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Machine-Made Melodies

Can computers use artificial intelligence to create great music? Innovative start-ups like Amper Music are trying to find out.


Whether it’s the acoustic piano in the 1800’s, analog synthesizers in the 1960’s or digital recording just a decade later, new technologies have creatively disrupted the way humans have been making music for centuries. So, what’s the latest innovation that can potentially reinvent how people around the world compose, record and perform? Artificial intelligence (AI).

Companies like the New York-based start-up Amper Music are just beginning to explore the many ways cutting-edge technologies powered by artificial intelligence algorithms could change how humans look at the music-making process, and what that evolution will mean for businesses, musicians, video and game makers, and the general public.

“Amper is essentially a virtual, AI-driven composer, performer and producer that creates unique, professional-quality music,” says co-founder and chief executive officer Drew Silverstein. “And that music can be tailored to any content, whether it’s an online video or a mobile game, in a matter of seconds.” 

It’s as if you’re sitting in a room with a live, human composer who will integrate your feedback and compose a revision in a matter of seconds.

In practice, this means that users simply log on to Amper’s site and begin by telling the software the style of music they want, choosing from options like “cinematic,” “hip-hop” and “modern folk.” From there, users select the desired mood for the music from a short list of options and indicate how long the resulting piece of music should be. Within seconds, Amper does the rest, automatically composing an original piece of music that users can then listen to and revise as needed.

“What’s great about Amper is that it’s not a one-time process,” says Silverstein. “You can collaborate with it and give it feedback. After Amper renders your original composition, it’s easy to tell it that you want the piece to be faster or slower, that you want different instruments or a different mood. It’s as if you’re sitting in a room with a live, human composer who will integrate your feedback and compose a revision in a matter of seconds.” Once users are happy with Amper’s work, they download the resulting digital file, complete with a royalty-free license to use the music publicly and for profit.

For Silverstein, such licenses, combined with Amper’s technology, hold the promise to transform the music scoring process, for many users, into something far quicker, easier and more affordable than the status quo. “Without services like Amper, the process of searching for the right piece of music for your video and licensing it can be frustrating and expensive,” he says. “We want to, instead, offer the ability to create the perfect piece of music for any piece of content, every single time, regardless of whether you’re an experienced musician and composer or someone who has no musical experience whatsoever.”

Silverstein’s vision has attracted attention from a wide audience, including several investors. “Amper envisions professional quality music as the next creative medium ripe for democratization,” says Colin Beirne of Two Sigma Ventures, the early-stage venture capital arm of the technology company Two Sigma Investments, which has invested in Amper and supports its growth. “In many of the same ways that ubiquitous cameras over the last 10 years have allowed everyone to express themselves visually, Amper is giving anyone with a web browser the power to express themselves through music. By using AI to create professional-quality original compositions in seconds, in virtually any musical style, Amper’s product aims to alleviate one of the main pain points of creators, by allowing them to incorporate the perfect music for their content, instantly and affordably.”

Mal Meehan, a Brooklyn-based videographer, producer and composer, agrees that the potential for artificial intelligence-powered music making is significant. “If your video production doesn’t have a big budget and you don’t have the ability to hire a composer, the technology can be very useful,” he says. “Similarly, when it comes to buying music for corporate videos, for example, there’s a dearth of music and all sound very run-of-the-mill. So, if technology can help you create something that’s unique for your project and stay within your budget, that’s very good.”

Although Meehan doesn’t predict that artificial intelligence-powered music composition will shake the world of top Hollywood film composers any time soon, he does see it opening doors for a wide variety of content creators working on a smaller scale. “Down the line, especially for smaller video production companies, I can see it being an everyday thing,” he says.

For Silverstein, the alchemy of artificial intelligence and music creation is an inevitability. “Whether it’s Amper or another company, in 500 years, it will have been done,” he says. “People were worried that the synthesizer would replace the symphony orchestra when it came out, and that clearly didn’t happen. There may be fewer orchestras playing now than there were a century ago. It’s just a different landscape. In fact, due to innovations like the synthesizer and, now, Amper, more individuals everywhere can make music than ever before. More exciting and creative opportunities exist.”

 

Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.