Could a computer program replace human composers?

Imagine composing a symphony without knowing anything about music. That’s one part of professor and entrepreneur Francisco Vico’s vision of the future, in which a computer program will allow laypeople to write music in the same way that Instagram allows amateurs to create professional-quality photographs.

Vico and his team at the University of Malaga made headlines last year with their computer program, Iamus. The machine has generated over 1 billion songs across a myriad of genres and has even created symphonies for the London Symphony Orchestra.

Now, Vico is adapting Iamus’ technology for his new company, Melomics Media. The startup sells royalty-free versions of its vast repertoire for around $2 per song as well as a suite of apps which adapt music to a user’s moods and activities. Having trouble sleeping? Try the Melomics@sleep to lull you into dreamland. Driving to work? Melomics@car, will modify its music to traffic conditions.

The computer-generated compositions beg the question – is the music any good? In an article on the Huffington Post, Vico said, “…many people still do think that the music [made by computers] seems to go nowhere. It’s empty music: it’s enjoyable, but in principle there’s no message behind it because the computer did not mean anything with music.” He goes on to explain, “In the future we could add that layer of feelings, of intentionality…This will be very, very easy compared to what we have already done.”

But if Melomics can someday create music with feelings and intentionality, it could create stiff competition for human composers in the realm of movies, television, and video games. Imagine, for example, that you’re a TV producer looking to add music to your sitcom. You can hire a composer, who may earn an average salary of $960 per week. He must also be compensated for recurring performances of his work, so the television studio will have to pay one of the three U.S. performing-rights organizations — the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Broadcast Music, Inc., or the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers — for blanket licenses based on a small percentage of their annual revenues. Compare this to hiring a computer program like Iamus, which can write a new composition in 8 minutes.  Moreover, since the music is royalty-free, you own it. You’ll never have to pay one of the performing-rights organizations.

For now, Vico’s seems more interested in bringing song-writing to the masses than in replacing human composers. In the HuffPost interview, he says, “The main contribution of artificial intelligence to the music industry will be that anyone be able to pick up a song and either leave it as it is, or slightly adapt the raw material, with simple tools, into something very beautiful.”

Below, you can check out a sample of a Melomics tune as well as Iamus’ composition for violin and piano, Kinoth.

Sources: HuffingtonPost.comTechland.time.comEhow.com

Photo credit: Jorge Dragon via Flickr

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