at several ‘dimensions’ of music: melody and harmony, which, arguably are now very poor in mainstream music,” said Pachet. “And also new sounds and combinations of sounds, unusual combinations of styles, that humans would not have thought of without those techniques.”
Industry analysts and AI developers say all indications are that AI will help humans create music, and that it will learn to create music on its own, and that it is likely that this music will be heard on the radio, TV, movies, commercials, and on the Internet. Some experts say that music producers and audio engineers will also be affected by AI, although to what degree remains to be seen.
PROFESSIONAL ENGINEERS ALREADY IMPACTED
In an emailed statement, Aditya Kaul, the research director at the AI focused research firm Tractica noted that AI has already entered the mastering market. “Professional audio engineers are likely to be impacted by the advance of AI, said Kaul. “Companies like LANDR can already do professional grade audio mastering.”
Daniel Rowland, the head of production services/senior audio engineer at LANDR automated mastering and a Grammy Award winning recording/music co-producer emphasized that AI will play an important role in the advancement of music, from the music creation standpoint as well as for people involved in the music production and engineering process. “The inclusion of AI in music production tools has the capacity to streamline workflows and open new opportunities across both the creative and technical sides of the industry,” said Rowland. “It promises to make computers as much collaborators as they are creative tools, in all phases of the process: songwriting, recording, production, mixing, mastering, and distribution.”
MUSIC PRODUCERS SAFE FOR NOW
When asked about how music producers might be affected by AI, Kaul concluded that, although AI may learn enough to compete at some point, AI will be a good thing overall. “For the most part, music producers are safe from AI and might even use AI to enhance their music productions, said Kaul. “Even if AI gets really smart and is able to perform all of the creative functions of a music producer, I don’t believe humans will stop producing music just because there is an AI that can do the same job.”
Kaul underscored that AI is here to enhance creativity. “AI becoming creative should only help enhance creativity in humans, not replace it,” said Kaul.
HEARING IS BELIEVING?
Kaul also predicted some ways that AI is going to influence the music industry. “AI music will be used for commercial purposes such as giving the background score for ads, videos, TV, films etc.,” said Kaul.
When asked if he could make a forecast about the evolution of AI and music, Kaul added: “In the long run, you are very likely to see AI music being sold commercially and possibly getting onto the charts.”
AI IN REAL TIME
Musicstats.org conducted a study from May through August of 2016. Fifty German millennials were divided into two groups of 25 participants each, and played a song created entirely by AI. The researchers told the first group that the song had been written by a composer who had suffered a family loss. The second group was informed, up-front, that the song was created by AI.
No statistical differences were reported between the two groups. It appears millennials, at least in this study, will listen to AI music, and don’t find any noticeable faults with the emotional or technical qualities of the music.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY
The German study highlights some of the potential challenges for people that are considering a career in music creation: If a music publisher needs formulaic hit songs, or if a YouTube content creator can’t afford to license music, or if an advertising agency doesn’t have a budget for a music producer or composer on a commercial, then the least expensive alternative, AI, may be more than sufficient.
Tractica’s Kaul confirmed paid work is already being diverted to AI. “AI music companies like Jukedeck and Amper are already going after the low hanging fruit, like YouTube content, where people can’t afford to pay or license.”
Michael Carey, an award-winning composer, hit songwriter, and producer, has had a prolific 25-year music career, and witnessed the evolution of the music business. “This will be a major step toward the already significant trend of commoditizing creative content…by making a virtually endless supply of instant, effortless, ‘programmed-to-order’ content available,” said Carey. “AI-based music creation will hasten the ‘race-to-the-bottom’ that composers, songwriters and producers are already experiencing as music is increasingly devalued.”