AI music software will destroy creativity! At least, that's how some people are reacting to instant-song generator apps.
The race to become the biggest AI music platform has caused some well-funded companies to prioritize user growth over high quality sound design and compositional depth. Music lovers have responded, understandably, with a sense of impending doom.
Music Business Worldwide reported in May 2023 that one song generator app, Boomy, had already created 14.4 million songs alone. There are at least half a dozen midsized companies following the same playbook.
But a second group of independent companies has also emerged, offering dynamic, collaborative AI music tools designed for musicians. In this article, we refer to them as AI bandmates and will explore some of the reasons that they're less common than instant-song generators.
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What is an AI bandmate?
The expression AI bandmate refers to any software that simulates the experience of a human music collaborator, by means of artificial intelligence.
As a new and growing field, there are several competing terms that have also been used to describe AI bandmates. Some of these include AI band member, AI music copilot, and AI music assistant.
There are also terms that frame the service in terms of what it does, rather than what it appears to be. For example, companies might refer AI music collaboration rather than calling it a "collaborator".
An AI bandmate could also refer to scenarios where AI is used to revive existing musicians from a band or mimic them in some way. A recent, popular example of this was the use of stem separation technology to recover John Lennon's voice from a poor-quality Beatles recording. McCartney announced that they would release it as one of the "final" Beatles songs. It's important to note that there was no generative or collaborative AI involved in this process.
Voice transfer technology similarly allows people to "collaborate" with famous artists by impersonating their voice. This isn't a true collaboration, but rather a use of AI voice-to-voice or text-to-voice technology.
5 AI bandmate apps for musicians
The idea of an AI bandmate seems to imply traditional live instruments like guitar, bass, and drums. We will include some apps that fall into that category, along with other programs that offer the collaborative experience to all musicians, regardless of their chosen genre or instrument.
MelodyStudio - AI Chords & Melodies for your lyrics
MelodyStudio is a web app for lyricists who want help writing melodies and chord progressions. Upload your lyrics and the app will start by suggesting chord progressions that could go along with them.
Just like a regular song chart, each chord change is positioned above a word in the song. You can play it back and sing along to come up with your own melodies.
Maybe you'd also like help writing a good melodic idea for the suggested chords. It's exactly the type of thing a band member could help with. Select the Melodies tab and click the New Melodies button to generate some melodic ideas.
From here, audition each option using the MIDI playback feature to hear what they sound like. Select the option you want and the app will automatically add the melody to your main lyric sheet.
MelodyStudio includes a MIDI piano roll editor. This is what elevates the app from a music generator to a true AI bandmate. You can collaborate with the software by changing the duration and pitch value of the notes until it matches the feeling that you're going for.
Once the chord progression and melody are locked in, you can even export the MIDI file and bring it over to your DAW. Make use of your best virtual instruments to improve the sound design. Then record your vocal performance and you've got a full track. MelodyStudio includes a guide for music producers if you want to learn more.
EZDrummer 3 - Bandmate
EZDrummer has been a popular drum VST for years. The DAW plugin offers a collection of studio quality drum recordings, neatly organized into loops and one shots. Each loop is built from MIDI triggers, making them easy to customize and modify as needed. As a guitarist, I've personally used it to better imagine what new riffs would sound like if I brought in a session drummer.
How does the EZDrummer 3 bandmate feature work?
The AI bandmate feature in EZDrummer saves users time by detecting music input and programming complimentary drum ideas automatically. Choose from a variety of genres to ensure that it matches stylistically.
To get started, record a riff or upload audio/midi files into the plugin. The system will analyze the tempo and time signature of your music. It even detects rhythmic syncopation and takes it all into consideration before making its suggestion.
Once these steps are complete, you will be presented with a range of matching grooves to choose from.
How do you get the best drum beats from EZDrummer 3?
You'll get the best results from EZDrummer if you input clean instrumental tracks rather than heavily distorted ones. The plugin uses transient detection for the placement of its kick hits, so effect layers like distortion and delay can throw it off.
When you find a groove that resonates with you, use the "amount knobs" to refine the how many snare hits, kicks, and crashes make it into the pattern. There are also knobs that control the velocity and swing of your groove.
