Copyright power to the people: how AI music creation start-up Boomy could shake up the music industry – Screen Shot
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Copyright power to the people: how AI music creation start-up Boomy could shake up the music industry

Love them or hate them, Nickleback was right: we do just “all want to live in hilltop houses and drive fifteen cars”… In other words, the music industry equals big money—or at least it does for those at the top of the industry’s food chain. Over the recent years, music publishers have been on somewhat of a spending spree—buying the copyrights for songs of famous musicians at an impressive rate. Last December, Universal Music Publishing Group bought Bob Dylan’s entire discography in a deal estimated at more than 300 million dollars. Similarly, Stevie Nicks sold an 80 per cent share of her works to Primary Wave Music for an estimated 100 million dollars that same month.

These mind-boggling figures are enough to alienate even some of the most experienced music producers. But the very nature of music is built on raw, amateur, DIY creativity. How do we fix such a system that caters heavily towards the elite and establish a model that helps those left out of the system instead—giving everyone a chance to express their musical creativity? That’s where Boomy comes in. The new AI-driven company claims it can shake up the model of the industry. And there’s reason to believe it can.

How does Boomy work?

Think of Boomy as a one-button music studio. In essence, the website’s developers claim users will be able to compose original tracks in around five to ten minutes—selecting their desired style of beat, tinkering with the composition and mix until it’s club-ready. Whether you’re feeling dance, hip-hop, ‘global grooves’ or just something completely experimental, Boomy has you covered, giving you the option to upload your finished musical piece to over forty streaming or social platforms. Oh, and did I mention that you keep a large chunk of royalties to your new hit?

Although being able to create a banger in the time it takes for your Pot Noodle to brew is appealing, it’s not the only reason which sets Boomy apart from the crowd—the real reason being its AI. Unlike recurrent neural network analysis models like OpenAI or Google, which can analyse songs already made and are able to recreate a signature sound, Boomy is not trained on copyrighted music. This is due to the complex, strict and high-segmented nature of copyright law—varying greatly depending on which part of the world you’re currently residing in.

Training AI on already copyrighted material could throw a major spanner in the works in terms of legality. Take the infinite monkey theorem, for example: if the AI was used to create a hip-hop track and learnt from Biggie Smalls, there’s a chance (however small that may be) that the algorithm could perfectly recreate ‘Juicy’—beat for beat. That’s a risk no app developer would ever want to take.

To overcome this hurdle, the AI behind Boomy takes a bottom-up approach by leveraging previous experience in artists and repertoire (A&R) research to train the system to build organic, original compositions from scratch. Alex Mitchell, co-founder and CEO of Boomy told Engadget that the company has “really advanced algorithms that are doing automatic mixing, deciding what sound should go together—what are the features of those sounds, how do those fit together, what is the perceived loudness rate of those sounds.” All while keeping within copyright infringement laws. Pretty impressive if you ask me.

But… isn’t it just a bit lazy?

Okay, it’s a good point—and a debate that will definitely cross the minds of bedroom music producers, multi-million dollar label owners and music fans alike. Isn’t this devaluing what it requires, or even means, to be an actual modern-day musician? Those who have spent tens of thousands on university education to study music production, not to mention the hundreds of hours it takes to master the art of the digital audio workstation (DAW), may not take kindly to an app that could be perceived as replacing their talent with a simple tap. 

It’s a conundrum that shouldn’t be confined to just the occasional shower thought: to what extent do we allow AI to replace creative arts? To what point does something stop being creative when making music through AI? Can anything made with AI actually be considered creative in the first place? 

Taking a step back, it could be considered that this is the natural progression in the evolutionary tree of music production. Even on their wackiest of LSD trips, The Beatles back in the ‘60s would never have dreamt that there would be a global movement of lo-fi bedroom producers, making successful records—not sold but streamed—through just a laptop and an internet connection. Taking this logic, we shouldn’t underestimate the legitimacy of AI-generated music, made in a few minutes, and the impact it could have on the music industry as a whole.

Opening musical doors for those who were previously locked out

Mitchell goes one step further, telling Engadget that he doesn’t view Boomy simply as a music creation tool but as a means to achieve “the ideal world that we want to create.” This would be a world where an individual, wherever they currently reside on the planet, and no matter their economic status, can register themselves as a co-writer alongside Boomy, ensuring all artists are able to be paid for their work.

He describes this concept almost as if they’ve “built a music studio, and filled it with great equipment. You can come in and use it for free, make whatever you want, and on your way out, we’re assigning you to our label, and we’re going to give you an 80 per cent rev share on everything we collect from what you made in the studio.”

