Will AI replace human composers?


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robot playing piano

Cover Photo by Possessed Photo

This post was written by Jay Lee, the author of Behind the Score series.

“I held an unwavering conviction that the essence of “good music”—the ability to evoke emotions and resonate with human feelings—was something computers could never grasp.”

As an avid amateur Go enthusiast, when news broke about AlphaGo’s challenge to Go grandmaster Lee Sedol in 2016, my initial reaction, like many others, was an unwavering confidence. A 5:0 victory for Lee Sedol seemed inevitable. After all, my belief was that Go, with its intricate layers of strategy and intuition, was a game where human creativity reigned supreme. Surely, brute computing power wouldn’t suffice against the nuanced mind of a master player.

The result? Shockingly, AlphaGo emerged victorious, winning four out of five matches.

Fast forward a few years, when AI set its sights on music—my professional domain—I held an unwavering conviction that the essence of “good music”—the ability to evoke emotions and resonate with human feelings—was something computers could never grasp.

Despite the growing presence of AI-generated music, my confidence remained unshaken. These synthesized melodies, in my opinion, lacked the soul and raw human emotion that defines true music. And I held onto this belief firmly, even until last year (2023).

But just recently, something remarkable happened.

The AI Counteroffensive: A Surge in Musical Innovation

Just as I was starting to lose interest in AI-generated music, my YouTube feed started suggesting videos showcasing some truly impressive AI-composed music. After watching a few, I was absolutely blown away.

The recent advancements in AI music generation have been nothing short of astounding. Just as I was coming to terms with the impressive capabilities of Suno AI v3, Udio AI entered the scene, showcasing a level of musical sophistication that left me speechless.

While I won’t delve deeper into discussing how AI will impact our musical lives and other related matters (at least not within this post), I do wish to present a few examples of songs written by AI, including some generated using my prompts within 30 seconds. So, if you haven’t had the opportunity to listen to music composed by AI, prepare to be amazed.

All the musical examples showcased in this blog post were generated using Udio. If you want to try the AI by yourself, use the link: https://www.udio.com/

UDIO – Staff Picks

Below are the tracks created by AI , some of which have been selected by UDIO’s staff as exemplary works. It’s reasonable to assume that these tracks represent some of the best work done by Udio.

Let the Groove Be Your Guide – Disco, Funk
Carolina-O / Country Pop, Contemporary
ハートフル☆メロディ – JPOP / KPOP
Soulful Echoes – Hip Hop/Instrumental

Custom Made Tracks

Below are the tracks I created myself using the simplest prompts. These were primarily for testing purposes and were aimed to fit mostly within the genres of film and video game soundtracks, particularly orchestral compositions. Each track was made within less than 30 seconds.

“Quest of Legends” by Udio v1. / Prompt: Epic Action, Hybrid, Hollywood
“Enchanted Realms” by Udio v1. / Prompt: Triumphant, Anthemic, Orchestral, Film, Soundtrack
“Blitz Assault” by Udio v1./ Prompt: Atmospheric, Instrumental, Epic, Orchestral
“Heroes Unveiled” by Udio v1./ Prompt: Film Score, Anthemic, Epic, Action

Quite impressive, right? As a musician myself, my team and I have been closely following the development of music AI.

As of April 2024, the quality of AI-generated music is quite impressive. It’s not perfect, but let’s say it’s scoring in the high 80s out of 100. In simpler terms, it’s like a solid B+ or B. Honestly, it’s a bit scary how quickly they’re improving.

robot playing piano

Will AI replace human composers?

So how do I feel? Will AI replace human musicians anytime soon? I don’t think so, at least not right now. Superstar composers like Hans Zimmer or Thomas Newman aren’t going anywhere. The same goes for you (assuming you’re reading this because you’re a talented composer yourself! 🙂 )

If you’re a musician reading this and feeling a little concerned, please keep reading.

AI excels at creating near-perfect compositions, but refining them to absolute perfection can be incredibly difficult. Imagine wanting to subtly alter the guitar’s vibrato at the end of measure 42, or have the strings play just 4-5 fewer notes in bar 16. For now, making these detailed adjustments (which are often easy for humans) to AI-generated music remains a challenge. As of April 2024, UDIO doesn’t provide individual instrument tracks (stems) or MIDI files for their songs. This lack of access makes it impossible to make any adjustments to the final product. (However, they do plan to offer stem exporting in future updates.)

Also, AI struggles with the finer details. It’s tough to get them to do subtle things like pitch bends or intentional imperfections that can add so much emotion to music. These subtle nuances can prove extremely challenging for AI to capture perfectly. Even with AI, I believe human input remains crucial for professional use.

That being said, AI is getting closer and closer to human capability. While it won’t replace the top composers, it might impact the landscape for “average” composers who create more generic music. It’s a harsh truth, but from a business standpoint, a CEO might be tempted by the cost savings of decent AI-generated music compared to hiring multiple human composers.

So, what’s next for us musicians?

Honestly, I don’t know. This article isn’t meant to discourage musicians or glorify AI. It’s simply to share where we are in April 2024. We might not know when the next chapter in AI music unfolds, but as a human who’s dedicated over 30 years to music, I want to believe there’s something special about human creativity that AI can’t replicate.

Let’s keep the conversation going!

What are your thoughts on AI music? Feel free to share your comments and insights below.

This post was brought to you in collaboration with our partner site Behind the Score. Discover the Harmony Secrets of Modern Film and Video Games.

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