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What’s meant by “Smart Music”?

Smart” often means that technology has been added to something that hitherto-fore had not had it. Of late ‘digital‘ has been the term to mean a similar thing – assets, processes and workflows get digitized leading to an ‘immediate’ workflow.

With ‘music’, which has been with us since the dawn of civilization, the term ‘digital‘ was used for the distribution of consumer music in a ‘digital form’ – Audio-CD, mini-discs, DAT, and then the revolution of online distribution through the iTunes Music Store.

So what’s ‘Smart Music’? One possibility is ‘Smart Music Creation‘ where, computerized devices facilitate the creation of music – the synthesizer, the drum machine, and MIDI generally. Drum Machines and Synthesizers are really new musical instruments lending themselves to new musical sounds and therefore new genres of music. That’s not smart really, just different.

MIDI – Musical Instrument Digital Interface

This platform has been around for 30 years or more and deserves the genomic of ‘Smart’. It automates the playing of the instruments by encoding and reproducing the act of playing
that note,
on that instrument
with that intensity
precisely at that time.
That’s not just a new type of instrument, its a way of codifying the playing of any and all instruments. Complete orchestral scores have been codified and rendered with MIDI. Great performances have been captured using MIDI. MIDI doesn’t have to mean sub-standard music – it can, if used with care, mean superb musicianship and great music production. Unfortunately, too many substandard performances have been codified and rendered with MIDI, leading to bad experiences and a bad reputation for the technology.

Enablement versus Truly Smart Music Creation

MIDI is a great enabler. We shouldn’t blame MIDI for what we have, and haven’t, done with it over the last 3 decades. For truly ‘Smart Music’ what we need is to go further, marrying technology and music production more intimately.


The innovator – Band-In-A-Box

The first, perhaps fairly obvious, mass-adoption innovation from MIDI was the song-based accompaniment application – PG Music’sBand-In-A-Box” available on PCs and Macs. This delivered on its promise of providing tailored accompaniment for songs. It helps students understand the form of the songs they play and to provide backing music for enjoying and learning new songs. Importantly, the interface or ‘language’ of the application is that of traditional music notation and concepts. It doesn’t rewrite musical terminology, it adopts it and extends what can be done with it. Band-In-A-Box truly is Smart Music Creation.

The Innovator’s dominance of the market

Band-In-A-Box has grown and grown over that time to a massive application with every conceivable feature – a real tour de force of software development.

The development of Long-form Audio complementing MIDI

Band-In-A-Box even addresses the sound-quality issue of the MIDI instruments by including high-quality, long-form audio – “Real Drums” and other “Real Instruments” where the audio is much longer-form than a single MIDI instrument ‘note’ as described earlier.  This leads to much more satisfying backing music.  It is high-quality, truly Smart Music Creation, which comes at a cost though. Not only the high dollar cost for the software application and audio library but using the application takes considerable commitment to master and PC and Mac workstations aren’t always convenient for the world’s 10% that are musicians.

iPhone X 03 MainTableScreen framed
iPhone X 03 MainTableScreen framed

The Convenience and Ubiquity of Mobility

Perhaps the spiritual reincarnation of the original Band-In-A-Box app is realized for mobile devices in the form of Technimo’s iRealPro app. It’s a deservedly popular app, albeit with standard MIDI note sounds rather than long-form audio of ‘real instruments’. Now the world’s 10% of musicians, if they merely have a mobile device, can get very convenient song-based backing music through iRealPro. That’s great news for a generation of musicians. The cause of Truly Smart Music Creation is evolving.

Opportunities to Advance Adoption of Smart Music Production

There are opportunities to go further, to appeal to an even greater proportion of musicians with even more approachable technology marrying music production and technology.  If we also can improve the quality and musicianship of the delivery, while reducing those complexities that are barriers to adoption, perhaps we can get closer to that mobile-carrying portion of the 10% of the world’s population that are musicians.  Mobile devices are unlikely to provide the same results achievable with today’s desktop workstation that leverage long-form audio libraries requiring terabytes of data and masses of computing power, but innovations in client-server solutions are possible where the same quality of results could be achieved by supplying finished productions to the mobile devices from cloud services. There are other opportunities as well to improve the user-interfaces so that less experienced musicians and less adept mobile app users can get more from musician’s mobile apps.  iRealPro has a well-designed interface but I believe many musicians who use it are successful users only because they limit themselves to selecting a song name, and playing it without ever wanting to delve into the actual arrangement details they have just chosen.  It’s great that they can move that way if and when they are ready.  I believe we need to stick with the established language of music while continuing to reduce the complexities of making music with mobile devices.  Apple’s own Garage Band has achieved great things in this respect.  When they first launched the iPad product, there were many reports of young children taking to the device/app straight away.   The interface was sufficiently intuitive.

The Future Imagined

What we need are new products that have

  1. iRealPro‘s musician’s perspective,
  2. Garage Band’s approachability, and
  3. Band-In-A-Box’s long-form audio quality

in a mobile client-server App.  Add to that facilities for musician’s to easily share arrangements and setlists and arrange their songs merely with selection rather than sequencing and I think we are well on the way to the next generation of Truly Smart Music Creation Services for musicians.

Also published on Medium.