Microsoft's venture into music-making technology, Songsmith, is unbelievably popular. Well, not really. But making fun of it on YouTube is.
The software automatically comes up with computer-generated accompaniment to go along with whatever melody you sing into it - presumably to cash-in on the success of other downloadable music software.
The commercial they put up on Youtube was immediately mocked by much of the internet, for obvious reasons once you've seen the clip:
On one level, it's pretty impressive that the process of coming up with chords and rhythms can be reduced to math in this way, but as the results in the promo video show, it likely won't ever have any professional uses and will be relegated to novelty status soon enough.
Well, "soon enough" has already happened. Type "songsmith" into your YouTube search, and you'll come up with an overwhelming amount of well known pop songs subverted using the Songsmith treatment for hilarious effect.
For example, perhaps you've always wondered what Roxanne by the Police would sound like if it were played by a virtual calypso band:
Maybe you've always wondered what Metallica's Enter Sandman would sound like as a cheesy electro-pop song. Wonder no more:
And so on.
Some work better than others. In some ways, Britney Spears' Toxic sounds better as a faux-reggae song, and since her vocals were AutoTuned to death in the first place, you might was well back it up with similarly lifeless music.
It seems that whenever technology is developed to cut costs and remove the necessity of talent from the process of recording or performing music, the market always finds a way of abusing the technology for new purposes, creating effects never intended by the original designers. In recent years the public has become aware of autotune programs (software and gear that automatically fixes bum notes), but only because creative musicians and producers discovered that when you crank the settings up to their maximum it creates an odd glitchy robot effect.
Whether you hate T-Pain robo-soul crooning or love it, his use of the tool is much more interesting and honest than the 95% of pop records that use the same technology more subtly just to fix bad singing. The average listener will never know which rock singers can barely hold a tune without using the software plug-in, but at least now they know that for the past decade vocalists have enjoyed the luxury of an invisible safety net, both in the studio and on stage.
Back in the 80s, many drummers were fearful that the drum machines marketed by Roland and Linn would replace them. As history has shown, those boxes failed on that level, as they sounded nothing like real drums, but gained a new life when hip-hop, house, techno and dancehall reggae artists embraced the flaws to create futuristic sounds that pounded out of club sound systems in ways acoustic drums never will.
Even the electric guitar was once thought of as a way of replacing expensive large brass bands with an equally loud quartet. Instead, whole new genres of music were created, and no one spent much time trying to emulate a horn section with their telecaster.
At the end of the day, it's just too much fun to be creative for the bean counters to ever be able to completely automate and replace the human touch. Even cheesy novelty toys like Songsmith can be rescued from their destiny once you unleash them on the world.