When I started an AI music composition company a decade ago, it was far from clear that this technology would work. This was before the AI hype, across pretty much every industry, of the mid-to-late-2010s - and most people, if asked at the time whether AI could be involved in the music-writing process, thought it couldn’t. I know - I asked them. A lot has changed since then.
The trajectory that AI music has taken over the last 10 years is part of the reason I’m so excited about being on the judging panel for the first AI Song Contest, organised by Dutch public broadcaster VPRO, NPO Innovation and NPO 3FM. 13 teams from around the world have submitted songs in which AI was used as a core part of the composition process, and these will be judged in part by a public vote and in part by a panel made up of myself and two leading researchers in the field, Vincent Koops and Anna Huang. Most of the teams involve collaborations between machine learning researchers and musicians, with a core aim of the contest being to bring together these two groups in a global, public AI song contest for the first time.
There’s a lot of discussion in the music industry right now about whether AI that can compose music is a threat to musicians. I’m a musician myself, and I think it’s right to be wary of technology that might replace human creativity. But the aim of this contest is to show that there’s another, more exciting, way for AI to be part of music: as part of musicians’ creative process. We made it clear in advance that creativity and collaboration would be rewarded by the judges, and, sure enough, the submissions we’ve received have used AI in some fascinating ways: having AI create musical ideas that musicians then reshape into new material, or using AI to create novel sounds that are layered into the mix, or even using AI to write lyrics that break out of the confines of a single language.
You can hear the songs on the VPRO website
from April 10th, and the winner will be announced on May 12th. But we hope that, more than just crowning a winner, this contest inspires musicians to experiment with AI. AI in music isn’t a genre - it’s a tool. And musicians have been using tools in their music-making since music began.