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Generating Music Online – Thoughts about the web

Generating Music Online

Last week I released my latest project – computoser – an online service that generates music algorithmically. Feedback has been very positive and this certainly means I’ll continue improving it. But what could that service actually become?

First, as I noted in my technical description, the idea is not new at all. Many people, including scientists, have attempted to that the same thing – make the computer generate music. And some of these attempts (you can see some links in the discussions on HN and my blog) actually generate nice music, sometimes better than that of my algorithm. But why is it that this hasn’t got any traction? Why there isn’t an industry and a business model around these things?

  • it’s mainly research. Researches don’t and don’t have to think of business applications of their findings. Researchers are interested in the essence of the music composition and rarely in serving it to a large amount of people.
  • the algorithms are not that good yet. Something can’t get popular if it generates dissonant, boring or non-varying music. Mine also can still be classified as boring, but at least it’s not dissonant and tracks may differ from each other significantly. Most of what I’ve seen is just recombination of a set of samples, which produces a limited set of results, or attempts to employ math principles, which I think is not necessary (mainly because existing, human-composed music doesn’t seem to exhibit such patterns, apart from some low-level details, e.g. note pitch frequencies). Mine is far from perfect, but I’ve tried to address many deficiencies.
  • existing software is not marketable – even if someone with a business plan took the software, he can’t make it popular – the UI is in many cases horrible and unusable, and it expects a lot of human input. Something which is not actually needed.
  • although it has been around, it is not an extremely popular idea. Not because it’s bad, but because it requires a person or a team to have a good grasp on both computing and music theory.

But let’s assume that I succeed in making the algorithm good enough and it generates very good music every time (for that, I’d need to analyze the likes/dislikes that people select for each track, consult musicians, etc.). Can it replace human composers and studios and performers completely? No. But it can generate tracks at low cost and high volume. The best composers will still be better, and some will benefit from the computer-composed tracks – by extending and improving on them, for example. And performing, especially singing, will obviously still be in business. (For the record, there are research projects that synthesize singing voices).

Why is all this needed in the first place, apart from scientific interest? Technology has made the current music business model obsolete – everyone can get the same track at no cost. And while that is considered illegal, enforcing the copyright laws goes through government control over the internet. And that’s bad. The discussion about internet piracy is too big to fit here, but overall, technology advances, and so should the music business model.

I mentioned business multiple times, but how can computoser and the likes be profitable? I’m not sure yet, but it is certain that end-users won’t have to pay anything – otherwise it hits the same problem with the existing business model. Who is going to pay, can it be ad-supported, services like computoser will have to figure out. For now, all tracks generated by my algorithm are licensed with Creative Commons, the variation which disallows commercial use (it’s not yet good enough for commercial use anyway). The difference is that there is no commission for composers, musicians and distributors – it scales because the web makes it scalable.

What if something like that succeeds? Can it transform the music industry? I won’t jump into such conclusions so early. It may as well fail because there is no demand for that. But the idea itself has the potential to change the market. Let’s see where it goes – in the future, or in the trashcan.

1 ping

  1. […] factors affecting the success of previous attempts at algorithmic composition (as I mentioned in my first article on the matter). But then I realized there can be a business model. Not one where I make millions, […]

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