Songwriting & Artificial Intelligence
Back in June 2023, one of my favourite songwriters Paul McCartney announced that there would be a new Beatles track coming out later that year. He also mentioned, in passing, that its production had been aided by AI (Artificial Intelligence).
Most people were excited at the possibility of hearing a new Beatles song. But, for some reason or other, (mainly I suppose because ChatGPT had been unveiled to the general public only six months earlier), it was the mention of A1 that a lot of people seized upon - and with varying degrees of comprehension, ranging from those who understood perfectly well what Paul had said, to those who decided that now was the opportunity to magick up visions of shiny robots with black moptops performing the Beatles Songbook on “Top Of The Pops”.
And it was around that time also, that we here started getting the emails.
What was this AI thing all about? Was it a machine that you could buy on Amazon? Could it really turn a musical novice into a songwriting genius? And so on…and so forth.
In vain we tried to explain that AI was not actually "new" - it had been wandering around the music biz for a long time. It was not even a “machine”. And perhaps most disappointing of all, sadly, there wasn't any “robot”.
Instead, we urged people to think Alexa.... Google.... Auto-Tune.... Think that gizmo on your electric piano which provides the drums and correct (well most of the time anyway) chords while you slaughter the latest hit. Or even that harrowing voice inside your car that screams “Hey moron – you’re driving wrong-way up a one-way street”. (And no, we're not talking about your mother-in-law again).
But in some cases, it was obvious that our explanations were falling on deaf ears. A few people were of the opinion that we in the ISA simply did not understand the AI concept at all. ChatGPT was changing the songwriting world around us, and we were just Luddites.
(One person even suggested darkly, that we understood its power only too well - but that we were trying to hush it all up!)
We forbore from pointing out that we had been playing with ChatGPT for a while now, and that to date, it had yet to clone Elvis for us.
(We forbore, mainly because conspiracy theorists don't have a developed sense of humour).
We did think of claiming that we had just bought a ChatGPT robot, but because it kept sitting in the corner blinking its eyes and making threatening gestures, we were afraid to ask it anything.
(This time we forbore mainly because we feared that somebody might actually believe us).
And then I thought - why not reprint the section about AI which was already on our "Cookies" page - the part where we ask ChatGPT itself to provide a brief summary of its powers?
Surely, they'd accept the word of "The Robot"?
So here it is, word for basic word.
Can you give me a simplified definition, and history of "artificial intelligence (AI)?”
Certainly! Here's a simplified definition and history of artificial intelligence (AI).
Artificial Intelligence (AI) means making machines smart and capable of doing things that typically need human intelligence, like understanding language, recognizing images, and making decisions. It's like teaching computers to think and learn.
The idea of AI goes way back in stories and myths, where people imagined robots or intelligent beings. But in the mid-1900s, scientists started working on it seriously. They coined the term "artificial intelligence" and even held an international conference to explore the possibilities.
At first, AI progress was slow because computers weren't powerful enough, and the problems were very complex. In the '80s and '90s, there were some successes, like systems that mimicked human experts in specific fields. But they couldn't handle real-world complexity and uncertainty very well.
Then, things changed in the late '90s and early 2000s. Researchers made breakthroughs in a type of AI called machine learning. It allows computers to learn from data without being explicitly programmed. This led to big advancements in areas like image and speech recognition and self-driving cars.
Today, AI is everywhere, from voice assistants on our phones to recommendation systems on streaming platforms. It's also used in industries like healthcare and manufacturing. Scientists continue to work on AI to make it more explainable and ethical. They're even trying to develop machines that can outperform humans in any mental task, called artificial general intelligence (AGI).
So, AI is about making machines smart, and it has come a long way, changing the world and opening up exciting possibilities for the future.
Thank you very much.
You're welcome! I'm glad I could help. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask.
So there you have it. Those are the words of "The Robot" ittself!
Now back in the real world....
