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Brave New Sound? We Asked Music Pros to Review AI-Generated ‘Songs’


LBB used AI to generate music based on a brief and asked industry pros - Eclectic’s Simon Elms, MAS’s Gabe McDonough, and Sound Industries’ Robert Miller - to review the results; they didn’t hold back…

Brave New Sound? We Asked Music Pros to Review AI-Generated ‘Songs’

First AI came for images, then for words, and now it’s coming for… music? While stock music already exists, it also has a bad reputation: generic, forgettable, cheesy. Can AI-generated music fare better? That’s the question we put to some of the industry’s music pros – asking them to review a couple of AI-generated tracks we created. And they didn’t hold back…

In 1888, the essayist and art critic Walter Pater wrote that “all art constantly aspires to the condition of music”, expressing the idea that while other forms of art strive to fuse subject matter and form, in music the two continuously duet.

Music has a way of stopping us in our tracks, taking us back in time or far into the future; it can scare - raising the hair on our skin - or warm us deeply with a sound brighter than midday sun. “Music has the ability to affect us in a way that only drugs, sex, alcohol and religion can compete with. If AI is ever going to replace composers and bands it has to be able to comprehensively understand so much about things that are so incomprehensible” says Simon Elms, director and composer at Eclectic Music and Bark Soho. 

“Character? Music is all about character. Genius and dexterity – two things that computers can do - are also important but not necessarily essential. Johnny Marr has never been regarded as the best guitar player in the world but he’s definitely one of the most influential ones - the way he uses the instrument and the original riffs and sounds that he’s produced over the years have resonated with millions of people and have been the backbone of some huge songs. His playing is original and, most importantly, characterful. Music is about people. It’s about talent, muscle memory, sinew, passion and love.” 

“And then there’s the interaction. The band. Lennon and McCartney. The alchemy of groups of musicians playing together. How can a computer ever compete with that? How can they replicate a recording of Mozart’s requiem recorded in Westminster Abbey with a 100 piece orchestra and a 100 strong choir? The sheer physicality of it is mesmerising. It’s overwhelming but in the best possible way. This is what we’re good at. This is what human beings are all about. Computers are brilliant at research; maths. Why bother composing and producing music? It’s pointless. It’s self-defeating. We just don’t need to do it. The proof of which is below. Putting music like these tracks on your precious imagery is like eating your favourite food and washing it down with Toilet Duck.

To create the ‘songs’, we used the software, Soundraw, and gave it a few prompts (a brief) from the available keywords to generate four tracks for different scenarios. Below, Simon is joined by Gabe McDonough, EP and music supervisor at MAS, and Robert Miller, global creative director and composer at Sound Industries in reviewing the AI’s sound stylings…


LBB Prompt: Ads and trailers, sexy, rock



Gabe> This isn't good, quality music by any stretch. But that same criticism has been levelled at everyone from the Rolling Stones to Lil' Nas X over the years. 

The fact that an AI can even create something today that sounds as good as this piece is impressive on some level, though. I'll be even more interested to hear what's getting created five years from now. In the near term, I think that the first mass culture moment with AI music is going to come in the form of a sample that is twisted into something else and augmented by human composition. Not that different a concept than pulling something from Splice really. It will likely be a sample of something that sounds "bad," "weird," or "cursed' in some way-- leaning into the AI-ness of the sounds rather than trying to pass as human. This is already happening in the underground with UK electronic artist Patten announcing the April release of his Mirage FM album. The album was created using text descriptions that AI converted to audio which he then resampled and manipulated to make his record.

Robert> I would like to not seem sarcastic when reviewing AI compositions and simply react to what I hear, but I think it may be hard not to take a rather dark viewpoint of this ‘music’. This first piece's prompts are ‘sexy, rock, etc.’ Okay, these are rock genre programmed samples, but it's completely devoid of the guttural human quality of sex in any way. It's built on two chords and a stiff  ‘guitar’ riff, but that's the least of the issues. Think about how alive two-chord Rolling Stones songs are (as just one of a million examples). The so-called music has as much life and sex as a cheap video game track - and what's even more depressing is the lack of varied expression in the way the chords sound. Music that is created and played by a human involves countless subtle variations in chord strums, drum strokes, and keyboard strikes - all the things an actual human rock performance involves.

