This is what music written by AI sounds like

Giving new meaning to “heavy metal.”
Giving new meaning to “heavy metal.”
Image: Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin
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Five days from now Google will publish open-source tools that will focus its machine-learning engine on music and art. But one London startup, named Jukedeck, has been working on getting machines to automatically generate original music for years. You can even generate your own ditty, composed by artificial intelligence, right now on Jukedeck’s website.

Jukedeck lets anyone use its machine-learning engine to generate tunes hosted on its website. Users can customize the music to a certain degree by specifying the genre (folk or rock, for example), length, mood (uplifting or melancholic?), and tempo. The engine then produces an original piece of music. “Generative music has been worked on for 50 years. You have this whole chain of [work]” says Ed Rex, Jukedeck’s founder. “We’re the latest link in that chain. We’re trying to apply neural networks to this problem, and we’re finding that they perform extremely well.”

Rex knows a thing or two about music himself. He graduated with top honors with a music degree from Cambridge University and is a published composer. His plan for Jukedeck is to offer free music to individuals (up to a certain number of downloads per month), and charge a fee for professional users. That’ll cost $21.99 for a single, royalty-free download. Jukedeck owns the rights to all the music it generates, but it’ll sell the rights to a particular track for $199.

As Jukedeck brings automation to musical composition and production, does it threaten the livelihoods of composers? Not so, says Rex. ”Producers have gotten in touch asking for the [musical production files] to use in their own composittions,” he says. He currently sends them the files manually if they ask for them, but is planning to make them available for download in the future.

Rex believes that at least one group of people are willing to pay for an unlimited supply of new tunes: video bloggers (aka vloggers), who need backing tracks for their shows about makeup, cooking, or gardening, broadcast on platforms like YouTube. Investment research firm Bernstein estimated that 600 hours of video were uploaded every minute to YouTube in the first quarter of this year.

Vloggers currently get their stock music from websites like Audio Network or Premium Beat. YouTube also offers its own library of free tunes. But these are catalogs, not sources of new and original music, which is where Rex thinks Jukedeck has the upper hand. “We tell video creators that you can have a track that’s your own that no one else is using, and hopefully that’s something people will pay for,” he says.

Rex paints a picture of a future in which Jukedeck’s engine will produce music that can respond automatically to video, shifting tempos or styles as necessary. For now, his team of 18, mainly musicians with computer science chops, are working on its next big feature, which is a button that lets users decide when they want a tune to climax. “It would be like saying to a composer, hey, the track should climax at this time, because that’s when an ad changes scenes,” he says. Jukedeck’s climax-on-demand feature should be out in a month.