Songwriting & ChatGTP
As I said above, in June 2023, the music world learned that Paul McCartney had used Artificial Intelligence (AI to cognoscenti like moi), in the creation of a new Beatles release featuring John Lennon.
"In Limerick town, where tales are spun,
For several months, there had been all sorts of very ill-informed (but very entertaining) stories doing the rounds, prophesying that any day now, courtesy of AI, we would be able to hear Enrico Caruso singing Bruce Springsteen's greatest hits, while Elvis Presley would shortly be releasing a cover version of the Miley Cyrus classic "Flowers".
OK. Neither Enrico nor Elvis would be actually touring in support of the new material, but hey - it was early days and AI could not be expected to fix everything at the same time.
Well not yet, anyway.
So where, people wondered, did the world of songwriting fit into all this? Did it mean that "10 to 6" (the classic song you wrote for Dolly Parton as her follow-up to "9 to 5" but sadly still unpublished) might be worth looking at again?
Perhaps it could be re-demoed, removing your very breathless (but very tasteful) falsetto vocals - replacing them (courtesy of AI), with the real actual genuine voice of Dolly herself?
Might not Dolly be then persuaded to accept this finished product as a fait-accompli? I mean - after all, it would save her a trip to the recording studio for Pete's sake because you would already have her next release ready to go with the flick of a switch.
But of course, the Beatles story had been a monumental misunderstanding all along. Paul had suggested absolutely nothing like that. Theirs was a real song, penned by a real John Lennon and sung by a real John Lennon, but for a while anyway, imaginations could run riot.
And of course by now, AI and/or ChatGPT were becoming mainstream news anyway.
The Guardian told us....
"Grimes has welcomed musicians to create new songs with her voice using Artificial Intelligence, saying she would split 50% of royalties on any successful AI-generated track that included her voice".
That sounded positive enough, although further down the same article, we learned that
"Last week, Universal Music successfully petitioned TikTok, YouTube and Spotify to remove a track titled "Heart On My Sleeve", which used AI vocals generated from their artists Drake and the Weeknd".
So, seemingly some people loved AI to bits - others did not seem all that thrilled about it.
By coincidence, I myself had been using ChatGPT, the major engine of Artificial Intelligence, on and off since the start pf 2023, mainly in support of my non-music writing, but now, (and purely in the name of scholarship you understand), I decided it was about time to take a another look at how it might be used to advantage by an aspiring songwriter.
Now before I start, let me say that some people worry that the whole thing has to be terribly complicated - but actually, it isn't. In the case of ChatGPT for example, you simply ask it a question - and it delivers an answer. Instantly. In fact, it takes me longer to type one-line questions than it takes ChatGPT to give me forty-line answers! (And yes Mavis I know - I am in spite of your best efforts, still a one-finger typist. But even so - it's really very very fast).
Ayway, I decided that it was high time to re-engage with ChatGPT, but this time on the subject of how ChatGPT could help me to write a song.
So I logged in, started typing, and within minutes, she and I were getting along famously - so famously that | even had the nerve to ask her to pen a poem especially for me. And this was just our first date!
OK - more of the romantic stuff anon. First, let's cut to the serious stuff, where I posed a serious question, and she seriously answered.
The entire engagement went as follows....
How can ChatGPT assist a songwriter in writing a song?
ChatGPT can assist a songwriter in various ways when it comes to writing a song. Here are some ways ChatGPT can provide support and inspiration:
You can share your initial thoughts or concepts with ChatGPT, and it can help generate ideas for lyrics, themes, melodies, or even song structures. It can provide fresh perspectives or suggest different approaches to enhance your creativity.
ChatGPT can help you come up with lines, rhymes, or entire verses for your song lyrics. You can provide some starting lines or keywords, and ChatGPT can offer suggestions, alternative phrases, or assist in expanding upon your initial ideas.
Theme and Emotion Exploration
If you're struggling to define the central theme or emotional tone of your song, ChatGPT can ask you targeted questions to help you explore your ideas further. It can provide prompts related to specific emotions, experiences, or moods, encouraging you to dive deeper into your creative process.
