Digital tools to create music

Ullas Ponnadi

This article, the second in the series, builds and extends on part 1 of the series, as referenced below: https://www.teacherplus.org/music-and-artificial-intelligence/

In the previous article, we tried to understand music, and in brief the science and emotion behind it, and ended the article with an open-ended question: Can technology change the fundamental concepts of music?

Let us delve into that a little deeper.

Is technology enhancing and aiding the creation of perfect music? Will technology make music more democratic and thus extend its reach? What tools are available for musicians and composers to do so? What is the role of a sound engineer in this process? What platforms aid the distribution of music?

For musicians who perform on the stage and to aid their practice sessions, there is now an electronic tanpura and shruti box, tabla and mrudangam tone and pattern generators, and even an app than can generate the accompanying harmonium and tabla patterns, in a dynamic manner, following the nuances of a Hindustani classical singer! This can be seen at https://www.naadsadhana.com/. Certainly, great tools that aid practice and help take the musicians deeper into their personal, musical journey.

In the visual media space, as in movies, the background musical score that brings out the emotions in the scenes, is one that requires enormous effort to create. Often via premise recording, capturing natural sounds and in sync dialog delivery. This is being replaced by pre-stored sounds of various kinds, which can capture the emotion of the actor or the scene, and music is overlaid on it, in studio via AI and algorithms that follow either the live shoot or pre-recorded scenes, tracking and following the emotions and actions and gestures of the actors and scenes. A sample of such software is at: https://www.aiva.ai/.

An artist with a decent quality voice, can now sing anywhere, send the recording, and then an array of technology and sound engineering can auto-tune the voice, and blend it with pre-created music, to create musical tracks and albums.

The accompanying artists can also do the same and send bits and pieces of the background orchestration, which can then be mixed via multi-track software in the studio. Most studios also have pre-recorded bits of an array of rhythms and tones that they can beautifully blend and mix into vocal rendering. Some of the popular software that do these are: Cubase, Protools and FLStudio, and with limited learning curve, excellent, even for amateurs.

In brief, what you hear as audio and what you see today as visuals, is seriously aided by digital tools that blend and mix, enhance, balance, correct, and then deliver a near-perfect experience to the listener. Often, tiny phrases and minute interludes are corrected, and they appear flawless when we hear. AI algorithms and hardware and software that allow these, act as serious tools for such efforts. An engineer musician, in the studio, can work wonders, and a designer in a visual studio, can create mind blowing visuals!

The process of music creation has evolved so much that there is talk about software creating music all on its own. Lyrics written by software, composed, and refined by software and then rendered via computers and the digital media networks to the world!

A sample of this can be seen at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUs6CznN8pw. In this clip, only the music is by AI and not the lyrics.

How about music distribution and its reach?
Platforms like SoundCloud, YouTube, and many more, most that are free, and ones that enable monetization, can help budding musicians to learn, record, teach and sell music. These follow a simple model; create music, host it on these platforms, let the consumer decide the quality, and then rate these, and the consumption provides the compensation to the creator, via what the consumer pays, less the distributors’ margins.

Facebook has become a serious channel for music distribution now. Sponsored and paid programs are regularly hosted here and its volume has exploded, post pandemic.

Microchannel payment options are also now allowing listeners to democratise patronisation and thus aid and support aspiring musicians, and for various music groups and forums, to generate finances and aid musicians.

Music bytes, as ringtones, are also a wonderful way to monetize music creations.

Then there are apps like Smule and Starmaker that have made bathroom singing, an outward, global phenomenon. The equivalent of Facebook for amateur talent, it is also a wonderful way to be spotted and lead to opportunities in the field. These apps can enhance music, via algorithms and filters, which are part of the app.

Plenty of amateur musicians (and that includes me) have also invested into quality sound cards, software, and mic, and created the semblance of a mini studio, at home…. These are fun to play with, and via simple filters and effects, enhance the quality of music creation. Via a simple software called OBS, a reasonably good musician can now live stream to the world, from their home studio.

What does all this mean for music?
We now know that music as performance, as storage, as publishing, and as tools that aid practice and corrections, is serious science now…if you are passionate about it, there are many tools available, and low-cost hardware and software available, that can create near studio quality, edited music. These also allow for multiple retakes, and retakes of specific portions, so that the combined rendering reaches near perfection.

What exactly is the math and science behind these? Can a child in K12 aspire to learn these, and create a career out of this? Can a person learning music, as a child, make use of these and become better performers? What are the real careers in arts and sciences, from the perspective of music?

Let us take a look at these in the next article.

The author is an EdTech Entrepreneur and a Learning Consultant with 3+ decades of experience in IT Engineering, Innovation, and Learning spaces. He is the co-founder of four ventures, starting year 2013. He is very passionate about education and learning, and its power to transform young minds and keep the old young. He can be reached at [email protected].

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