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29 February 2016

Jukedeck remixes music composition

Thierry Heles talks to Patrick Stobbs, co-founder and chief operating officer of music creation tool Jukedeck.

Author: Thierry Heles, editor

Jukedeck, which formally began life in 2012, operates a platform that uses machine learning to help users create original music. We interviewed Patrick Stobbs, co-founder and chief operating officer of the Cambridge University spinout, to find out more about the company.

Jukedeck is the brainchild of Ed Rex, a published composer who studied music at Cambridge University and went to a computer science lecture where he realised that the technology discussed could be applied to music composition.

Rex had previously had “vague ideas about machines and music”, according to Stobbs, but did not know much about it. Following the lecture, Rex built a prototype for his platform and secured initial funding from the university.

Jukedeck’s technology relies on artificial intelligence to compose unique, royalty-free music based on input from a user about elements such as genre, mood and length.

Explaining the system, Stobbs said: “At a high level we have taught our system various things about music composition and production. We have broken down known rules and theories of music composition and production and gradually taught those to our system. We have also taught it our own understanding of music.

“At a lower level is a set of algorithms that make decisions on a note-by-note basis as to what note should come next.”

Stobbs was quick to underline that Jukedeck’s team made the conscious decision to have human interaction as an integral part of the creative process – even though the system itself could technically “be fully automated”.

When it comes to those users, Jukedeck is initially targeting video creators, beginning with the lower end of vloggers on YouTubers. In the medium term, the company hopes to attract commercial video production companies.

In the long term, Stobbs said, the company wanted to “evolve this tool so that it actually is a tool for more general music-making. This is fuelled by our belief that creating music is actually a very restrictive practice.

“Unless you have had the good fortune to have had an education in a musical instrument or have had time to teach yourself, you cannot really make good music. You can shriek and scream and bang the table, but making good music is really hard.”

Stobbs draws comparisons with Instagram, a photo-sharing platform with built-in filters and editing tools that enabled users to take better photographs, stating that Jukedeck “wants to allow many more people to create beautiful music … and democratise the music creation process”.

When challenged on the concept that a computer would do all the heavy-lifting and enable anyone to create music without first putting in the work of learning how to do it – an argument that might easily be made by professional musicians – Stobbs replied that such a criticism “would be an interesting position to take”.

He continued: “It is clearly a good thing if more people can create music. Creating music should not be a restricted practice. It should be open to everyone and at the moment it is not,” underscoring further his earlier case that “unless you have had the money and time and circumstance to be taught music, you cannot create any and that is just not a good thing”.

Although he acknowledged that some people may not like the idea, he pointed out that this was far from the first instance of automation in a creative industry, or indeed in music. “You have drum machines and digital audio workstations – things like Logic and GarageBand already have gone a long way to helping people make more music. We just see ourselves as an extension of that.”

Stobbs certainly recognised opportunities for that automation. “Suddenly you can have music which reacts in real time to a given situation, be that a game or be that someone on the run.”

It was that breadth of possibilities that brought Stobbs to Jukedeck after having worked at internet company Google – now a part of conglomerate Alphabet – saying it was “the ability to change an entire field, change music to some degree, improve it, really, to make an impact, which is hard to do at an organisation with 50,000 people”.

He was confident about the future of Jukedeck, while acknowledging perhaps a universal truth about any early-stage company and underlining that “it is an incredible learning experience. Everyone in a startup is out of their depth every day – you always have to do a few things which you are not necessarily trained to do. You are always thinking on your feet, and that is a great responsibility but also very exciting and interesting”.

With its $3m in series A capital raised in December 2015, Jukedeck’s team seems well-equipped to take on those challenges and realise its vision of a world filled with more music.

That series A round featured Cambridge Innovation Capital, an investment fund backed by Cambridge University, Backed, Playfair Capital and Parkwalk Advisors.

Jukdeck previously secured $668,000 in seed funding in 2014 from Cambridge Innovation Capital, tech transfer office Cambridge Enterprise and the institution’s Enterprise Investment Scheme fund managed by Parkwalk Advisors.

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