If you're looking for rhyming words or struggling to find the right word to fit your lyrics, ChatGPT can suggest rhymes or synonyms. It can also help maintain a consistent rhyme scheme throughout your song.
While ChatGPT is primarily text-based, it can still assist in the songwriting process by providing guidance on melody structure or offering melodic ideas through descriptions or humming representations. You can describe the mood you want to convey, and ChatGPT can provide suggestions based on your input.
Feedback and Refinement
You can share your song lyrics or melodies with ChatGPT, and it can provide feedback, suggestions, or alternative options for improvement. It can offer objective opinions on the flow, structure, or overall effectiveness of your work, helping you refine your ideas.
Remember that ChatGPT is an AI language model and not a human songwriter. While it can provide creative assistance and inspiration, the final output and artistic decisions are ultimately up to you. Use ChatGPT as a tool to augment your creative process and experiment with different ideas, but always rely on your own judgment and artistic vision.
Well there you have it!
I asked a question, and sixty seconds later, ChatGPT was getting ready to turn me into the next Ed Sheeran.
Now, my question was in no way specific, and yet, the list of things she could do for me was seemingly endless, and it was clear that all I had to do was ask.
And ask I did.
Thank you for that. Now, I live in Limerick, Ireland. As you know, there is also a type of poem called a "limerick". Could you write a "limerick" for me about Limerick?
Certainly! Here's a limerick about Limerick:
A city of history, charm, and fun.
From King John's Castle, proud and tall,
To the riverside walks where lovers enthrall,
Limerick's spirit shines brightly under the sun!"
I hope you enjoy this lighthearted limerick about your city!
"Computers will not replace you.
That is absolutely brilliant. Thanks.
You're very welcome! I'm glad you liked it. If you have any more questions or need further assistance, feel free to ask. Happy songwriting and exploring the wonders of Limerick!
Well there you have it! OK I accept that my expression of "thanks" was perhaps a bit grovelling, but then I know that I need her more than she needs me. And I bet she knows it too.
Also I realise that I keep calling ChatGPT "she" but I remain to be convinced that any male could be as polite, as uncritical, as patient, and at the same time, as helpful as she is. Chat GPT is not a "he", nor most certainly is she an "it".
ChatGPT is quite clearly a "she".
And what's more, I can already tell that she really likes me.
Now, as regards the above exchange, the first thing to note is that my two requests were answered in about 90 seconds. I don't know about you, but where I come from - that's fast.
The second thing to note is that ChatGPT is a very quick learner. For example, she obviously took onboard my interest in songwriting as expressed in my first question, to insert the phrase "where tales are spun" into my/her poem about Limerick.
Now I am not for one moment suggesting that that my/her limerick about Limerick will replace "Bridge Over Troubled Water" as one of pop musics most illustrious anthems - but then I bet that Paul Simon spent a hell of a lot more time working on his opus than I did on mine.
OK, then - "than she did on mine". Happy now?
Secondly, my request for her to pen a poem for me was ridiculously vague.
Instead of asking "Could you write a "limerick" for me about Limerick?" - I should really have asked "Could you write one for me about Limerick, which mentions the River Shannon, King John's Castle, the digging up of O'Connell Street (a very touchy subject locally at that moment), and all in the style of Leonard Cohen?"
Or I could have expanded on he original dumb question, by simply adding supplementary questions as I went along. On the lines of "Limerick is not known for its sunshine - could you replace that reference to sun?". And once she had done that, I could have asked her to "include some reference to the Limerick football team while you're at it - oh and change the style from Leonard Cohen to Garth Brooks."
In other words, the more detailed and imaginative my questions were - the better her replies would have been. In fact, it would have been very like swapping ideas back and forth with a real live collaborator - the only difference being that I would get to keep all the royalties, while if I did not like one of her ideas, ChatGPT would not have thrown a tantrum, stormed out of the room, and then sued me.
