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Songs About Coding by sean.uk

An EP of music celebrating programming, created with the artificial intelligence app Udio

About this EP

Book cover: University of Death In 2007, I released a novel called University of Death, later updated and republished as Earworm. The book explored what happened when a record label came up with a way to create computer-generated music, tailored for each fan, but marketed it as coming from real indie bands. As aging rocker Dove and two of his biggest fans discovered, there still needed to be a human element to the music.

Now, artificial intelligence app Udio enables you to create songs based on a text prompt you give it. It's an extension of what we've seen in the last couple of years with ChatGPT and image generation tools like Stable Diffusion, creating text and images respectively.

For this experimental EP, I asked Udio to create me several songs about coding. I was hoping to discover some new songs that celebrate our relationship with technology, like Radio Ga Ga, Video Killed the Radio Star, and Hey Hey 16K.

I gave Udio references to the Amstrad CPC and Raspberry Pi computers, which are the two platforms I've spent most time programming on. I also included genres in my prompts, in particular acoustic rock, 80s electropop, 1950s rock and roll, and doo-wop. One of the songs was about debugging.

The results were astounding and terrifying.

The quality was incredibly good, given that the music was generated entirely from a short text prompt I gave it.

It was also scary, though, to see that computers can now create some highly convincing creative works, taking over some of what defines humanity. Illustrators are already reporting to the Society of Authors that they're losing work to AI. It seems like musicians making library music or custom music (such as jingles) are at risk in the near future, and this is how a lot of musicians develop their craft and pay their bills.

Songs About CodingI really enjoyed some of the music, and the lyrics were mostly very good. A couple of lines made me laugh in recognition, and I often saw things in the lyrics that surprised me. Occasionally there was something anachronistic or slightly wrong. The performances were mostly great, too, although strangely there were a couple of words it failed to pronounce, and the start of the doo-wop is just vocal noises. I've left in the dodgy pronunciations of "data throne" (sounds like dainty) and "variables" which sounds like "variagles". Aside from these small issues, this EP shows that artificial intelligence is able to recreate a range of vocal styles with both male and female voices. It was particularly interesting to hear overlapping vocals.

Where the tool was a bit weak (as of May 2024) was in structuring the songs. Sometimes they would fade too early and there would be silence in the middle. Few of the songs had a convincing chorus, and when they did, they failed to repeat it. So, I took the output from Udio and used my editing tool to make some cuts and paste in some extra choruses. I haven't added any sounds (although I did repeat and reverse some drum hits in one of them for effect). I expect song structures in Udio to get much better, and probably quite quickly. Three of the songs are here without any edits.

Not all of the results were good. I asked it to create a 1980s house track with scratching, and write lyrics about the Scratch programming language. The music wasn't convincing on that, and the scratching effect didn't work. (Roland Rat, of course, released the best record about scratching with Rat Rapping). I asked Udio to create a chiptune instrumental, which I expected to be easy, and one of the results from that was unlistenable, sounding like a tape had been shredded and the clips played in a random order.

I'm sharing this collection, Songs About Coding, as a demonstration of what artificial intelligence can do in music today. I was really surprised, so I think it might be eye-opening (ear-opening?) for others too.

The cover art was created by Microsoft's CoPilot. I asked it for an album cover of a fictional synthpop band of the 1980s. I'm not sure it quite nailed that: this aesthetic is a modern reinvention of the 80s, but it's a nice image, nonetheless.

More music

  • My album Artificial is all human-created but explores what happens beyond artificial intelligence, when the robots gain artificial emotions.
  • The EP Additives includes several bonus tracks that didn't make it onto Artificial.
  • Press Play is a collection of loops you can use in your Scratch and Python programs.
Find my other music projects here.


© Sean McManus. All rights reserved.

Visit www.sean.co.uk for free chapters from Sean's coding books (including Mission Python, Scratch Programming in Easy Steps and Coder Academy) and more!

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