Simon> They need to really nail down the definition of each of the words they allow you to brief with. This rock track is definitely not sexy. It relies on five separate four bar loops that all fit together. Interest is just about maintained by adding a new loop every four-ish bars. There’s no interesting lead lines and the production is as basic as it comes. It’s horrible. Please make it stop.

LBB Prompt: Gaming, epic, heavy/ponderous, suspense, techno/trance


Robert> I had to go back and click that link twice just to make sure there was no mistake: ‘epic, heavy, ponderous’... hmmm; gaming/techno/trance are the only words that even remotely connect to this selection (I can't call it a piece - I'm sorry). It reminds me of the trendy and soulless things I sometimes hear coming from the sound system at a too cool for school salon. I guess the suspense and epic quality the computer is trying to achieve is coming from the chord progression d-minor b-flat major, but no self respecting composer would consider this to be the crystallisation of the adjectives in that prompt.

The programming is somewhat in line with techno/trance programming, but the programmers that are great at that genre find incredibly interesting rhythmic variations and subdivisions that engage listeners way, way more than this.

Simon> Structurally similar to the above. Slightly more interesting or engaging synth lines and the production is better but it is not at all epic or heavy. Ponderous maybe, but not in a good way. 


LBB Prompt: romantic, glamorous, hip hop, travel


Robert> I promise I'm trying to be fair, to find something to latch on to - to actually like. So far for me it's a no go. I'm reminded of the fact that our culture is already suffering from a high supply of sound but a low supply of inspired music because with technology, just about anyone can make some sort of organised track; we have plenty of non-musician composers in this category in the modern world - do we need a computer to create more non-music? The little motif the track is built on is certainly not romantic, and like the other two things I'm reviewing above, there is no compelling forward motion inherent in the composition. It's impossibly static, with no discernible emotion driving it. The track does not suggest anything glamorous, although there is a generic, sort of hip-hop programmed rhythm - emphasis on generic.

Gabe> This piece fares a little better than the rock piece because so much of contemporary hip-hop production is made on a computer. The on-the-grid precision of the drums feels more ‘real’ in this case instead of artificially precise. That said, it's still mid. The instrument sounds aren't great. Not terrible by any stretch but lacking any je ne sais quoi that would make it jump out from the pack. Zero personality and just a little bit of that uncanny valley thing that is common in AI images. It seems real at a glance but right away you can feel that something is just a bit... off.

Simon> Better than the sexy rock.


LBB Prompt: funny/weird, happy, pop, comedy


Robert> It's getting more dreadful now - this ‘funny, happy’ concoction is a nightmare. Maybe in a weird fever dream, with scary aliens invading your home and playing what they  think humans find delightful, would you ever hear this kind of ‘thing’. The late Jerry Goldsmith - a truly great film composer, told me when I was just starting on my way to becoming a film/commercial composer, that there is really no way to be good at purposely making funny music.

Truly funny music (that is often weird) is created by people that are being earnest, and just happen to have such strange sensibilities that to those of us listening-it's funny. Go put on Slim Whitman and listen to him yodel, or the weird late great Shooby Taylor who called himself the human horn. I can't even embrace delighting in the fake island music textures - only a human being who plays music of this type can breathe spirit into it. Over and over in this AI collection we are encountering static, distant representations of what real composers do far better. Human consciousness, and whatever you conceive the soul to be, is the driver, the internal co creator working in harmony with a composer's inherent skill and imagination to produce music, real music. Sorry AI, you don't impress me.

Simon> Not even as good as sexy rock. It’s neither weird nor funny.

Finally, Simon shares his parting thoughts: “The idea behind the site is a good one. If they were to produce much more interesting loops and samples – the basic building blocks - and add the option to build each track from a larger pool of musical segments or options, then I think that it would be quite an interesting tool. However, what does that have to do with AI? I’m not sure. Humans have produced those basic loops and have programmed the structure. When an app can write and produce a track in the style of Prince with all the subtleties of groove and harmony that he’s famed for, then that could be a really interesting tool. I’d buy it. Conversely, I wouldn’t spend another five minutes on this site. Sorry.”

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Genres: Music & Sound Design, Musical

Eclectic, Tue, 14 Mar 2023 11:19:00 GMT