Well I don't think she would. She's really very, very patient.
So, could ChatGPT help you with your songwriting?
Well, I always say that the best way to learn to ride a bike is not to read a book about it, but to get on the bloody thing and pedal like hell. So why not just visit ChatGPT yourself and ask for its assistance?
OK - your first few attempts may be a bit of a downer (like any new collaborator, she will initially be simply trying to get to know you and your style), but once she gets a grip on your thought processes - she will deliver.
You may find you love it - you may find you hate it, but at least you will learn how to use it. And you should, because take it from me, ChatGPT is going to be increasingly important in the years to come.
Have we used ChatGPT on this website?
Apart from the "limerick about Limerick" example above, we have used ChatGPT to help us with the International Songwriters Association's website - and so far, it has been fine.
I myself have mainly used it to boost to my limited writing skills. ChatGPT is a wonderful assistant. She can clarify your thoughts, add extra insights, supply you with inspiration, and frequently come up with some really brilliant suggestions.
OK - I accept that when it comes to actual hard facts, it is not guaranteed 100% perfect (yet anyway). partly because as of this moment, its vast (and I'm talking vast) library of information, ends a year or two back and is therefore not totally up to the minute.
In addition, it is not guaranteed 100% infallible when it comes to that hard information.
Having said that, and after using it for six months, I can recall only one example of an error of actual fact.
Indeed, it might be worth expanding on that one error.
In 2023, Peter Nero died. I admired him a lot as a pianist, and even though he was not a major composer, I started work on an obituary.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had this idea that he had written music for at least one famous movie. However, in spite of a quick trawl through my record collection, I could not find his name anywhere.
And so, I turned to ChatGPT.
Peter Nero's compositions?
Peter Nero is primarily known for his piano performances and interpretations of various musical genres rather than his compositions. While he has not been widely recognized as a composer, he has occasionally composed music for films and television shows.
One notable composition by Peter Nero is the theme song for the film "For Love of Ivy" (1968), titled "Funny World." The song, with lyrics by Bob Russell, was performed by the iconic vocalist Tony Bennett and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.
This was as clear and comprehensive an answer as one could expect.
But it presented me with a major problem. It so happens that I had seen the movie, "For Love of Ivy". Not only that, I had bought the soundtrack album when it came out in 1968. Indeed, I even used to perform (badly) that same theme tune myself with a trio back in the day.
But for some odd reason or other - those voices in my head kept insisting that Quincy Jones had written the music.
So were the voices in my head failing me yet again?
Now, when you get an answer to a query on ChatGPT, you will notice a "Regenerate Reply" button which means that you can ask it to give you an alternative reply. (You know the sort of thing. The doctor tells you that you have a broken leg. You ask for a second opinion and he says "You're ugly as well").
Anyway, more in hope than expectation, I pressed the "Regenerate Reply" button.
The second reply came equally fast and was equally concise.
ChatGPT said that Peter Nero had penned the music for the Jane Fonda movie "A Summer In New York" (which I instantly remembered was the movie theme I recalled him writing).
But this time, there was no mention of "For The Love Of Ivy".
There was only one thing to do. Ask again.
Well, who then wrote the theme tune for the movie "For The Love Of Ivy"?
The theme song for the movie "For the Love of Ivy" was written by Quincy Jones.
Absolutely correct. So what on earth had happened the first time? I have not the slightest idea. Within seconds of the first (wrong) answer, but without any prompting from me, ChatGPT had recovered and corrected itself!
I am certainly no expert on ChatGPT and the only possibility I can think of is this.
ChatGPT has a vast database comprising billions of words, covering every possible subject under the sun. And no matter what your query is - the database probably includes many different articles from many different sources, all covering that same subject.
Now, faced with a request to regenerate the first answer, is it possible that ChatGPT is programmed to deduce that I am questioning the accuracy of the first reply? Does it then automatically switch to an alternative information source on its database?
