Sónar+D 2017: AI and machine learning will make everyone a musician

Bjork performing at Sónar 2017 (Santiago Felipe/Sónar+D)

Music has always been at the cutting edge of technology so it’s no surprise that artificial intelligence and machine learning are pushing its boundaries.

As AIs that can carry out elements of the creative process continue to evolve, should artists be worried about the machines taking over? Probably not, says Douglas Eck, research scientist at Google’s Magenta.

“Musicians and artists are going to grab what works for them and I predict that the music that will be made will be misunderstood by many people,” Eck, told WIRED at Sónar+D, a showcase of music, creativity and technology held this week in Barcelona.

At the event, which is twinned with the Sónar dance music festival, Google held an AI demonstration where Eck showed a series of basic, yet impressive musical clips produced using machine learning model that was able to predict what note should come next.

The Magenta project has been running for just over a year and aims discover whether machine learning can create “compelling” creative works. “Our research is focused on sequence generation,” Eck says, “we’re always looking to build models that can listen to what musicians are doing. From that we can extend a piece of music that a musician’s created or maybe add a voice”.

Just as the drum machine was loathed and feared by many when it first hit the mainstream in the 1970s, AI’s role in the creation of art has sparked similar fears among critics. Eck, who admits that he was initially among the drum machine haters, explains that it took an entire generation of musicians to take the technology and figure out how to take it forward without putting good drummers out of work. He envisages a similar process of misunderstanding and eventual acceptance for AI-based music tools.

You can read the full article at Wired UK (originally published 18 June 2017).

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How the iPad is changing the face of music

How the iPad is changing the face of musicAndroid may be catching up fast, but it was the iPad that made the tablet a must-have piece of kit for any self-respecting gadget aficionado. For the while, at least, the iPad continues to lead the charge and, though its games, web browsing and playing about on Facebook and Twitter are as popular as ever; it’s also managed to infiltrate the music industry. We’re not just talking about the fact that the tablet can house your entire iTunes music library. It’s also fast becoming a useful tool for musical types, both professional and amateur.

The most high-profile use of Apple’s tablet by a pro musician so far involves the latest album from ex-Blur frontman Damon Albarn’s hip-hop project Gorillaz, which was created largely on his iPad during a 32-day tour of North America. The album uses real instruments and vocals combined with a good helping of synthesizers with Albarn making use of around 20 apps including Korg iELECTRIBE, Moog Filatron and FunkBox Drum Machine. It perfectly illustrates the convenience of being able to lay down tracks on a device, while on the move, with no access to a desktop computer or studio.

Convenience and portability are obviously two great benefits, especially, as with Albarn, plenty of musicians spend a great deal of time on the road; however the bonus of using a tablet goes further than that, as accessory brand Griffin’s PR director, Jackie Ballinger, told us.

“Technology, like the iPad enables musicians to become mobile without losing quality, now people are able to make music anywhere without limitations and without substantial costs.

“With the iPad and relevant apps a less costly alternative to recording studios and instruments, aspiring musicians have the opportunity to produce professional recording using solely these means.”

Money appears to be one of the most important factors – not exactly shocking when you consider the huge cost involved in putting an album together. If an artist can record an album for less, then why not?

The cost of producing a chart album is estimated to be a whopping £250,000, so it’s hardly surprising that musicians are opting for a more affordable route, especially those who don’t have a record deal and are producing the work themselves. Two-piece US indie band The Ultramods managed to produce an entire album (entitled Underwear Party) in just 2 weeks, only using GarageBand for iPad.

You can read the rest of the article here on Pocket-lint.com (originally published 12/09/11).

Music streaming subscriptions are the way forward, says Featured Artists Coalition

Mark Kelly Featured Artists CoalitionHere’s a exclusive interview that I did for Pocket-lint.com with FAC CEO and Marillion keyboardist Mark Kelly.

Spotify recently announced that its free music streaming service wouldn’t be quite so free anymore, with subscription-free listening now reduced from 20 hours to 10. While there might be a groan from those who signed up for the service all that time ago, what exactly does it mean for the musicians behind the tracks?

The music industry is a complicated beast, so we had a chat with Featured Artists Coalition CEO, Mark Kelly (pictured right with Marillion band mate Steve Hogarth) to shed some light on the subject. He told us:

“It’s a difficult one to judge. I can understand why Spotify is doing what it’s doing and why it’s doing it as there’s a lot of pressure on the brand as it’s trying to get into the US market. Our main criticism of Spotify is the deals that it’s made with the labels under Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA). That means that the artists have no idea what the details of the agreements are but we very much doubt that the labels will be sharing all the money that they make off the back of them with the musicians that provide the content in the first place.”

The advent of downloading and streaming music has changed the face of the music industry forever, often at a cost to the people that actually produce the sounds. The way that the business runs has failed to keep pace with technological change. In the wake of reduced royalties and illegal downloads, the Featured Artist Coalition (FAC) was set up to campaign for the protection of UK performers’ and musicians’ rights.

You can read the rest of the article here on Pocket-lint.com (originally published 27/04/11).