There’s a powerful meme going around, especially on Twitter, pointing to examples where people have taken the vocal tracks of famous songs and then got Songsmith to write the music, which is what it’s designed to do.
WTF was Microsoft thinking with Songsmith? Here’s it does White Wedding by Billy Idol. Just unbelievable
Yes, what was Microsoft thinking? Well, let’s start. Someone thought “Apple does a music app.” (Garageband, below.) “We should do a music app. Apple’s one lets you create stuff. We should make it easier. We should write the backing – we’re smart. OK. Tunes follow a structure.” And then “what people sing follows a vague structure.” And then “we can fit the tune around the singing.” And then “what they sing becomes the structure.”
It’s enormously clever; but as the examples all show, utterly stupid. Songsmith has no notion of what a great melody, nor a great accompaniment is; indeed, it doesn’t understand melody, only the idea of progression through a structure. What the person is doing becomes essentially irrelevant; they’re just an input. Listen to enough of these ..creations and you start to notice a certain sameness to them that isn’t there in the originals (obviously). Everything is hammered flat. The surprising harmonies of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? Not got those. The plangent arpeggios of Stairway to Heaven? Nope. The buzzsaw guitar of Jonny Greenwood, determined to break up Thom Yorke’s sweet-sounding chorus to Creep? No idea what you mean.
And to answer Williams’s question, what was Microsoft thinking? It was thinking what it always thinks. Reduce the human element to an input, put it in a box and make everything exist only in that box. Remove the space for human creativity that hasn’t been thought of already by the programmers. Think inside the box.
It’s pure enterprise (as in, big company) thinking, applied to one of the art forms that has been with humans for millennia. No wonder people are astonished and can’t stop pinging it around the intarwebs (for it has to be said, Songsmith is getting the most fantastic publicity – you’d think it was an Apple product).
It’s intriguing. Apple has Garageband, which is a tabula rasa, the original blank slate, that offers you fills and guitar and piano twiddles, but you have to do the creative act of putting the song together. (I’ve always thought it makes it too hard to create a long piece; why can’t I just say “I’d like to have something four minutes and 30 seconds long with this drum track, set it up please”?). Even pros use Garageband.
Songsmith takes away the blank slate. In its place it… tells you what it thinks you’re thinking. It is scary. I’d love to know what Microsoft’s engineers really thought before they released it into the wild.
And, of course, whether anyone will release a song “written” by Songsmith. Something tells me not.