Songs of the future

Issue 49 - 30 March 2021 (6-min read)

For someone who has been listening to the same 20 songs since university, I am probably not the best person to be talking about music. It’s never been something I consciously pay attention to. If someone comments on a song they like at a restaurant, I am always surprised to hear there is anything playing to begin with. If you make me listen to a song that’s not one of the 20 on my playlist, chances are I won’t remember it tomorrow.

But even for a music dimwit like me, it is hard to imagine a world without melody and sounds. Luckily for us, we don’t have to imagine a world without music because, even with the global pandemic and Industry 4.0, our future generations will continue to produce this food for the soul. Just how they do that may be radically different, so join us in this week’s The Global Tiller as we take a look at what’s happening in the music industry and where it is heading in the future.

In much the same way that cassette players replaced record players and iPods took over Walkmans, disruption has always been a crucial element of the music industry. Our listening habits have changed drastically in the last 100 or so years - from listening to one album over and over again, to shuffling millions of songs on a Spotify playlist.

There may have been ups and downs but overall the music industry has fared well over the years. In fact, the global recorded music ecosystem saw persistent growth for five straight years until 2019 and is expected to become a billion-dollar industry by 2030. Even the live music industry was forecasted to be worth $31 billion worldwide. However, the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to have affected those numbers.

There is a wide range of innovations that are driving this surge in the music industry. The foremost innovation area is where we listen to music. As AI-driven home assistants, such as Alexa and Siri, enter more and more homes, and wearables, such as Earbuds, wriggle their way into our lives, listening to music becomes so much easier. You just have to shout the command into your living room and you’ll have your favourite track playing right away. Moreover, you don’t even have to know beforehand what you want to listen to. AI algorithms are becoming so perceptive that they know better than you yourself which songs go with your current mood. 

Speaking of AI, it is now creating its own music. For nearly a month in March 2019, a fake band powered by deep learning software, Dadabots, streamed death metal nonstop on its YouTube channel. Other softwares, such as Wekinator, are simplifying music making using machine learning. Wekinator learns from human actions and associates them with computer responses, thus eliminating the need to code. The British Library recently hosted an algorave, a rave where DJs generated music algorithmically by coding in realtime.

As we enjoy this next-generation music (or, in my case, enjoy previous-generation music on newer softwares), let’s pay attention to how these changes impact our world. Let’s not forget that it is human beings - musicians, composers and coders - who are training AI to make better music. How do we make sure that new music is not built on the backs of exploited workers

Let us know what’s a good song the AI recommended for you recently.

Until next week, stay safe!

Hira - Editor - The Global Tiller

Music of our times

The sequence of coronavirus makes surprisingly lovely music

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…and now what?

When all is bleak and dark, humans have this innate ability to be creative. Facing life challenges, we write down our thoughts to take perspective. Struggling to express our emotions, we paint. Wanting to share with the world our love, our sorrow and our emotions, we sing.

Our ability to create art is, simply put, quite amazing. And so is our ability to share it as well. Whatever new tool comes in our hands, we make it a medium to share what’s on our minds. From mere animal skins to computer-assisted music composition, in every step of our technological progress, we have managed to use all we have to share, express and enjoy.

Yet, we always ask the same questions: is technology making us less human? Will we end up enslaved by our own tools? Are we losing our creativity because everything is now “so easy” to create.

And each time, the answer has been: no. We are just becoming new versions of us. We still long for music, we still get excited to create it by ourselves and together. Remember during the first days of the pandemic how choirs collaborated through Zoom. How, even under lockdown, people came to their balconies and banged together pots and pans to create music together.

As technology evolves, I think we’re just finding new ways to continue to be truly human through our creativity.

But now a new question emerges: is AI becoming human by being creative, making music and writing novels? What happens when algorithms become major “artists”? Will we then lose our humanity?

I don’t have an answer to this but the question I have for you is this: if one day we find a new form of life that competes with our creativity, will we just give up? Or will this be a way for us to find new ways to be creative?

Our track record shows that we will find ways to keep the creativity going. For a long time, artists had been quite dependent on major record labels, who owned the rights and profited from music created by individuals. The streaming industry entered the market with the promise of better-distributed profits. Now with social media, TikTokers have become overnight stars with just one song. No need for a centralised stream of production, we now have the tools to share directly with each other.

As AI and automation free us from the doom of nine-to-five jobs, will we see more and more artists emerging? How do we create spaces where not just one type of creativity, but all kinds thrive?

Let’s not forget that our creativity lies in our diversity. And that arts have been and will probably be for long the best medium for innovation, for change and for evolution. The more we can all expression our feelings, emotions and fears, the more we’ll keep questioning our world and make it move forward.

A challenge for you this week: how about listening to songs from every country on earth? Thanks to the internet, this feat has never been easier. Tell us more about what you discover eventually!

Philippe - Founder - Pacific Ventury

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