Notes From The Artist: Introducing Taryn Southern
Introducing the digital storyteller creating the world’s first album to be entirely composed and produced with AI.
At this moment Artificial Intelligence (AI) is mainly being used to create functional music. However, singer-songwriter Taryn Southern is testing AI’s capabilities by using Amper Music's technology to create her new album.
Amper is an AI based composer, performer and producer which empowers the user to create and customise original music in a matter of seconds using their unique software.
Southern first made a name for herself on YouTube but in recent years has turned towards telling stories about the future and helping companies do the same. As well as being a musician, she describes herself as being a digital storyteller, future architect, VR/AR evangelist and general internet person. The 31-year-old has over half a million subscribers on YouTube and her videos have received more than 700 million views online.
As a result, this inspired Southern to begin a project where she set out to create the world’s first album to be produced solely by her and the AI. The album, titled "I AM AI", is due for release in Spring 2018* and Southern released the first single from the LP, "Break Free" in August 2017, which at the time of writing has over 1.5 million views on YouTube.
I spoke to Southern about this exciting project and picked her brain about the ways AI has altered the music production process and how it could enhance or possibly hinder the music industry in the future.
How happy were you with how "Break Free" was received and what sort of feedback did you get for the track?
I'm incredibly happy with how "Break Free" was received. I anticipated that I would receive some mixed feedback given the fact that the song was composed with AI. This isn't something that people naturally hear about very often and there are a lot of misconceptions and preconceived notions about artificial intelligence, particularly as it's applied to creative endeavours. I think I anticipated perhaps more backlash than what actually occurred, which was a lot of curiosity and fascination and also interest around how the track was created. I think some people were surprised at the quality of the music given that it was composed entirely with AI, so overall the feedback was really positive!
Were there any elements in the track that weren’t as well received?
As a video creator I haven't considered myself as a musician per se and over the course of my career I've considered myself more of a storyteller and so for me this was less about making a really great song and more about creating a piece of performance art. So I think in that context again I'm quite happy with the results. That being said, I will say that some of the biggest critiques of the song were around the lyrics, which ironically I wrote! That was good critical feedback for me to hear from the audience, to find out that the lyrics weren't quite as good as they had hoped for. So of course that's been noted and is something I’m working on to improve.
How is the work on the album going and when is it due for release?
The work on the album is going wonderfully! I'm working with five different companies, or AI algorithms so to speak, so they all have different processes and therefore there's a varying level of complexity. I also received a grant from Google to create a series of VR videos for the album, which has been a tremendous amount of work but really amazing and the first video in that series will be out in the first week of February. Then I can focus fully on finishing the album! At the moment we're looking at an April release date*, which is a little later than initially anticipated but I really wanted the opportunity to do these virtual reality videos for the album and that's what has caused the delay in putting it out. However, I think when people see what we've created it's going to be really, really exciting!
How different has it been recording this album just using AI compared to previous experiences?
It’s actually not been all that different! Every creative process is exactly that, it's a process and even creating an album is not all fun and games. There's certainly a process of creation and of editing feedback, going back re-recording and re-adding, along with everything else. With AI it's actually very similar but one might postulate that the process is a bit faster in terms of how it works and it's only because I'm not waiting on another human to make a change based on my feedback. With AI the process is just me and the algorithm and so whenever I have free time to go back in and make changes to a song, whether it’s through codebase or through another platform that has an eye on the back end, it's a very quick process. You just iterate as much as you can until you get a song that you're really happy with. I also feel that the process of making his album has been more collaborative from my viewpoint.
"Working on this album, since it's just myself and the AI on many of the tracks, has meant that I’m really close to the project." - Taryn Southern
You mention that it’s been more collaborative, that’s a really interesting point which many may find surprising. Could you elaborate?
Typically I don't involve myself much in the vision of the instrumentation. I might work with the producer and say hey could we add some synths here or a stronger bass sound here but I pretty much let them do their job. Working on this album, since it's just myself and the AI on many of the tracks, has meant that I’m really close to the project. I'm actually much more involved in making creative decisions around the types of instrumentation in whether or not there is a, you know, double-time beat in a chorus or not and whether or not we take out the funky instruments. I feel a lot more creatively empowered in that way.
What have been some of the biggest challenges in making the music using Amper's software?
The great thing about Amper is that it's so easy to use that pretty much anyone with any level of music knowledge could go in and compose a song. So actually, out of all the software I would say that it's potentially the best AI software for someone who does not have a lot of technology experience. You obviously don't need to know how to code and you can make something really great with or without much music knowledge. That being said, the greatest challenge in making music compared with the other software is perhaps some of the lack of customisation. I know that they're currently working on it and that it will change quite a bit over the next year. There is a trade-off of course in having software that is really easy to use and that is that sometimes you can't get in on a granular level and make the same changes that you would otherwise when working with let’s say a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) like Logic Pro or Ableton. So that would be the greatest challenge but I've actually made some workarounds and the team at Amper has been really, really helpful in making sure that I can get in there and make the changes that I need. With regards to the more granular level edits we’ve actually figured out some ways to do that, so I’m really excited about my next song!
Having gone through this process yourself, would you encourage other musicians to do the same and start using AI to create music and help produce their albums?
That’s a great question! I thought about it but I haven't got any further than just thinking about it and won’t necessarily have enough time to reflect properly until I finish this album. At the moment I’m focused entirely on finishing this album and making it as good as possible. I think by the time I'm done and it's released there's a really good chance that many of the AI programs will have changed significantly in that time. That's the thing about this space, it just moves very, very quickly but of course I'm looking at ways I can help other artists and educate them on how they can use this technology to better their own work. I'm excited about figuring that out once I am finished!
"I think AI could spawn new ideas and new types of music that we can't even fathom yet". - Taryn Southern
In your opinion, what's the most exciting thing about the use of AI in the music industry at this moment in time?
I would say there are so many exciting things about using AI in the music industry and not just on the music creation side but also on the marketing side. We can now determine what types of sounds and what types of music people really like and make suggestions on music that they may not have discovered on their own that they will grow to love. As a result of AI that's really exciting for musicians in terms of discovery. It's really, really hard and it’s a huge challenge in getting your music out there and finding an audience but with the help of these algorithms we can hopefully get new music into new ears.
From the creation standpoint I’m incredibly excited about the ability for more people to have access to create. I think that education should not be a barrier to entry in the creative process. While I believe that being able to play instruments and write music the traditional way is not going away anytime soon, nor should it, I do think that there are a large number of people out there who don't have access to music education, who don't have access to instruments and they just want the ability to express what they hear in their head. AI gives them that opportunity in some really exciting new ways and it's a formidable collaboration partner to say the least! I think AI could spawn new ideas and new types of music that we can't even fathom yet and that's because it is capable of doing things that perhaps in traditional music just aren’t currently possible today. I'm incredibly excited about the future of AI music and I'm incredibly excited about how humans will collaborate with AI and take it to the next level!
*Taryn Southern’s album "I AM AI" was released on 27th September 2018.