Artificial Intelligence Music Composer for Video: An Interview with Drew Silverstein from Amper Music

Tribe recently tried out a new Artificial Intelligence composer, Amper Music, to create music for a video project. I think it’s safe to say we had fairly low expectations, but were really impressed by the results.

We’re always thinking about how to create a human connection in our work. To humanize leaders and the companies they serve is the through-line in all of Tribe’s work.

What’s more human than music? It seems paradoxical that we’re using technology to get more human, but that is actually the case.

At the same time, we are open to technology. We are always interested in changes in technology and how to adapt new technology to serve our clients in the most effective way.

I spoke to Drew Silverstein, co-founder and CEO of Amper Music, and found that he’s on our wavelength and also concerned with the human aspect of Artificial Intelligence.

Scott McDowell, Director of Marketing, Tribe Pictures: So how did Amper get started? What’s your background?

Drew Silverstein, Co-Founder and CEO, Amper Music: My background is as a composer for blockbusters, video games, and TV shows. I worked in music for film, like the Kevin Hart movies, for the past seven or eight years. My two partners Dan and Michael are composers who worked with Hans Zimmer for almost a decade on everything from the Dark Night Trilogy through Inception.

I think we saw a couple things coming together. One, we had a similar perspective that the future of music would be created through the collaboration between humans and AI. We wanted that collaborative process to propel the creative process forward in an enhancing and additive way, and not in a displacing way. So we said, “Can we teach computers to be intrinsically creative? Can we enable creative relationships between humans and machines?” Also: “Can we build what Amper is today as a team of AI composers, performers, and producers, that creates unique professional music tailored to any content in a matter of seconds?”

At the same time, we would work with so many directors, producers and editors who would say to us “Look, we love working with the composer when we have time and budget but for so much of the content that we create we have neither time nor budget. When that’s the case we typically have to choose stock music, and we really hate that process.” Searching for the right music, jumping through the legal and financial hurdles around using it, the lack of exclusivity or uniqueness or collaboration, so on and so forth. And so they say to us, “Could you write the music for us instead?” And more times than not we have to tell them, “Hey, we wish we could, but unfortunately the economics don’t work out. We can’t go from a boutique studio to mass market house.” And they’re understandably disappointed.

So we said, “If we could build a creative AI that gives you the same collaborative white glove experience as working with the composer but within the time and economic framework of functional music, would you want this? And overwhelmingly the answer was yes.

We think we have a pretty novel approach to it and three years later, I think we’re well on our way to empowering anyone, whether you are a musician or not a musician, to be able to express yourself creatively through music for whatever content you’re creating.

Scott: Right. The reason I think we were impressed is because we take music very seriously in our work and it’s something that we feel can often propel this regular piece of video into something that’s exceptional. One of the things we look for immediately is the human emotional connection to the piece of music, and using stock music that can be difficult to find. Sometimes the music feels cold and distant and lacks that kind of emotional pull or human connection, and ironically we felt that emotional quality almost immediately with Amper. So I think that’s a weird juxtaposition, but I’m sure you have heard that before.

Drew: Yeah, and I think it’s one of our goals from the onset was when we looked at building an AI that would enhance creativity, rather than approaching it as an AI project. Can we approach this from a creative and a musical perspective? Can we think about this as a computer being your actual collaborator? And so much of that, as you’re mentioning, is not driven in the notes that a composer writes but in the performance and the production, and making sure that the collaborative process feels as authentic as possible.

Otherwise, as a high premise, it doesn’t hold up. So we focus on the quality of the music production and human innovation to a really, really significant degree.
And you know, we’re not perfect. The music Amper creates is not indistinguishable between the composer-created music yet, but we’re moving closer and closer. I think a large part of that is focusing on the human aspect of music and not letting that fall to the wayside just because we’re thinking about AI and computers.

Scott: What’s the process like of writing one of these pieces of music? Because there was a lot of flexibility in what we as the end-user could do with the platform. I’m curious what the artistic process is like on your end.

Drew: If you think about the creative process for music, it’s broken into three sections. There’s the creation of the music, composing the music. Then there’s the performance of the music, and then there’s the production. Writing the music, you end up with your sheet music. And then performing it as you go into a studio and record it with a band or orchestra. Then producing it is making sure that when you’re in the mixing booth afterwards that it sounds like it was a well thought out and intentional.

We think about all three of those to make sure that the music is not only exactly what you wanted but also high quality.

So much of making it good is also making sure that the music is iterative and collaborative so we don’t just say, “Here’s a piece of music, hope you like it,” but rather, “Here’s the thing that we made for you, what do you think? Do you want to give us your feedback?” And we can iterate, you know? “Oh you want this to be faster or slower or change the harmony or …” whatever it might be.

Scott: Yeah, it’s funny too because in some ways it’s more realistic. The client feedback we often get is sort of elusive, you know? Like, “Oh, can you just make that less bouncy,” or something.

Drew: That’s one of the expression layers that, as a composer, that’s our job, right? Have your client say, “Can you make this less bouncy, scarier, a little bit of blue, but not too much tension.” And you’re like, “Oh yeah, of course!” you know?

Scott: Yeah, yeah.

Drew: How many times has that happened? And so part of the goal with Amper is again, to add that kind of human layer to really understand and provide a way to communicate. Not necessarily in a musical way but in a way that’s kind of natural, you know? “What did you think? What did you want to change? And how can we make this better?”

So whether you guys are translating from a client on your end or whether you say, “You know what? Why don’t you sit down with Amper and play around with it.”

Because you can. Now you’re going to buy into it more because you’ve been part of the creative process. I think that’s a critical part of making music and being creative together, is being able to speak each other’s language.

Scott: What do you say to people who are like, “This is actually less creative because there’s a machine doing all the hard work,” or whatever? I’m sure you hear that.

Drew: Totally. So we break up music, especially media music, into two different buckets. One we call artistic music. And artistic music is that which is valued for the collaboration and the creation that goes into making it, so when sitting down in a room with another musician for weeks and weeks and weeks to make a piece of art together. When, you know, we’re making the music for Star Wars. But that’s the value you always need a higher composer. You always find a way to work with the person. Making art together, it’s who we are as a culture. And that’s never going to go away. And in those cases, we see a lot of value for Amper as being a creative AI tool for those artists and musicians and composers to help them do what they’re already doing more critically, more productively, more efficiently, and so on and so forth. Just like every other kind of technology.

And then at the same time we look at the other bucket of media which is about functional music. Which is that which is valued for its use case, but not necessarily for the creation and collaboration that went into making it. And in those cases often we’re often trying to find pre-created functional music. And what we found is oftentimes, you’re the director, producer, editor. You know what you want, and you have to search for it, and it’s long a trial and error process to get what you want. Amper actually let’s create it, or work to a vision that is unique to what you’re doing. Our goal is to say, “If you’re a non-musician, if you need functional music, can we provide you a way to actually express your creativity to actually create the thing you want without needing to know music?”

And if you’re a non-musician, Amper serves as a really powerful end-to-end solution to help you create your content creatively. Or whether you’re a musician where

Amper serves as kind of a collaborative tool to help you in your musical pursuits, we think Amper can be a positive force in creativity and AI collaboration across the spectrum.

Scott: Thanks a lot, Drew. I appreciate you taking the time to chat.

Drew: Likewise. Thank you so much, and looking forward to building the relationship.

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