In other words, does ChatGPT react just as a human being might? You know - when somebody rings you up for some information, and when you give it, asks "are you sure about that?", and you reply "hang on, I'll check"?
OK. To be fair, ChatGPT actually warns you each time you log in that this might happen, even posting the following message:
"While we have safeguards in place, the system may occasionally generate incorrect or misleading information and produce offensive or biased content. It is not intended to give advice".
So, would I personally use ChatGPT?
Not necessarily for facts. But I have already used it to give me fresh ideas, marshall my thoughts, correct my grammar, and to improve the flow of my writing.
Oh, and to make me an even nicer, kinder and more sensitive soul than I already am.
OK - so the last part might be a bit of a fib, but I bet ChatGPT could do that for me if I asked her to. (Once I absent-mindedly wished her a nice day and no sooner had I typed that inanity in, than she politely wished me the same!)
I really do think that ChatGPT is a superb tool, and if you find that it can be used to your benefit as a songwriter, possibly as a collaborator to bounce ideas off, then you should not be afraid to so do.
In the years to come, who knows? ChatGPT might stop being a mere collaborator, and emerge as the world's Number 1 songwriter, replacing everybody else (yourself included), and doing its own deals with music publishers. Indeed, while it's at it, it might also decide to take over the music publishers, and the record labels, and even the singers, so that ChatGPT could eventually occupy all 100 places on the Hot 100!
But somehow, I sort of doubt it.
I am more inclined to accept its admonition above - "remember that ChatGPT is an AI language model and not a human songwriter. While it can provide creative assistance and inspiration, the final output and artistic decisions are ultimately up to you. Use ChatGPT as a tool to augment your creative process and experiment with different ideas, but always rely on your own judgment and artistic vision".
(Of course, if it were planning to replace you, then - in the immortal words of Mandy Rice-Davies - it would say that wouldn't it?)
Seriously, what it definitely will do is to provide a far wider range of iospiration for songwriters in the future. So even right now - although it is still very much a work in progress - I do think that you should check out ChatGPT. There might just be something in it for you.
The Doom & Gloom Stories
One very thoughtful veteran songwriter has expressed serious worries to me that AI will put paid to individual creativity. I know where he's coming from, and I have a deep respect for him. But I am not really convinced.
I know more than a few successful tunesmiths who bounce ideas off a collaborator but that does not mean they have lost their own creative talent. I also know some songwriters who use rhyming dictionaries, but then - so what - I also know a few top guitarists who use capos! In fact I even know the odd mathematician who carries around a pocket calculator!
In other words, it remains my view that AI offers an aid to talent - not a replacement for talent.
Well not yet anyway!
That does not mean however that there will be no casualties. For example, one area where existing musicians will probably suffer is in the background or library music field. With very limited musical ability and no AI training, I myself "produced" in a matter of minutes, atmospheric instrumental pieces which are as good (or as bad!) as anything else currently on the market. Naturally mine lack that spark that only a true musical genius could bring to the table, but then, is a true musical genius really required in order to produce elevator music?
But will it replace the talented songwriter? I do not think so. and for one reason.
Music is ever-changing. If I could foretell next year's musical craze, I could get AI to write next year's hit song for me. But I can't.
Trouble is - neither can AI.
Sure, right now it can probably pen a song in the style of Ed Sheeran, because it already knows what he has written, and thus it can try to imitate that. But does it know what Ed Sheeran's nimble brain is thinking up right now?
And what about the guy sitting up in his bedroom at this moment, working on next year's hit? AI has nothing to imitate - it doesn't even know yet that he exists - so when he eventually bursts onto the scene, AI will be playing catch-up. But by then, there will be another guy up in another bedroom working on yet another new classic.
And AI will always be playing catch-up.
That's my opinion anyway. But in the interest of balance, let me quote what Grimes (already mentioned above) also recently told the New York Times.