In fact, there is good reason to believe this added level of accessibility could allow for more creativity. As of now, there is still a barrier for entry into the world of music production, especially for working-class individuals—albeit the bar has become significantly lower due to the technology-induced shift from the studio to the bedroom. Consequently, Boomy could offer an accessible solution, opening the doors of musical creativity for people who were previously locked out.

Alpacas prefer classical music. Here’s how it could save their lives

You’ve heard of emotional support animals from dogs to cats and even parrots, but what about alpacas? Introduced to the UK in the 1990s—the era of MTV, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and grunge music—the fluffy creatures, native to South America, have since sprung up in farms across the nation. Now, there are 45,000 alpacas in the UK. Not only are they kept for their wool, breeding and trekking, but they’re also used for mindful activities such as yoga.

However, despite their rapid rise in popularity over the last 20 years, research is still needed in terms of how, and why they behave in certain ways. In particular, how to reduce their levels of stress, which can, in some cases, be fatal for them. Alpacas have shown to be beneficial for us humans, not only for tourism but also for our mental health. With this being said, isn’t it about time we determined the best way to keep them happy? And could music be the answer? I turned for answers to Hermione Pocock, an Animal Conservation student at Askham Bryan College who’s been working with alpacas for the past two years. Here’s what she had to share on the secret musical taste of alpacas.

The relationship of animals with music

While studying her BSc in Animal Conservation, Pocock has been an alpaca farm manager for the past two years—I know, sounds like a dream job, right? Over the years, she’s developed relationships with the alpacas, although as she notes, “it’s not the same as dogs—they come to you when you have food, not when they’re called.”

However, make no mistake, although you’ll be hard-pressed to play fetch with one of the fluffy, slightly goofy-looking animals, they still have the thoughts, feelings and perception of the world that we do—minus the philosophical and existential dread that we humans are plagued with. In fact, alpacas are actually vulnerable to stress and can, sadly, die from it when being sheared or mishandled in some circumstances.

So, while alpacas are doing bits for our mental health, especially during such a turbulent time in the world—don’t tell me you’ve never Googled ‘cute alpaca videos’ in the middle of a crisis—it’s about time we look out for their mental health too, right? Previous research into animal psychology has shown that dogs can benefit from music, and even exotic animals like elephants and gorillas have shown to have reduced stress levels from music.

“There’s been a lot of research on classical music and how it influences livestock animals like cows. There’s even been research on elephants and gorillas to show the music can reduce their levels of stress. Radio 4 has shown to be beneficial for dogs because they develop more of a bond with people and are therefore comforted by the human voice,” Pocock told me.

But where does this leave alpacas? The truth is, until recently, there hasn’t been any research into how music can influence their behaviour and cortisol levels (the hormone in our brain responsible for stress). As part of her undergraduate degree, Pocock has set out to bridge this gap in knowledge and determine, once and for all, if they could tune into the radio—what station would they choose?

How does music influence alpacas?

For her research, Pocock randomly sampled eight alpacas from the Beacon farm (four male and four female). She then measured their behaviour and took a sample of their cortisol levels using a mouth swab.  Once cortisol levels were taken, the alpacas were then individually shown three audio samples split up into a day: white noise, classical music and Radio 4—one show in particular, The Archers (never been a fan of the show myself).

And Pocock’s results seem to suggest the alpacas agree with me. Although the cortisol tests were not statistically significant, the behavioural data found that the alpacas were most stressed by Radio 4, whereas classical music reduced stress levels. I guess alpacas have great taste. White noise also had an impact on reducing stress levels, but not as much as classical. 

Her data showed that there were gender differences between the alpacas too, “there was some difference in cortisol levels, the female didn’t like the radio as much as males. They also showed more negative behaviour when listening to the radio,” she said. What Pocock recorded as ‘negative’ behaviour in her data were the alpacas being distressed or vigilant—which makes sense, alpacas in the wild would be vigilant of predators and Radio 4 is definitely something you wouldn’t usually hear in an alpaca farm.

But Pocock’s results go further than just showing us what DJ set you should spin at an alpaca rave—the data can actually be used to save their lives, by keeping them calm in circumstances where they might be prone to stress. She mentioned, “these results hint that classical music could be a worthwhile option to keep alpacas calm when being sheared or transported.”

Ultimately, it’s a step in the right direction, but as Pocock notes, more research needs to be done in the area. To answer the question though: if alpacas did miraculously form opposable thumbs, they would tune into Classical FM instead of Radio 4 for their evening listening session.