Review: Microsoft SongSmith – No Talent Required
REVIEW: Creating a song can be joy or toil, art or craft, pleasure or pain. What it cannot be is free from effort. Certain aspects of human existence must be utilized in the making of music: your brain, your heart, your soul. Otherwise, noise is the only result.
We have all endured noise masquerading as music in pap from Kenny G, Mannheim Steamroller, Michael Bolton, boy bands, etc. The list is long and inglorious. But soon this lousy litany will be extended to include your next door neighbor and your next door neighbor’s untalented little kid.
This is all going to happen thanks to Microsoft and their latest threat to people of the earth: SongSmith, a program developed by MS geeks Dan Morris, Sumit Basu, and Ian Simon.
It’s an efficient little program. Once SongSmith is activated, warning sirens begin blaring at 105 decibels and killer robots are dispatched to your location using the GPS chip in every MS product. No, wait, that’s just wishful thinking on my part. Basically, the talent-challenged user of SongSmith selects a style and a tempo (I recommend speed metal polka, but then I’m a bit of an iconoclast), then they record whatever racket they wish using whatever words they want, copyright issues be damned.
Do you sing out-of-tune? Not a problem, says Morris, just so “you’re reasonably close.” You know, like Kanye West. As a writer, are you out of original ideas? Not a problem, says Morris. Well, actually, I don’t know if he says that, but it doesn’t matter because SongSmith is going to put some chords and notes around your vocals no matter what level of drivel you’ve recorded.
Microsoft’s three music haters, Morris, Basu and Simon (hereafter: MS3MH), devised an algorithm that analyzed the chords of 300 songs. Hey nerds, that wasn’t nearly enough, yet from this small sample, the program churns out some sort of “melody” to accompany your warbling. Then, you can move slider bars to try taking the music from “happy” to “sad,” which would seem to be superfluous since everyone with an I.Q. above 65 is going to be very sad in the vicinity of this thing.
Microsoft, the corporate behemoth that cannot be stopped no matter how crappy their operating systems turn out, decided to launch SongSmith with a four-minute video. The production is crisp, clean, clear, and unintentionally hilarious. But then, it’s hard to see how it could be anything but hysterical, given its purpose of convincing people with no musical talent that they can compose, create and produce songs virtually automatically just by singing along to a click track and then tweaking a few slider bars.
The freshly scrubbed pre-teen in the video is fairly inoffensive but the brain-damaged adults are entertaining in the same way that it’s entertaining to stay up late watching “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies” (1964, directed by Ray Dennis Steckler and starring Cash Flagg, who is actually Steckler).
Anyway, in this video showcase of the work of the MS3MH, you watch poor vocalists with no writing ability painfully talk-sing into their computers and the dippy SongSmith program attempts to help them. Which it does, after a fashion, if what you mean by help is creating chord progressions reminiscent of the pre-sets on last century’s line of plastic keyboards sold in the toy section of K-Mart.
If the singer is tone-deficient or if there’s no discernible tune, the SongSmith output is less than stellar. If the singer remains on-pitch, then the chords kinda-sorta match every once in a while.
Which is to say that the musical results of SongSmith would be approximately the same if you dropped a rabid squirrel onto an electric piano. Or inside one. “No matter where I put the slider, it’s something musically reasonable,” Morris is quoted as saying. If by reasonable he means astonishingly lame. Lame like the video itself, which clearly shows people using Apple computers, by the way.
Microsoft’s SongSmith is an insult to music, creativity and humanity. Rush right out and buy one for a family you hate.
The horror, the horror (commercial for SongSmith):
[tags]Microsoft SongSmith, Kenny G, Mannheim Steamroller, Michael Bolton, boy bands, Kanye West[/tags]
Feb 3, 2009 @ 6:55 AM PST
I think this video pretty well captures my feelings on Songsmith: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjY2GGZpa1c .
EDITOR’S NOTE: normally we don’t allow semi self-promotional links in comments on this site, but the above video on YouTube, “Songsmith blows” – done in a white boy rap with a little (almost) rasta flavor – is fairly amusing, and worth a look. 🙂 CS
Feb 3, 2009 @ 6:17 PM PST
Well, yet another self-appointed defender of all things musical. Unfortunately, as with all very self-righteous people, your arrogance and intolerability are in clear evidence. If Songsmith instills a creative urge in 1% of those that use it, and they go on to make some personal music instead of being mindless robot slaves to automated FM swill, then it is a useful item. Not everyone has your awesome judgement and creative talents.
That said, I do agree with your assessment of the ‘musical’ sources mentioned in your rant. That is the very reason for encouraging folks, albeit however simply, to make their own music. Even if they have to use Songsmith to do it.
Laura H. Steckler
Feb 4, 2009 @ 1:06 AM PST
Awwww. Come on! The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies is far more entertaining than that was!
RIP Ray Dennis Steckler 1-25-38 to 1-07-09
Mar 18, 2009 @ 9:27 PM PDT
Way to hate on children getting involved in creating music with computers! I’m impressed with how judgemental this article is of a fun piece of software! Great job!!!!
May 29, 2010 @ 1:06 PM PDT
I can’t believe you don’t like Kenny G.
As far as this music software I don’t think
it’s meant to create art. But it might foster
an interest in music for children and teenagers
raised in the information age. My 10 yr old
is learning to play piano on her iPhone and
a computer piano. This program sounds
like it could encourage her to branch off from
sounding out music she hears onthe radio
to learning how to find her own “voice.”
This program sounds like a creative use of
technology to familiarize kids with how sounds
can be altered and something resembling
music created. Don’t think you have a thing
to worry about re this program resulting in
real music. It reminds me of Milli Vanilli
(sp) or stars caught lip synching. I’m curious
to see how people will actually use this
technology. I’m thrilled to see a real exchange
of information/opinions in the Facebook-ish
Jun 23, 2010 @ 3:21 AM PDT
I’m greatful that you put these words down.
I’m entirely fed up with the systematization
of our world.
Axes to grind aside, “simplication”
via systematic intellectualization reaches
a level of absurdity that parallels summarizing and regurgitating
pericoital utterances. The final word is that the machine cannot ever be as complex as the maker…I adore music. Most of us do. Why cheapen such a beautiful thing?