AI Lyric Generators: The Good, Bad & Ugly
AI lyric generators have exploded over the past year. Between the text generating power of ChatGPT or Jarvis-Lyrics and voice generators like Uberduck, people can't seem to help but experiment. It's hard to deny the sense of excitement and adventure of computers formulating lyrics on command.
In this article, we'll review some of the most popular AI lyric generators on the internet.
My experience across several apps has been that good lines are rare and have to be cherry picked. Most lyrics were gibberish.
For years, lyric generator websites have used basic text fields to prompt users for words. Then they would splice them into lyric templates.
Although these lyric generators have some way to go, I have a hunch that they will improve rapidly in the near future, so we'll be waiting to see.
Table of Contents
1. Cut-Up Techniques and Dice Games
Long before any software developer ever tried to solve the lyric generation problem, the Beatniks were chopping up newspapers and re-arranging text to discovery accidental turns of phrase and unexpected poetry.
Rockstar David Bowie recounted using the same method to come up with random song lyrics during the height of his career. In a BBC interview, he described cutting out strips of text on paper and shuffling them around until they formed a new song idea.
This cut-up technique was popularized by author William S. Burroughs in the 1960s. He had used it to come up with oddball premises for his short stories and novels. We can't give Burroughs full credit - cutups were also popular in the European Dada movement, during the 1920s.
Turn the clock back another 150 years, and we find classical music publishers up to the same trick. They created a dice game from sheet music that had been cut up, measure by measure, and placed on a grid.
This dice game, attributed to Mozart's publisher in the 1700's, asked players to roll a pair of dice repeatedly. Their numbers determined the measure of music that went next in a sequence.
As you played the game, a song would be gradually generated. A MIDI version of the Mozart Dice Game can be played online for free.
From Mozart to David Bowie, we find randomization in the toolbox of composers and songwriters over centuries. There are many other examples of the history of randomness and chance in music.
2. Song Lyric Generator: The Mad Libs approach
So cutting up strips of paper to create lyrics feels a bit old school, right?
Song Lyric generator websites started popping up on the internet in the 1990's and they feel just as outdated. Maybe even more so. Lyric generators were supposed to remove the burden of decision making and give you something to start with. But they usually produced a laughably bad form of poetry.
The Song Lyrics Generator uses a "mad libs" algorithm to construct lyrics from user input and existing lines of poetry in their system. No artificial intelligence required. Masterpiece Generator and Lyrics.com are a couple other sites you can check out, with a similar collection of online tools for writing pop music and rap songs.
3. These Lyrics Do Not Exist: an AI lyric generator
On to the songwriter's magic lamp - the AI lyric generator.
These Lyrics Do Not Exist is a popular, free AI lyric generation website that launched in 2018. Users pick from a music genre and lyrical mood, then enter a topic for the AI to write about. The site offers a clean interface that's easy to use.
The problem with this site, and others like it, is that they lack the signs of artificial intelligence that we've seen emerging in other GPT-3 writing apps.
Let me show you what I mean. For this example, I chose the song topic riding a zebra with a very happy mood and country lyric style:
Based on my prompt, you might think the lyrics would be about riding a zebra across the ranch. But instead, these lyrics told the story of a heartbroken cowboy who had been left by a woman named Zebra. Kind of an epic fail.
4. Rap Lyric Generators: GPT2 & DeepBeat
This popular GPT2 lyric generator draws from a dataset of several dozen rappers. Users input a song name and pick an artist to imitate. 30 seconds later, it delivers a full lyric sheet.
"All I do is silence if you listen to me" - A.I. Kendrick
For this example, i chose Kendrick to be the rapper and asked for a song about LA in the future. One of the lines, quoted above, did feel like it was something Kendrick might say. So you can imagine how a lyricist might grab that and elaborate on it with their own thoughts.
Overall, I'd say this GPT2 website works pretty well. It's better than many of the other AI lyric generators. There was one other website, DeepBeat, that generated AI lyrics for rap songs but it stopped working in recent months.
The other major competitor in the ring is Jarvis-Lyrics. A titan amongst AI copywriting tools, I was excited to see what Jarvis had accomplished to date. That enthusiasm was grounded pretty quickly when I saw its output.
If you keep the prompts vague, you might almost think that AI is mirroring your topic. But once you dig in a bit, here's what Jarvis-Lyrics thought the chorus to a 2019 Kendrick song about a picnic table might be. Yikes.
5. AI Lyrics on the App Store
AI Lyrics, also known as the AI Kittens Song Generator, is a quirky iOS app. Marketers claim the lyric generator is powered by a neural network, so we're including it on the list here. Users pick an artist or band, a lyric genre, a song name, keywords, and a template for the song structure. For mobile users who want to poke around and get some new ideas, AI Lyrics does offer a free option.
6. AI Storytelling: An Alternative to Lyric Generators
Quality control is the biggest problem facing AI lyric generators today. Even with intelligent neural nets running, I've struggled to find an app that produces more than one or two good lines at a time.
Fortunately, AI has proven to be very good at generating story concepts, which may prove to be a superior resource for lyricists. GPT-3 understands narrative arcs and can spin up creative stories quickly. So if you have has some initial idea or concept for a song, AI can help you explore the possibilities.
I recommend this new, free website called Once Upon AI Time. As a user, you just prompt it with some text (the song concept) and a minute later you'll receive a multi-panel, illustrated story. The combination of words and watercolor paintings serve as a storyboard that you can build lyrics around.
This AI storytelling app gives you plenty of raw story material to work with. Try rewriting the prompt and running it again until the story clicks. Pick out the best elements and assemble them, maybe using the cutup technique. If you're struggling to come up with lyrics that fit together, check out RhymeZone or an app like Rhyme Genie.
At the end of the day, are AI lyric generators developing at the same pace as other AI writing tools? No, not really. But they exist within a growing ecosystem of music software that we find interesting. So we'll continue to watch this space and let you know if something big happens.
Random lyric generators will get better with time, but I have to imagine that even the best AI lyrics will still need to be polished, for that special human touch.
So now, to end things on a fittingly random note, here's a laptop whose keyboard has been replaced by a keyboard. Hmmm.... until next time!