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January 13, 2009

Songsmith Software


This week Anthony Hannigan emailed me an article about some new software by Microsoft Research.  According to the Seattle Tech Report, the software called Songsmith was to go on sale on Thursday and would be available through Microsoftstore.com  The software was supposed to be able to record someone singing into a microphone, and then it would figure out the appropriate chords and create a backing track for the vocals, including guitars, drums, keyboards, strings and whatnot.  Presto chango, you too can be a rock star.  It sounded too good to be true, so I plunked down my $29.95 and downloaded my very own copy three days before it was supposed to go on sale.

I spent a little time with it last night and didn't get great results.  (If you've already watched the video, you might argue that I STILL haven't got great results!)  Due to some technical problems with my microphone and interface, which is my problem, not Songsmith's, I couldn't get anything interesting to happen with vocals, but then I realized that the software also works with guitar, keyboards and probably any musical input.

After a long day at work I came home tonight and as I often do I relaxed by fooling around with a guitar.  Next thing I knew I had the tune and video above.  Recording the music took at most 10 minutes.  Using Windows Movie Maker took another hour as I futzed around with the photos and titles.

I haven't talked much here about my secret life of music, but it's every bit as important to me as being an entrepreneur and playing with technology.  When the three overlap, I go into the zone and come out hours later happy and ready to go again.

I'm impressed with Songsmith, and I'm looking forward to how it evolves.  Over ten years ago I played with The Axe software by Harmonix.  The idea there was that non-musicians could create music by twiddling controls on their computer.  It didn't get much attention, but that company went on to create Guitar Hero.

It's easy to write Guitar Hero off as a toy that doesn't help people learn music, but it sure has got a lot of people to at least stand up and keep time with the music.  My dream is that one day people will get just as excited about playing a real instrument as they do with Guitar Hero and I think the software innovators out there like the folks at Harmonix and now the musicians at Microsoft are getting us closer to that day.  (If you follow the link above to my Banjo Hero post, realize that only the first two paragraphs are true.  The rest was my idea of an April Fools joke.  Do a search on "Banjo Hero" and you see that plenty of people didn't get the joke.  If you are SERIOUS about playing banjo, go to DrBanjo.com and please accept my apologies.  I know it's not nice to make fun of banjo players.)

I believe that everyone should have the chance to play music, so while I'm sure some musicians will write this software off as being a toy, I'll bet others will take it and come up with some great songs.  And if it gets a few people to put down their plastic guitar, turn off the TV and step up a bit to making real music, then the developers will have done a great service to the world.

If you want to learn more about Songsmith, click here to visit the Songsmith team web site

January 13, 2009 in Music, Science | Permalink


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