Creating Songs With AI

What AI Is (Possibly) Doing to Songwriting

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Computers have been a part of the world of music and songwriting for a good forty years now. And in practically every way you can list, the computer’s role has been that of a tool — something that takes one aspect of music production and either makes it easier or makes it better.

Auto-tuneStarting in the late 90s, producers and performers used computer software to “fix” the wrong notes by way of pitch correctionautotuning. That was a pivotal time for popular music, because not only did it correct iffy notes in a singer’s performance, it changed the sound of the voice, and that change was often done purposely. Computers changed music.

But if you’ve been paying attention to the advances of AI – artificial intelligence — lately, a new and potentially scarier “advance” is happening in the field of pop music, where AI is actually able to compose music and lyrics.

This is taking computer involvement in the creation of music into a new realm. Previously, computers offered digital tools to help songwriters and producers with the music they had already created. But now, computers are offering to do the writing for us as well.

Online YouTube musician/teacher Rick Beato posted a very interesting look at the world of AI and how it is currently intersecting the songwriting world: “How Auto-Tune DESTROYED Popular Music.” Most of the video addresses generative AI:

…no musical knowledge or training is necessary. Anyone can potentially create a hit song with the help of computers that evolve with each artificially produced guitar lick or drum beat.

The ILLIAC ComputerIn years past, one of the most important parts of computer involvement in music was sound synthesis. But back when computers were first made available to musicians (later 1950s) there was an interest in having computers compose music, and I wrote an article a number of years ago about the ILLIAC computer (“What the “Illiac Suite” Taught Us About Music“), which was used to compose a string quartet in 1957.

But very quickly the music world came to see computer’s best use as a tool for songwriters, not as a composer of music in its own right.

But fast-forward to now, and we have computers that can compose complete songs at the touch of a button, and learn from the experience. And I don’t mean to disparage the general listening public, but I worry that as those AI systems gain abilities and skills, most listeners won’t really know (or perhaps even care) if a song was written by a human or a computer.

So where does that leave flesh and blood songwriters?

At this point, there is something AI still cannot do, and that is to emulate the notion of human “vision” or “inspiration” when it comes to writing songs. AI can learn from previous songs, and write one that responds to and perpetuates the current trends in songwriting.

In Rick Beato’s video, he demonstrates an AI app that can create a song lyric that looks like something Ed Sheeran might write, but the app can only do so because it knows all of Ed Sheeran’s previous songs, find commonalities and characteristics, and then write something that looks similar. It cannot — yet — step out on its own.

And to this point anyway, that’s still something you can do. You can create something completely new, that goes in a new direction that you’ve never taken before, driven by your own developing creativity and sense of innovation.

There’s no doubt that AI will change songwriting — that’s pretty much a given. But at least for now, there is no reason for you to wonder if your own songwriting is being rendered moot. As long as you start every song with a unique vision of what that song should sound like and say, you’re still doing the one thing AI cannot do.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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  1. In the 1980’s we bass players thought our careers were over as sequencers and keyboards took over – but they could not convey emotion or dynamics the same way as flesh and blood players can. I think/hope AI will be to songwriters what the keys and sequencers were to bassists – just a temporary scare.

    However, as songwriters, i guess most of us write our material with a certain degree of nod to the past catalogue of songs by anyone who has ever influenced us or caught our fascination…

    And Gary, you are correct – there is no substitute for human emotion…

  2. It will be what photography did to portrait artists and others. You can get a real professional painting or you can have a nice photograph. It comes down to preference. Also, today the computer is creating very realistic art that looks like a landscape painting. Technology rolls on, where it will take us who knows.

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