My recent posts have tackled the advent of computers creating music. It’s exciting stuff but also daunting for anyone who makes money making music. There’s a fear, as I think there is with many industries, that the “robots will take over.”
This has spurred me to think about what humans bring to the game. What can we do as composers and performers that computers can’t?
Obviously technology hasn’t only just recently become a problem. Once music became distributable (basically when albums were developed) any nightclub or restaurant gained the ability to replace their live musicians with canned music. And many did; that’s what jukeboxes are. But many did not. Why?
Part of the reason is that humans, for complex psychological reasons, treasure things that are unique or scarce. This is why an original Picasso painting sells for a hundred million dollars whereas a poster of it sells for about 10 bucks. Granted, the poster is less impressive but it’s not ten million times less impressive. (I think I did that math right.) The original painting is worth more because it’s one of a kind. And we humans value that.
So, a club or restaurant can install a jukebox or Spotify and pump in music that way. And sometimes that’s what happens. But the people sitting there know that there’s nothing unique about the experience they’re having. What’s unique is seeing a live performer. When you see an act live, you know that no one else in the world is having that experience.
Now, of course, not every music act is really unique. Most singer/songwriters blend into a blur in my head. But still, there’s always that hope when you go out to see live music that you catch a magic moment—a Picasso painting of music.
So what can performers do with this information? Well, be unique, though that advice is not all that helpful. There are different kinds of uniqueness. Playing your songs while wearing a clown mask and singing with a German accent would be unique but not necessarily something people would flock too. It’s really a balance of uniqueness, quality, novelty, charisma and all the usual suspects.
What about composition? How can we stand out against the coming onslaught of computer composed music? I tackled this a bit in this post but to be honest… I think this is going to be hard. I doubt there is any individualist composing style that computers won’t be able to eventually decipher. If anything, I suspect what will earn computer composers attention is that their music will seem unique compared to the efforts of humans. (Take a look at what AI is doing in terms of visual design. It’s interesting because it looks alien.) This quandary is one I’ll be thinking about.
Nonetheless, I do think there’s a basic concept here worth being aware of. Humans like unique things and experiences and musicians should never let that observation stray far from their minds.