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Tech is transforming the music industry, but for better or worse?

Solo-uniform-ai-radio_itsnicethat

Design and tech agency Uniform recently held a panel discussion at SXSW with the title Every little thing’s gonna be AI , exploring the potential impact of new technology on the music industry. Here, Michael Shorter, senior creative technologist at Uniform, writes on existing and imminent innovations that are changing music, and how designers can control it.

Music’s relationship with technology has always been an uneasy one. Ever since Dylan went electric, the introduction of new and different has caused friction and fissure. Depending on your perspective, the 808, Napster and Garageband have either revolutionised or ravaged the music industry. However, initial upset almost always heralds a new way of thinking, be that the creation of dance culture, globalisation of music or democratisation of audio production.

Recently Uniform built Solo, an Artificial Intelligence radio that can read and reflect the listener’s emotions through song choice. One of many conversations about AI, Solo forced us to think about the relationship between people, music and machines.

It’s a conversation we took to this year’s SXSW in a bid to understand where and how easily this kind of emotive AI might sit in an industry pummelled by change. In conversation with industry veterans, trendsetters and academics, we sought to understand how future tech can, and will impact the industry.

While robots aren’t going to be writing hit songs, they are helping artists plot tours that will sell, grow communities with chatbots and make intuitive recommendations based not only on listening habits but also location and weather.

But is this what we want? Will the ever-improving algorithm simply hone our tastes into the ultimate genre-specific playlist? Discover Weekly is great, but what about gut feeling, tacit instinct and surprise? It’s hard to believe a machine will ever replicate that emotional connection to music.

The kind of muzak generated by Jukedeck and Sony’s Flow Machine software is currently pretty awful but it won’t be that way forever. Much of the charts are already a convergence of sound and style as labels compete for a global pop hit. The ethics of profit sharing with AI are pretty murky but you can guarantee it’ll be cheaper than a human songwriter’s cut. It’s unlikely development of compositional AI will stall at the first (chilling) rendition.

Tupac-hologram_1

We don’t get to pick and choose how and when new technology will be applied to our preferred artform. The same technology that analyses songs for copyright infringement can also be used to predict creative decisions and compose new music by dead artists. Admit it, Tupac’s hologram was weird, and the algorithm already exists to compose a brand new AI-Tupac album. Do we really want to go down that path?

If we learned anything from SXSW’s AI fixation, it was that the gap between AI fact and fiction is wide, but ever diminishing. Robots aren’t likely to write a number one anytime soon, but that isn’t going to stop them from trying. The labels (and Metallica) warned us about Napster, but it didn’t stop us from digitising music. Like it or lump it, new music technology isn’t going away.

A set of drums and a Roland TR- 808 both technically do the same job, yet it takes vastly different skills to get a harmonious sound out them. Turntables, synths and the programmes like Logic and Cuebase mean artists no longer need perfect pitch to create. More than that, as bits of kit, they were central to the creation of hip hop and dance culture.

Music production in 2017 bears little resemblance to the 1970s. Yet both periods stared down a musical revolution brought about by emerging technology. Just as Roxy Music, Parliament and Herbie Hancock got to grips with synths, changing the musical landscape forever, so must contemporary creators get to grips with AI.

As the agencies and developers behind AI we can forge ahead with pop’s equivalent of the Terminator, wiping out future starlets with impunity. Or, we can design for a more emotional connection to machine learning. For Artificial Intelligence to complement artistic production and not replace it, we need to place the talent firmly at the centre of all we build.

Seetal_solanki_iwd_schoeller_textiles_spacer_ecorepel_int_list Work / International Women's Day “Textiles are for girls, materials are for boys": how Seetal Solanki of Ma-tt-er is crossing the gender divide

Seetal Solanki is founder of material research consultancy Ma-tt-er, where she works on design projects of all kinds, bringing expertise in materials, where she aims to “bridge the gap between all industries”. Here Seetal talks about the terminology used and the gender-biased associations different words have in her field, and how a refreshed approach could provide more opportunities for everyone.

This-girl-can_list Work / International Women's Day Saatchi & Saatchi’s chief creative Kate Stanners on changing advertising’s gender bias

Kate Stanners is chairwoman and global chief creative officer at advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, overseeing the agency’s entire creative output for major clients from Proctor and Gamble to HSBC. Here she writes for It’s Nice That on the gender bias in the advertising sector and the women and campaigns already making a difference.

Makingforchangelist Work / International Women's Day Head of London College of Fashion, Frances Corner OBE tells us why fashion can be political

Frances Corner has been Head of College at London College of Fashion since 2005, a role for which she earned an OBE for Services to Fashion in the 2009 Queen’s Birthday Honours. In 2014 she penned “Why Fashion Matters”, a book of 101 essays around the impact of fashion on the world published by Thames & Hudson. Here, she writes for It’s Nice That on why, at a time of instability in the UK, US and around the world, we should be wearing our political opinions.

George_nelson_int_list Features / Opinion Visual adventures in a world God never made: Michael Bierut on the genius of George Nelson

Architect, industrial designer and writer George Nelson was responsible for some of the 20th Century’s most iconic designs. First published 40 years ago his seminal publication How to See on the power of observation and the interpretation of the world that surrounds us has remained a cult classic. The book has now been republished by Phaidon and has an introduction by Pentagram partner Michael Bierut, which we publish here alongside George’s photographs.

University_of_the_underground_its_nice_that_1 Work / Opinion Nelly Ben Hayoun Studios launches University of the Underground – a radical rethink of design education

Today sees the launch of The University of the Underground, a masters course like no other, that will offer 15 students fully funded scholarships to radically shake up design thinking and practice. With a list of guests tutors including Pentagram’s legendary partner Paula Sher, science fiction author Bruce Sterling, activist and feminist Jasmina Tesanovic and professor Rachel Armstrong, and an advisory board that includes Dave Eggers, Professor Fiona Raby and Jurgen Bey, the school promises to offer an uncompromising and critical education in design. Here, founder of the University of the Underground Nelly Ben Hayoun explains the vision for the school.

Brands_list Work / Opinion What's in a name? Tips for discovering the perfect moniker

As a copywriter, I spend my day thinking about words. One of the most challenging tasks that I regularly undertake is helping new businesses answering a fundamental question: what the bloody hell are we going to call it?

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