Music generated by learning algorithms got a major push with Apple’s acquisition of a startup that makes automated mash-ups.

What’s new: Apple purchased AI Music, a London startup whose software generates new music from existing recordings, Bloomberg reported.

How it works: Founded in 2016, AI Music reshapes prerecorded music according to user input. Among its projects prior to the acquisition:

  • The company developed a platform that analyzes data about users’ listening preferences and adjusts background music in advertisements accordingly, for instance by altering its style.
  • It partnered with social network Hornet to generate custom soundtracks for user videos based on a video's content, its existing soundtrack, and a user's choice of style.
  • An app called Ossia allowed users to mix one song’s vocals with another’s instrumental backing and offered pre-generated remixes in various moods and styles.
  • The company’s CEO previously said that its technology could modify songs in real time according to variables such as a user’s walking pace or the time of day.

Behind the news: AI Music is one of many industrial-scale efforts to generate music in real time, complementing impressive research in the field like MuseNet. (You can read an interview with MuseNet creator Christine Payne here).

  • Boomy is an app that can generate a song in a selected style in 30 seconds. It selects chords and melodies automatically. Users can tinker with the result and upload the results to Spotify.
  • SAM is a neural network trained on popular songs that can generate both music and lyrics. After generating multiple songs from user input, it compares its creations to existing works to select the least-similar one.
  • Aiva composes classical music. Its developers trained it in music theory using reinforcement learning.

Why it matters: Decades ago, Apple’s iTunes service revolutionized digital music distribution. Today, Apple Music has about half as many subscribers as Spotify, the leading distributor of streaming music. Its acquisition of AI Music suggests that it sees generated music as a strategic asset.

We’re thinking: AI systems don’t yet generate great original music, and copyright law for algorithmically generated music is still evolving. That said, a streaming platform that grinds out music for which it owns the copyright could reap ample rewards.

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