After these adjustments have been made, you can drag and drop the beat from Bandmate's timeline into the song track in EZDrummer 3. Here you'll find advanced editing features like the grid editor, which is basically a piano roll for drums. Your final step is to drag the beat into your DAW so that it becomes part of the project.
Oslyn - Digital Bandmate for Guitarists
Oslyn is a mobile and web app that performs realtime analysis of your guitar performance and adds ambient pads. The AI chord detection feature shows you the name of the chord you're playing and generates the same collection of notes. According to the website, users can train the AI to become more familiar with their playing style and generate chords with greater accuracy.
Their product is currently in private beta and has been marketed to people performing in religious services. They seem to be going for guitarists who want a warm and enveloping sonic landscape during worship, but don't have a keyboard player on hand.
Sustain a chord on the synth pad even after the guitar chord is no longer being played
Loop a chord progression once the full pattern has been performed
Record your vocals for automatic voice-to-text lyric transcription with chord accompaniment
Review your recorded song with guitar tablature in the web app
Despite serving a relatively narrow use case of church guitarists, Oslyn does represent a meaningful effort at creating an AI bandmate in the truest sense.
WavTool - AI Assistant powered by GPT-4
WavTool is an AI DAW that runs in your web browser and comes equipped with a text-to-music assistant. You can prompt it to create short loops, act upon elements in the DAW, and even generate melodies. We've been in ongoing discussions with their founder, who is currently making improvements on the MIDI melody and chord progression generator.
WavTool's latest innovation is an option to expand on existing MIDI. The DAW will come up with MIDI riffs based on your text input. You can also record your own ideas. Based on this MIDI input, it will suggest a few different ideas on how you could continue that melody. You can select from these options or speak to the AI assistant directly using the GPT-4 powered chat tool.
This collaborative approach to composing is much closer to what it feels like in a true musical relationship. As the quality of WavTool's output improves, the realism of this experience will also get better. Read our full summary of WavTool to learn more.
Meta MusicGen - AI melody accompaniment
MusicGen represents the latest in text-to-music generation. Published by Facebook-Meta, the software currently runs inside of HuggingFace and has a relatively simple user interface. There are a couple of best practices to be aware of, which we've covered in this featured article about MusicGen.
Melodic conditioning with input text is the collaborative element that makes MusicGen interesting. Instead of simply setting some parameters, you can upload yourself singing, whistling, humming, or even playing an instrument.
The text that you provide MusicGen will dictate the style of audio that it produces. We've created a demonstration below, where we used AudioCipher's text-to-midi VST to create a melody and express it through 15 different genres of music:
Why are AI bandmate apps so rare?
Musicians can clearly benefit from AI bandmate apps, but these software companies tend to receive less funding because investors consider them to be higher risk. The AI web apps that I referred to previously as "instant-song generators" have secured the majority of venture capital to date.
This trend comes down to perceptions about the total addressable market (i.e. number of potential customers and revenue). VC firms want to see meaningful returns and bigger markets seem to represent bigger opportunities. They could be right - or they might be making a critical error!
Investors want a slice of the royalty-free music licensing pie. That's why their AI music portfolios focus on the "creator economy" instead of the smaller digital musician market. They are betting on social media creators going for low-cost, generic background music over pricier content from Artlist, Epidemic Sounds, and so forth. There's not enough public data to know whether their gamble has paid off yet.
Amateur vocalists and beat makers are a second, smaller cohort that AI song generator apps target. Their marketing teams focus on parameters like BPM and key signature for this audience, framing the song generation tools as collaborative. But that's a bit of a stretch - content creators have had the option to filter by similar attributes in the past. Those libraries are resources, not collaborators.
A diverse portfolio of smaller collaborative AI bandmate apps could offer a novel approach to AI music investment. However, there might not currently be enough product experts in the field who have built partnerships with founders, to curate this kind portfolio on behalf of investors.
As AI music tools mature and founders can demonstrate real opportunities for profit, there will be a sea change with a corresponding growth in the number of AI bandmate programs on the market. For now, it's up to consumers to support these companies and vote with their dollar.