Could you tell the difference between a song composed by a person and another composed by AI? Is automation emerging to make our own skill sets and roles outdated, even in something as based in human talent and artistry as music? Or, is disruptive tech a tool to enhance our creative processes, not replace them? Despite today’s uncertainty, this is really how it’s always been. Think of the late David Bowie, who developed a sentence randomizing app on his Mac to help write and inspire his lyrics all the way back in 1995.
Music and tech continue to intertwine today thanks to the innovations of emerging AI-based startups. This article features some of the most exciting young companies around the world that are developing this tech for non-musicians and musicians alike, as well as the programs they can apply to for much-needed resources.
AI Music Startups for Nonmusicians
Music has a variety of potential applications even for non-musicians; examples include using it alongside other kinds of media, listening for therapeutic purposes, and even creating it but on an amateur level. Startups like Amper Music in New York and Aiva Technologies in Luxembourg have developed software where clients tweak pre-set algorithms, from tempo to genre to what instruments are used, to generate original music that suits their projects. With these set parameters, even non-musicians can curate the sounds they need. Amper and Aiva both emphasize “emotion” as a key piece of their products, bridging the gap between what humans and AI can accomplish.
Such services have liberated online music creation and distribution processes like never before, as uploaders no longer worry about copyright ownership or royalty fees. Yet, it’s not just everyday entrepreneurs but leading brands that note this tech’s potential. Last year, TikTok’s parent company Bytedance acquired Jukedeck, a London-based AI music startup, and hired founder Ed Newton-Rex as Director of its AI Lab. He sums up the power of his growing niche as:
“You can give every person in the world their own personal composer, and music can respond to anything from their environment to their mood or their calendar. It’s [the] twin goals of democratisation and personalisation that get us out of bed in the morning.”
Endel is a startup from Berlin that’s honed in on this ideal of “personalized sound environments’’ and has since showcased its benefits for mental health. Their algorithm plays music in response to real-time inputs like temperature, lighting, and the listener’s heart rate for immersive audio that adapts to external context. With neuroscience-proven benefits for anxiety, insomnia, ADHD, and more, this is yet another example of AI-generated music meaningfully connecting with people. In the case of Berlin’s Melodrive, a music generation platform that adapts to whatever’s happening in a video game or VR/AR system, this immersion can also be a multimedia experience.
Aside from composing new music, AI can also search and analyze the massive amounts of music already out there. Cyanite — another startup from Berlin, evidently a hotspot of music AI tech — sells software for finding songs that capture the moods users want, plus automatically tags them for a more organized database. Whether it’s everyday people curating their playlists or music labels looking for specific types of songs, AI functions such as deep learning are being applied to resolve tasks consumers used to do themselves.
AI Music Startups for Musicians
While the startups mentioned so far bring creators and listeners with no musical background deeper into the process, AI has been a game changer for even seasoned musicians. With its two different tools, the Tel Aviv-based startup JoyTunes empowers both novices and experts in music. Their mobile app “Simply Piano” teaches beginners of an instrument, while “Piano Maestro” is made for music teachers. Using an acoustic note recognition engine, JoyTunes’ AI processes the notes played and then gives feedback.
Some startups have implemented AI like it’s an additional band member: tech from the Brisbane-based Popgun listens to melodies played by a human then composes piano, bass, and drums in response. London’s Remixology streamlines the remix commissioning process, using AI-based recommendations to define the remix strategy for an artist’s track, connect them with remixers around the world, and help negotiate a deal. Meanwhile, the goal of Vochlea, also based in London, is to “unlock the power of the world’s most versatile instrument — the voice.” Their Dubler Studio Kit’s vocal recognition AI converts the sound of your voice in real-time into software instruments; imagine beatboxing into a mic, but the result comes out as live drum sounds!
Startups are complementing every step musicians take beyond composing the song itself, such as Landr’s professional audio mastering service based in Montreal. Their automated, instantaneous process draws from millions of other completed songs’ data to analyze the production style of the song submitted, add bespoke post-production processors, and then render its audio quality with machine learning. As for the legal side of releasing music, LA-based startup Haawk handles copyright management relations with platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Spotify, as well as actually distributing music there. With services like editing, licensing, and promotion handled by startups like these, creators can zero in on their real passion: the music itself.
Some startups don’t focus on a single step, instead meeting the needs of multiple stakeholder groups that work with music. Stockholm’s Amuse, “the world’s first mobile record label,” supports both musicians’ and companies’ roles in distribution. They release songs to major services, while mining these services’ data to identify promising musicians and facilitate their discovery. Lisbon-based startup Mysphera also builds relationships between different parts of the industry. In their case, it’s by creating automated, data-driven connections between musicians and bloggers, influencers, and playlisters — in other words, “tastemakers” — which in turn brings the former group’s music to the latter’s large audiences.
Incubators for Music AI
When it’s not musicians but startups who need extra support getting to the next level, they can apply to music tech mentorship programs that help attract and improve products. TechStars, a global entrepreneurial network, hosts an annual Music Demo Day for 10 startups selected out of hundreds of applicants to pitch to potential investors. This event is preceded by 13 weeks of mentorship “by a 300 person-strong list of global music and tech executives, venture investors and global-scale artists.”
Another example is Abbey Road Red, Europe’s first startup incubator to focus on the intersection between music and tech. The program accepts applicants on a rolling basis to meet with industry professionals and strategize their future. It ends when one cohort graduates after six months and another one takes its place, “moving from ideas, into design and marketing, and even into demos.” Another accelerator program cohort, Marathon Artists Labs’ Class of 2020, further showcases this tech’s potential for A&R and communications with its theme of “Music Discovery.”
For music startups who want to develop their tech but don’t fit certain classifications, there are AI-focused programs like the AI Startup Incubator and even industry-agnostic ones like sky incubator. The latter takes the unique approach of working alongside the startup as their software team, a perfect match for startups more on the creative side of music who could use some external AI R&D support.
In an interview with TIME, innovative music producer Arca made a claim about AI’s impact on her profession that followed Bowie’s forward thinking footsteps:
Whether one believes AI’s impact on music is positive or negative, I hope that with a closer look at what this field’s startups have to offer, it’s clearer music and AI hold the same relationship humanity has always had with tech at its best. It’s not developed to replace our beloved institutions like music, but broaden its potential and make it accessible to more people than ever.