Creativity in a Can

Microsoft Songsmith promises to make it easier to write music. But the results it produces have given rise to all kinds of unforeseen (by Microsoft, anyway) hilarity, such as this.

I’m not going to join the gleeful pile-on about Microsoftian cluelessness – it quickly starts to feel a bit too much like hip kids vs. nerds. (I reserve my Microsoft rage for those many times its products cause real suffering, as in having to develop every web page twice, once for the rest of the world, and once for Internet Explorer.)

For me, what’s wrong with Songsmith is not that it’s so uncool. It’s what’s wrong (though maybe not so egregiously) with a lot of music technology: the underlying premise that productivity is an absolute good.

Do we like music? Of course! Then we need more of it, faster and easier!

Well, maybe not. With music, I’m not at all sure productivity is a problem that needs to be solved.

I’m not saying that music is no good unless it’s hard to create. For every tortured Beethoven there is always going to be a blithe Mozart. But I am saying that in trying to make music easier and more “accessible” through automation, we almost inevitably remove the core of the experience, especially for the huge majority of us who are not Mozart. We seem to confuse creation with consumption.

Struggling to form your first barre chord? To write a hummable melody? To rhyme gracefully?

Good. You’re making music. Why would we want to out-source that?

Also published at O’Reilly Broadcast.

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