With one tool you can adjust the rhythm or melody of a song. Another might take the harmony of a pop song by, say, Justin Bieber or Drake, and combine it with the melody and rhythm of a Schubert or Bach fugue, if that’s your thing.
“You can try all kinds of combinations,” said Francois Pachet, director of AI research and development at Spotify. “And it’s great fun.”
It will certainly be a lot of fun… assuming copyright permission from publishers, labels, artists and songwriters is taken care of regarding AI tweaks and pop music mashups. But the AI functions don’t have to include pop music, because the machine can learn to make its own music.
And will that computer-generated music be copyrighted? That same question is being studied by the British Intellectual Property Office, it announced this week.
Meanwhile, Spotify continues with its AI Music agenda, although no date has yet been announced for the launch of its suite of AI tools.
To highlight what they’re up to, Spotify’s AI team, based in Paris, has skyggea duo with songwriter and producer Benoit Carre combined with an AI program developed by Pachet called the flow machine†
Competing AI Music platforms are: emerge like mushrooms, some psychedelic, like those from Sony’s Paris-based computer science labs, formerly run by Pachet before moving to Spotify in 2017. They used AI to create a Beatles-esque song called “daddy’s car† Call it ‘Lucy In The Sky With Cubic Zirconia’, a trippy ride through a twisting wonderland where instead of ‘newspaper taxis popping up on the shore’ you ‘take me to diamond heaven…take me to a distant sky ‘, suggesting that the data-driven taxi driver may not speak English as a first language.
But Spotify’s project cleverly moves AI music from a lab experiment to recreational toys, a better fit than trying to beat the Beatles with bytes. The idea is that Spotify users will be more engaged if they can make the music using AI.
“It’s like the instant cake mix story,” Pachet says. As the story goes, a food conglomerate in the 1950s boosted sales when they found that when you involve the customer in the cooking, even a little bit, sales go up. They removed dried egg from an instant cake mix, so the customers – mostly housewives at the time – had to add a fresh egg. “It was that little bit of effort,” Pachet says, “so she could say she made the cake, that made all the difference.”
Just as someone who can’t cook can make a perfect cake with the rights mix, so a Spotify user who doesn’t know where the middle C is on a keyboard can make perfect music, with AI help.
So will AI Music take performances away from human musicians? It’s the same fear most professions face today, the same fear echoed in Elon Musk’s warning that we are on our way to the “Singularity”, a Matrix-like existence where AI takes control away from humans. But AI Music shows that computers will not soon replace humans, at least not when it comes to music, or at least meaningful music.
Could a computer create something as life-changing as Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah?” That masterpiece was the result of about 80 drafts, some Reportedly spawned at New York’s Royalton Hotel, where the songwriter in his underwear said he hit his head on the floor to get some of the song out of him. Cohen knew that human flaws were the key to great art. “It is through intimacy with the flaw that we discern our true humanity and our true connection to divine inspiration,” he said.
Human flaws can make music more lovable.
Take John Paul Jones’ insane bass tripping at 1:50 of Led Zepellin’s”Good times Bad Times”, where he misses the transition from verse to chorus, but recovers very quickly. Or think of Pharrell Williams’ spicy vocals on NERD’s “Run to the sun“where autotune would have fixed it, but ruined the magic. Human slip-ups are strangely captivating to humans.
When the singularity comes, what singles will we hear? When we’re here anymore, we want songs to calm, excite and change our lives, and that can’t come from a computer. Or is it possible? Some of today’s pop music already sounds like it’s coming from a data processing device. Take Katy Perry’s”dark horse”, the target of a fatal copyright infringement lawsuit† The controversial passage in the song sounds like it was composed by a metronome. Has it changed lives? Could be.
And when the Singularity comes, will there be more lawsuits for music copyright infringement? Maybe not, but while we wait for the Singularity, if it ever comes, AI music could be the subject of a copyright, trademark, or name and likeness lawsuit if the music simulates the style of a human musician or copies a song. But who would be the accused? Is it the computer, the composer of the software or the company that releases the music? It is likely that the suspect will have a central nervous system rather than a central processing unit.
But AI Music can provide us humans with many useful functions, for example as a tool for complex movie and game music or as a service to provide soothing music near a crying baby in a shopping mall, for example.
“We often use music to regulate our emotions in some way,” says Pamela Pavliscak, a professor of design at the Pratt Institute who advises tech companies on emotional issues surrounding computers. “You’ve been in a bad relationship and at first you want to wallow in it. So you listen to sad songs and you get in a mood. And after a while it’s like, okay, I have to pick myself up. So you switch from ballads to upbeat, happy music. AI can help with this, but to really manipulate people’s feelings with music? No, it’s not good enough to do that. Only a human can do that, and only a few.”
Another reason why computer music won’t dominate the Billboard charts and Spotify playlists anytime soon is that the popularity of music depends on more than the music itself. There’s the creator’s personality and backstory; the early years, the failures, the surprising successes, the drugs, the rehab and the redemption that make the masses fall in love with the artist who made something from the heart.
Computers don’t have backstories.
That is, except for HALL 9000 from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A space odysseywho recited his history, sang the song “Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built For Two)” and then pleaded for his “life” before astronaut Dave Bowman pulled the plug, as punishment for HAL’s murderous insubordination.
Whether the Singularity will ever come and replace musicians, or the music itself, is debatable, but in the meantime, we can have some fun with AI music.