Musician Lil Nas X told Time magazine last year that he was living with his sister before he found success with hit single Old Town Road. He remembered staying up late to promote his music on the internet, and that he would end up sleeping on the floor at his sister’s home.
“I didn’t want to come back home because I knew my parents would be mad at me,” Lil Nas X, or real name Montero Lamar Hill, said.
At that, Hill’s parents wanted him to stop pursuing his music dream to become a rap artiste and go back to school. He refused and continued trying until Old Town Road found its place on social media application TikTok.
“I promoted the song as a meme for months until it caught on TikTok and it became way bigger.”
From Meme To Billboard History
Millions of users around the world use TikTok to create videos that can be up to 15-seconds long with the app’s built-in digital tools such as augmented reality (AR) effects, music library and more.
Most of the content is meant to be consumed as bite-sized fun, lighthearted at best, and certainly made for the generation that expresses themselves through emojis and memes. The app also has an algorithm that delivers relevant content to users based on real-time data like location, viewing habits and trending topics.
Snippets from Old Town Road became synonymous with a fun cowboy-inspired dance challenge associated with the hashtag #yeehaw. As more and more TikTok videos appear with Old Town Road playing in the background, it also boosted the song’s popularity beyond the app and eventually found its way to the top of Billboard Hot 100.
After 17 weeks as the No. 1 song, it broke the record for longest consecutive stay on Billboard Hot 100 top spot held by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s duet One Sweet Day since 1996.
Hill, a 19-year-old new artiste made history with a song that he was trying to promote as a form of entertainment within social digital culture and it was possible with TikTok.
“I should maybe be paying TikTok. They really boosted the song. It was getting to the point that it was almost stagnant. When TikTok hit it, almost every day since that, the streams have been up. I credit them a lot,” he told Time.
As Internet dance challenges with AR filters led millions to go crazy over a country rap song, technology is changing the way people discover, consume and even create music.
The endless pursuit for major pop hits like Old Town Road may have inspired Taiwanese streaming service KKBox to develop an AR-enabled music production system for producers with Microsoft.
Just like how heartbreak and social issues may inspire some pop songs, KKBox believes data can help to tell producers what listeners want to hear next.
The company announced that it will capitalise on Microsoft AI technology to build an AI-assisted music arrangement system and lyric generator to churn the next biggest pop numbers.
It will also create a predictive model using data and machine learning to somehow measure a song’s commercial success. As the music industry adapts to new digital trends, KKBox believes AI technology can help it produce content at a faster and smoother rate for users.
Beyond pop music, some musicians are using AI to create otherworldly sounds
In 2019, German-based company Endel wanted to help people relax by creating a stress-free environment through a personalised soundscape.
By assessing a user's real-time information like heart rate and weather, its AI-powered algorithm will generate soothing soundscape described as “pleasant” and “psychologically natural”.
As research shows how the sound of music can have an effect on a person’s emotional wellbeing, Endel believes its algorithm helps users to achieve positive effects like reduced stress and anxiety.
The Endel experience is available as an app on Google and Apple Play Store. In 2019, Endel signed a 20-album deal with Warner Music Group, becoming the world’s first algorithm to score a recording contract.
It has released a number of soundscapes collections so far, with titles like Cloudy Night and Foggy Morning on platforms like Spotify.
“Their innovative compositions provide unique listening experiences that will be introduced to a larger audience through the extensive reach of the Arts Music division’s marketing and distribution resources,” Warner Art Music president Kevin Gore said about Endel’s signing in a press statement.
AI Want It That Way
It’s not just listeners who are letting an algorithm decide what they should hear. Musicians are also using technology to create new sounds. Icelandic music icon Bjork recently partnered with Microsoft AI to create an ever-playing ambient composition called Korsafn for a hotel lobby in New York.
The AI will observe the city’s sky pattern through a rooftop camera where information like bird movements and passing clouds will be used to generate different choral arrangements from Bjork.
Basically, the information will be used to influence the sound waves playing in the hotel lobby that CNET described the music as “data-driven wind chime”. Users from anywhere around the world can listen to Korsafn through a live stream on the hotel website.
In 2019, Berlin-based American composer Holly Herndon released her latest album Proto, where a major part of it was recorded with an AI program called Spawn.
Herndon who has completed a PhD at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics built Spawn in her studio with AI expert Jules LaPlace. She programmed Spawn to help her explore new musical elements in her compositions.
In an interview with The Guardian, it was revealed that Herndon’s recording process for Proto started with her writing a score then recording it with her ensemble of vocalists and musicians.
She would then process the results of the recording and send it to Spawn to analyse and come up with new or re-imagined sounds. Proto was well-received by critics with Pitchfork describing it as “technologically adventurous” and “ecstatically humanistic”.
Herndon showed naysayers that it’s possible for musicians to explore new levels of creativity without worrying about how technology may be stripping away the human touch.
She also explained why it’s important for her to see Spawn as her equal and not just another program made up from an endless series of codes.
“I like composing, and I'm not trying to write myself out of a job. I could have trained Spawn on my composing style of the past, but that would have limited me to what I have (already) done, and I want to grow,” she said in an interview with The Fader.
Growing and exploring new sounds with AI is also a move made by avant-garde Venezuelan musician Arca. In 2019, she announced via Instagram that her compositions generated with Bronze AI can be heard playing at the lobby of the Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of a new two-year installation, Echo.
Made in collaboration with French multimedia artist Philippe Parreno, Echo is described as a “site specific” work with sound, light and animated physical objects as elements influencing the music that reverberates throughout the space.
Arca said it will never play the same music twice: “It’s a live transmission forever in mutation…”.
Whether it's a musician like Lil Nas X using social media to create a narrative to drive an obscure number to history-making success or artistes expanding their field of creativity with AI – music will never sound the same again thanks to technology.
Cover Credit: Adrina / Sound of Life
Writer l JEM
I like Pina Colada and getting caught in the rain. Not into yoga. Wait, how does that song go again?