Does AI threaten to put us all out of our jobs — or will it simply make us better at doing them? We talked to the developers leading the AI revolution in music.
Artificial intelligence is making an impact almost everywhere. Self-driving cars and virtual assistants are promising to revolutionise everyday life, and music production is also a fertile area for research. So what does AI have to offer music producers, and is it a boon or a threat to people who make music for a living? To find out, we interviewed some leading experts in AI music production. Their responses offer a fascinating insight into how current research and developments could change how we produce and listen to music in the future.
Conventional computer software such as a digital audio workstation or plug-ins consists of a set of instructions created by a computer programmer. These instructions interpret the data and user input we provide when interacting with the software, and the software calculates a set result. For example, when we use a compressor plug-in to process a vocal recording, the plug-in responds to our settings and to the dynamics of the material in a predictable way. This can be very useful, but its effectiveness depends entirely on how we set up the compression parameters. A different vocal recording might require a different compression ratio, or indeed a completely different processing chain. Beyond providing presets that we can try out, conventional software can’t help us make this decision. Instead, we draw upon our own past experiences and learned skills to decide the settings for the new vocal recording.
Artificial intelligence software could emulate these cognitive skills. Rather than simply offering a dial for the user to set compression ratio, an AI-based compressor could figure out for itself what the best setting might be. Through the analysis of large numbers of existing vocal recordings, the software would build up a mathematical model of what ‘good vocal compression’ sounds like, and apply this model to new recordings by comparing them with the patterns it has learned, this setting the compressor on the basis of its own learned experience, rather than ours.
In our scenario, the user simply wants the vocal to be more consistent in level. AI software could apply its model learned from earlier vocal recordings to automatically adjust the compression ratio, threshold and other settings, without requiring the user to apply his or her own past experience, learned skills or decision-making.
This is a modest theoretical illustration of how computing concepts such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data could offer new possibilities. These computing concepts are equally applicable to many other music production scenarios, and could profoundly change how we produce music. In fact, AI is already having a significant impact in areas such as mastering and composition.
Tamer Rashad is CEO of Humtap, who have invested 100,000 hours of R&D with musicologists, artists, record companies and producers to develop AI algorithms for their eponymous iOS music production app. As Tamer explains, “Humtap listens to your voice and turns your hums into songs in the style of your favourite artist, in seconds and on the fly on your mobile phone.” The app records your hummed melody and chosen rhythm and applies AI algorithms to compose, arrange, perform and produce an instrumental track — all you need to do is hum your tune and select a drum track on your iPhone’s screen. You can even choose a musical genre, such as Depeche Mode or Metallica.
Many high-profile artists are collaborating with Humtap’s software developers, new genres are being continuously added and the algorithms are evolving. AI-created vocalists are some way off, although Tamer hasn’t ruled this out in the longer term, and an Android version is being developed. Tamer predicts a future whereby anyone without musical training, studio equipment, financial resources or access to...
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