This article first appeared in Write Away magazine in May 2021, and explores whether AI is the future of lyric writing? I’ve updated the article a little bit to reflect additional AI advancements in the creation of songs.
David Bowie famously liked using random word generators as part of his creative process for writing songs. Indeed, he co-created a sentence randomiser app, called Verbasizer, during the mid 90s, and commented that it helped create ‘a real kaleidoscope of meanings and topics and nouns and verbs all sort of slamming into each other’.
Fast forward a quarter of a century and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is making increasingly big strides in the world of writing and communication, so could we see an increasing role for AI in lyric writing?
The use of AI to generate impactful written communications
My day job involves optimising online promotional messages so that they are impactful. My company wants its customers to read about services and products that we offer and be convinced to use or purchase them. Up until now this has been achieved through training and coaching of those campaign owners who are tasked with creating the messages. However, we have recently started to explore the use of AI.
We’ve partnered with a software company, called Persado, which claims to have created AI that ‘fully unlocks the power of words so businesses can make every customer interaction count with mathematical certainty.’ Of course, that claim needs to be tested and we are embarking on some tests whereby we are allowing the AI to recommend message headings, body copy, and call to action wording, and then we will put different variants in front of customers and see how it performs.
It feels quite futuristic. The writer in me wants to believe that a piece of software can’t create messages that are more impactful than could be created by a human, but technological capabilities are advancing at an impressive rate. Indeed, results suggest that the AI capability is at least better at humans at optimising message performance, from the starting point of tweaking a message that a human created.
Fledgling use of AI in lyric writing
A Google search on ‘AI lyric writing’ reveals there are now several websites that promote their ability to generate lyrics. Typically, you are asked to select a genre, and then they may give you the choice of either providing some input on what you want the song to be about, or going with totally randomly generated lyrics.
I took part in a lyric writing contest where one of the writers revealed afterwards that he had done a test by selecting lyrics that had been obtained from an AI lyric creation site. The site was called BoredHumans.com. The lyrics were submitted anonymously, so there was no danger of prejudice, and the lyric ended up finishing near the bottom of the contest. I think everyone, including the writer who submitted the lyric, was pleased that it hadn’t won! However, I don’t think anyone suspected that it hadn’t been created by a human until the participant made the revelation.
Humans still rule … for now
My view is that a skilled lyricist will still create much better song lyrics than any of the current generation of AI software tools. Humans better understand what will pull the heart-strings of other humans, and are better able to recognise when words don’t make sense, or when successive sentences fail to give a clear narrative.
To demonstrate an example of the current limitations of AI lyric generators, here are lyrics that I generated from a website called Masterpiece Generator. I chose the completely automated option, so no input from me on choice of words or themes. My only stipulation was that I wanted a ballad.
I think the lyrics start quite promisingly (if amusingly!), with the tale of romance between stunning corporate banker and a painter. But the word ‘turtle’ was one of the generated words and, as you will see, that led to a somewhat disturbing change in the direction of the lyrics!!
The Tale of My Unique Painter Cousin
It began on a stupid April morning:
I was the most stunning corporate banker around,
He was the most unique painter.
He was my cousin,
My unique cousin,
We used to kiss so well together,
We wanted to love together, around the world,
We wanted it all.
But one morning, one stupid morning,
We decided to love too much.
Together we teased a policeman.
It was lonely, so lonely.
From that moment our relationship changed.
He grew so poor.
And then it happened:
Oh no! Oh no!
He caressed a turtle.
Alas, a turtle!
My cousin caressed a turtle.
It was hot, so hot.
The next day I thought my elbows had broken,
I thought my spleen had burst into flames,
(But I was actually overreacting a little.)
But still, he is in my thoughts.
I think about how it all changed that morning,
That stupid April morning.
My spleen… ouch!
When I think of that unique painter,
That unique painter and me.
Don’t be complacent – AI will continue to get better
Okay, the example above is pretty funny, and I don’t think any lyricists are going to lose too much sleep over this particular ‘masterpiece’. But don’t be fooled, the capabilities of AI software are going to continue to expand hugely. In two years, five years, or ten years’ time, it’s very conceivable that random lyric generators will have been improved to such an extent that they may offer musicians a viable alternative to working with lyric writers.
That’s just another reason though for us to constantly strive to improve our lyric writing abilities. Certainly, I’m not ready yet to be replaced by a shinier descendant of Bowie’s Verbasizer!
2023 update – AI being used for song vocals
During 2022, I wrote lyrics for a song called Circus of Ghosts. I then posted the lyrics on the Kompoz music collaboration website in the hope that some musicians would pick it up and turn it into a song. That was indeed what happened, but with a twist. The musician who created the vocals used an AI vocal tool, called Solaria, to obtain female vocals. As I understand it, you supply the music notes plus the lyrics and the software then renders that input into vocals. From researching Solaria, I believe that a real singer recorded some vocals and the tool is then able to use that input to replicate the voice into whatever lyrics and music have been submitted.
But is it any good? You can check this out for yourself by listening to Circus of Ghosts. My view though is that it’s pretty impressive, and certainly a LOT better than the generated lyrics that I mentioned earlier in this article! I’d still prefer to have a human vocalist, but can see the usage of AI-generated vocals growing. And it’s certainly interesting to think how impressive and realistic they may be in future years?!
If you’ve used AI in creating a song, or seen good (or bad) examples of it, then I’d love to hear about it in the Comments section. I’m also going to be taking part in a song collaboration content on the MuseSongWriters website, that is going to be on the theme of AI, so I’ll share reflections on that in due course.