"I think AI is great. Creatively, I think AI can replace humans. And so I think at some point, we will want to, as a species, have a discussion about how involved AI will be in art."
So who's right? I guess you pays your money and you takes your choice.
The Horror Stories
"Artificial Intelligence will mean the end of civilisation as we know it".
Well I am old enough to recall those scary days of the Y2K Bug (Google it!), when we were assured that at midnight, planes would fall from the sky, electricity would stop being generated, some weird guy with orange hair would become President of the USA, vampires would roam the earth and the universe would come to a flaming end.
OK something like that anyway. (Look I was a little scared at the time and as a consequence I was probably drinking a bit too much. And so I might have been confusing bits of "Y2K The Doomsday Book" with bits of "Nostradamus - His Greatest Hits").
But we're still here, including those doom-merchants who made absolute fortunes warning us about something that they knew was never going to happen.
And as for the direst prediction of all - that Artificial Intelligence will lead to machines running the world - don't even get me started. Given the mess humans have made of running the world to date, that might not be a bad thing at all. Particularly if they are as nice, as polite, as pleasant and as helpful as ChatGPT.
Yes I know, I know. There I go - grovelling again. But if I'm wrong and those machines ever do take over, I intend to be safely sitting on on their side of the fence.
Finally, what if I do not use AI?
You don't have to.
Back in the day, just as computers were becoming affordable enough for a medium-sized company to buy one or even two, I recall a car bumper sticker (remember them?) along the lines of
A person using a computer will."
I got an early model (Amstrad if I remember rightly), and to my amazement found that colleagues who prior to that had quite rightly listened to my views with barely-concealed boredom, now hung on my every word as though I was Moses come down from the mountain bearing floppy drives of genius."Artificial Intelligence will not replace you.
In reality, nothing had changed. My thinking was just as pedestrian as ever, but whereas I once produced my pedestrian thinking in small quantities - now I could fill whole warehouses with it.
Sadly, in the end, all those around me learned how to use a PC too, so that my unique key to the Temple Of Mysteries ended up being cloned, and handed out to everybody else.
But for a while....
So who knows? Instead of
A person using Artificial Intelligence will."
perhaps the next generation of bumper stickers will read"Eventually, everybody will use Artificial Intelligence
Those who succeed are those who will use it better than you".
Copyright Songwriter Magazine, International Songwriters Association & Jim Liddane: (& Chat GPT!): All Rights Reserved
If you have wandered onto this page by accident, then you may very well be wondering what "The Knowledge" button above is all about.
ISA • International Songwriters Association (1967)
"The Knowledge" is a free multi-part course which takes you from thinking up the basic idea for your song, through using AI or Artificial Intelligence to help improve your writing skills, to penning the title, the lyric and the melody. It then covers plagiarism (what to do if you're told your song sounds like another one!) and copyrighting your song, so that you can take action if your work is stolen.
Finally, it deals with selling your song, promoting your demo, music publishers, putting your songs on the web, and in movies, or on television, getting the money in, raising cash to fund your career via crowd-funding, before setting up your own music publishing company so that you get to keep all of the money! And that blue button at the bottom of each lesson simply takes you to the next lesson.
If however you would like to go back to Lesson 1 and start the course (it will take about 90 minutes to complete), then just press HERE!
This site is published by the International Songwriters Association, and will introduce you to the world of songwriting. It will explain music business terms and help you understand the business concepts that you should be familiar with, thus enabling you to ask more pertinent questions when you meet with your accountant/CPA or solicitor/lawyer.
Writing A Song •
However, although this website includes information about legal issues and legal developments as well as accounting issues and accounting developments, it is not meant to be a replacement for professional advice. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal/accounting developments.
Every effort has been made to make this site as complete and as accurate as possible, but no warranty or fitness is implied. The information provided is on an "as is" basis and the author(s) and the publisher shall have neither liability nor responsibility to any person or entity with respect to any loss or damages arising from the information contained on this site. No steps should be taken without seeking competent legal and/or accounting advice