The Times Technology blog ha gathered together a Top 20 tracks remixed by Microsoft Songsmith, with predictably hilarious results.
This is a great example of user-generated content, with the audience using the software for something other than what it was intended to do. The original cheesy Microsoft ad was awful enough (you can see it at the bottom of the page), but what happens when people extract the vocal from a famous track and use that?
There’s some input here from the end-users, because you can tell songsmith what mood/style you’re looking for upfront, but it’s still a great example of crap ideas in software.
Incidentally, it’s also a great way of deflating the ego of a singer or indeed a songwriter, because it shows how much great songs rely on musical arrangement as opposed to a single performance or writing input. A side effect of copyright law has always had the composer(s) of songs getting the lion’s share of royalties, with the input of other members of the band (or the producer) going unrecognised, at least in financial terms.
But rock music is littered with great songwriters making bad records because they weren’t working with the right people. When Bob Dylan had the right personnel in the studio, he produced works of genius; when he didn’t, not. The contribution of George Harrison to the best of The Beatles is another classic case. George was no flashy guitarist, but always played for the song, his ego well under control. Yet he only got a royalty on the one-song-per-album (or side) that he was allowed.
There’s also a lesson here about what you might call embedded journalists, and how easily they can be persuaded to write puff pieces. As with any Microsoft attempt to do what Apple have already done (Garageband has had some kind of virtual backing band thing for a couple of versions now), it was always going to be horrible, but that didn’t stop “embedded” technology journalists like Robert Scoble from raving about how awesome it was.
His initial report (from his hotel room at the CES show in Las Vegas, which shows just how long he thought about it before posting) is a case of Flat Earth news – just repeating the PR/Press Release stuff without applying any kind of critical filtering.
Scoble isn’t alone in being a tame technology journalist used by major companies to boost their products. Dan Lyons, a journalist who satirised Apple with his Fake Steve Jobs* blog, has been very critical of the way in which – for example – California-based technology journalists allow Apple to feed them disinformation. You see, everyone’s afraid of losing access to free stuff, free previews, inside information (even if it’s bad), so they won’t be critical in public.
Free stuff is where it’s at. I used to get loads when all I was writing was catalogue copy. Imagine the life of a journalist writing reviews of tech gadgets. I only wish I’d pioneered one of the top camera review sites like Steve’s Digicams or DPReview. Problem is, can you ever trust the reviews when you know that Free Stuff is being supplied?
Look at the Ratings Index for DPReview.com. As you can see, there are HUGE numbers of Highly Recommended and Recommended cameras, but there are only six (6) Below Average cameras, and NONE since May 2002. There hasn’t even been an Average camera since September 2003 (over 5 years, fact fans). And what does “Average” mean, anyway, in this instance? It certainly doesn’t mean average, does it? It may mean “nothing special”, but when (almost) everything is “special”, it’s not really special anymore, is it?
*Talking of fake blogs, FaceBook are getting paranoid about all the fake celebrity pages being set up. You have to wonder why. Again, it comes down to ridiculous ideas about intellectual property. Is satire dead?