And it works pretty well. In January 2021, Supertone revealed its Vocal Synthesis technology.
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The big secret of the party was to introduce Kim Kwang-seok, a Korean folk superstar who has sold millions of records in his hometown, sing a brand new song. Pretty cool, because he died in 1996.
Using artificial intelligence, Supertone’s SVS technology “learned” about 100 songs by 20 different singers to develop a style. Then it learned 10 songs of Kim. Putting everything together, AI can create something more than just a sensible fax.
Why is HYBE so interested in technology? Because it’s the company behind some of the big K-pop artists, including BTS. Last year, this boy group shocked global fans when it was announced that they would be taking a break from their musical activities. To be fair, given the crazy ride they’ve been on over the years.
However, this has created some serious problems. First, according to Korean law, every member of BTS is now required to complete mandatory military service (they are exempt from the exceptions for artists and athletes).
This will put BTS in the spotlight for at least 18 months. And since the seven members are of different ages, the time when they are supposed to start enlisting will be very different. BTS can be MIA for years. Not good for a business with $3.6 billion a year in revenue.
Can HYBE use Supertone to create new BTS material while the boys enlist? It seems possible.
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From an absolute capitalist point of view, this looks great. No more capricious musicians who get drunk, get cocky and end up doing stupid #MeToo things to their fans. New music can be summoned at a signal so there’s no need to wait for inspiration to explode. Talk about cheap music to produce. There are no salaries, royalties, per diem or any other expense that real people eat up.
This raises a question: If the fake is indistinguishable from the real thing, will fans blame it? Probably.
Synthesizing music by machine has been a dream of scientists for decades. In 1961, Max Matthews, a programmer at IBM, played with a mainframe 7905 and managed to make it famous. No computer had ever done this before.
Stanley Kubrick would then use this as the basis for an important scene 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968.
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What advanced research and science fiction is now very, very real. And while machines are not yet fully autonomous composers and performers, we are moving in that direction. Right now, however, the focus is on AI-powered music creation software as a tool. Call it software-assisted editing.
In 2020, Grimes (Canadian singer, ex-lover of Elon Musk) worked with a startup called Endel to create a new piece of music she calls “AI lullaby”. She created “shorts” (separate snippets) of both music and vocals, then let the software do the rest. Endel has also been used to create music to help people sleep and driving music to keep Mercedes-Benz drivers focused on the road.
Google is working on a system called AudioLM that can generate natural voices/vocals and make music. All it needs is a few seconds of the original audio and it will take it from there. Its piano tracks are smooth, fluid, and well-toned. No piano needed.
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Harmonai is a project of a company called Stability AI, which describes itself as “a community-based organization that publishes open source synthesizer tools to make music production easier.” should be more accessible and enjoyable for everyone.” It also has a tool called Dance Diffusion (currently in beta) that can generate new original short pieces based on knowledge of the music catalog. Some artists are using this software as a way to start a new composition.
Then there’s Amazon, which is developing software that can mimic the voices of the dead. Has Grandma passed? Give Alexa a few seconds of her voice and your device will be able to talk to you like Grandma for as long as you can tolerate. I’m sure having her sing your favorite Rage Against the Machine song is just a few lines of code away.
Another area with potential is the industry of composing random music for film, television, and advertising. This arena needs thousands and thousands of new short pieces every day, a need that is currently being filled by human musicians. AI-generated music will be cheaper, faster, and royalty-free.
In December 2015, a British company called Jukedeck started offering users the ability to create 5 songs per month for free and then $7 per track after that. This was followed by Amper Music, an American company, in 2017 and Amadeus Code in 2019.
There’s also Germany’s Loudly (copyright-free production songs), AVIA (“artificial intelligence creates emotional soundtracks”), Infinite Album (AI-generated music for video games), and DAACI (“composes, arranges, arranges and produces” original music.) And if you’re a podcaster in need of theme music, you might want to check out India’s Beatoven. There are dozens of other startups making real progress, including AI Music!, which is now an Apple property.
Speaking of royalties, there is an interesting debate going on. If a machine creates a new intellectual property work like music, who owns the copyright to that work? Machine? Programmer? Hardware/software manufacturer? That still needs to be addressed in some territories.
There are those who believe that machines will never be able to match the emotion of music. To really get over the trauma of ONE SHARE, you have to go through it once. Then again, maybe all that is needed is a few extra lines of code.
Alan Cross is a broadcaster with Q107 and 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for Global News.
Subscribe to Alan’s Continuous History of New Music Podcasts now on Apple Podcasts or Google Play