When an amateur filmmaker wants to soundtrack a video, they just pick one of their favourite songs and hope it doesn’t get zapped with a copyright takedown.
But for professional content, like the web videos from publications that are flooding Facebook, or for commercials, that’s not an option. You need music that sounds good, that’s appropriate for the video, and most importantly, is affordable to use legally.
That’s what Hollywood producers kept telling Drew Silverstein when he worked as a composer with Hollywood bigshots like Christopher Nolan. Silverstein could write music, but having a human write music is a long and expensive process, which means it’s simply not practical for many uses.
He’s one of the founders of Amper Music, a startup writing software that writes music when given a few descriptors — “dark and epic,” or “happy classic rock.”
After feedback from producers, he decided to hunker down and create a “creative artificial intelligence,” as he likes to call it.
“I built the algorithm initially in a massive Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. It took forever, but it worked,” Silverstein told Business Insider.
Now Amper Music is a three-year old startup with a handful of employees and seed funding from Brooklyn Ventures, Two Sigma, and Advancit Capital, with a product that generates an original song in a web browser in seconds, while doing the algorithmic processing in the cloud.
And the music it writes sounds good — not so good you’d want to listen to it on purpose, but more than good enough to soundtrack a car commercial. Silverstein says Amper’s music has passed “blind taste tests,” and many listeners usually can’t tell that it was made by a computer.
Listen for yourself: Here’s an example of a “dark epic” song Amper’s algorithm wrote:
And here’s a song that might be better for a reality TV show:
Silverstein is aware that people might see his software as a threat to working musicians. That’s not how he approaches it — instead, he sees machine generated music as totally different from music written for expression.
He calls what his software writes “commodity music.” He thinks that music valued for its end purpose, say, soundtracking a viral video, won’t encroach on artistic space.
“Everyone at the company is a musician or audio professional,” he explains, so his staff sees Amper as more of a tool, for creators to use, as opposed to a push-button robot threatening to take performers’ jobs.
The Amper web app allows a film maker or creator to set the mood, style, and even emphasis points of a short song — “basically, you can have the same conversation you could have with Hans Zimmer,” a famous Hollywood composer, Silverstein says.
Press “render” and in minutes you’ll have a custom song you can use freely. Silverstein won’t reveal too many details about the algorithm that Amper uses to write its music, citing it as the company’s main trade secret.
That’s because several other companies are trying to replace stock music. Google recently revealed Magenta, a open-source project that uses Google’s machine learning expertise to create “compelling art and music.” And British startup Jukedeck is working on a similar product as well.
Amper’s founder isn’t too worried about competition yet, and sees it as a reflection that there’s a real demand for custom, cheap, royalty-free music generated by creative artificial intelligence. “Creative AI isn’t a mainstream thing yet, but our peers and investors think it’s a big deal, and it will be a big deal,” he says.
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