So Wrongsmith, It's Rightsmith
January 30, 2009 9:48 AM   Subscribe

Songsmith has never made a lot of sense. How did this make it to retail? Why does it sound like bad MIDI? But shortly after it came out, it began to regurgitate our music. Now, Microsoft's master plan is clear: Wrongsmith explains all.
posted by lubujackson (65 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
To be fair, Songsmith is supposed to make sucky people better so it doesn't prove anything that it makes professionals sucky. Then again, the first random remix I got was Chocolate Rain. It wasn't better.
posted by DU at 10:01 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hmmmmmm. Rarely do I laud an accolade of this sort, but....

Genius.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 10:03 AM on January 30, 2009


I am more amused by the reference to AOL keywords.
posted by fusinski at 10:11 AM on January 30, 2009


Seems to work best with rap...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:13 AM on January 30, 2009


This thing just keeps getting better.
posted by box at 10:15 AM on January 30, 2009


Wonderwall is the only halfway-decent one I've heard.
posted by jckll at 10:15 AM on January 30, 2009


Most of 'em sound like Weird Al's "polka mix" versions of these tracks. I don't know how the program works, but it sure does seem to like cheesy MIDI-sounding polka.
posted by revmitcz at 10:16 AM on January 30, 2009


This is could be more fun. What if you had a karaoke party and recorded people's vocals to regular songs, then processed the vocals through Songsmith to play back afterward?

I would drink beer and listen to that.
posted by orme at 10:20 AM on January 30, 2009


There are LOTS of these things btw
http://www.videosift.com/video/Songsmith-Does-Crazy-Train
http://www.videosift.com/video/Roxanne-as-sung-through-Microsoft-Songsmith
http://www.videosift.com/video/Beat-It-by-Michael-Jackson-and-Microsoft-Songsmith
http://www.videosift.com/video/Songsmith-butchers-Eye-of-the-Tiger
and so on.

They all sound like ass.
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:21 AM on January 30, 2009


The Roxanne one is just great.
posted by kingbenny at 10:26 AM on January 30, 2009


I'm wondering if the poor thing is on the wrong platform. It'd be a great party peice on a console or, dare I say it, as an iPhone app.
posted by Artw at 10:30 AM on January 30, 2009


Somebody's going to figure out how to use this to create something enjoyable in a non-ironic way.

In the meanwhile, though...
posted by weston at 10:31 AM on January 30, 2009


neckro23 called it!
posted by orme at 10:34 AM on January 30, 2009


Most of 'em sound like Weird Al's "polka mix" versions of these tracks.

And the one for Crazy Train is fantastic. So, so funny.
posted by owtytrof at 10:34 AM on January 30, 2009


Cool, now Sharon Osbourne can "remaster" Blizzard of Ozz one more time so she never has to pay any musicians again ever.
posted by Wolfdog at 10:35 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]




"Diner." Dang.
posted by Smart Dalek at 10:46 AM on January 30, 2009


Songsmith's version of Crazy Train has an uncanny resemblance to Weird Al's polka covers.
posted by spamguy at 10:53 AM on January 30, 2009


Yay, it's a sucky Microsoft product. Can we move along? We're like rubberneckers at a trainwreck.
posted by desjardins at 10:56 AM on January 30, 2009


Does this remind anyone else of "Weekend at Bernie's"? It gets my vote for favorite.
posted by freetshirt at 10:57 AM on January 30, 2009


We're like rubberneckers at a hilarious trainwreck where no-one is hurt and there is no material damage whatsoever.
posted by Wolfdog at 10:59 AM on January 30, 2009


Except the pride of MS Research dude - that's his baby and staring role in an "advert" you're stomping all over!
posted by Artw at 11:01 AM on January 30, 2009


...And by "Weekend at Bernie's," I mean "Weekend at Bernie's II" when they're on the beach. And by making EITHER movie reference, I mean "That was a really esoteric connection going on in my head, and I should have realized that comment made little sense if you're not in my head, and why the hell is that even a reference point for me, EVER?" But it's still my favorite remix. Sorry for any confusion.
posted by freetshirt at 11:01 AM on January 30, 2009


It's funny- with Apple's Garageband, you can actually write your own song and do something that sounds halfway decent. With Songsmith, you sing and it plays cheesy MIDI music in the same key.

I know it's kind of comparing apples and oranges, but I think it probably says something about the respective companies' target audiences.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:03 AM on January 30, 2009


This thing has meant to be a gas from the start. From the overly cheesy info-mercial on...

And it's brilliant.. How many of you have installed .NET 3.0 to try out this program?

How many have thought about Microsoft and *gasp* fun at the same time.. Even if it's pointing and laughing at the program, it's not Microsoft Bob pointing and laughing. You are having a good time, from a product made by Microsoft Research coded on .NET 3.0

It is a marketing wet dream.
posted by PissOnYourParade at 11:07 AM on January 30, 2009


Billy Idol's White Wedding really puts emphasis on white. Absolutely hilarious. "Shotgun!"
posted by Free word order! at 11:08 AM on January 30, 2009


The inevitable remix of "Tom's Restaurant".

This.

This is horrible. Artistic horror.

I almost want to retract my statement that someday someone will do something good with this.
posted by weston at 11:12 AM on January 30, 2009


My next question: How did they get the vocals seperated from the original instrumental track? The Beatles, for example, are such a long time ago I'm surprised they still have the original tracks kicking around- how do you get your hands on such a thing?
posted by dunkadunc at 11:16 AM on January 30, 2009


I hate to say it, but I sort of love this version of Sloop John B.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:16 AM on January 30, 2009


Seems to work best with rap...

I second that.
posted by mhum at 11:18 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


You haters only point out when it doesn't work and ignore it when it does.
posted by mazola at 11:23 AM on January 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


You know, Microsoft could have just made a Wii Music rip off and added this as a feature, and no one would have to suffer nearly as much. In fact, that may be the killer app. That may be the only app.

I wonder if the guy who wrote it just figured he could make a midi scripter that could imitate the rhythm and pitch of a person's singing voice or if there were some actual music theory ideas behind it. I suspect the former, because I have a feeling a computer could write a tolerable melody if it were given enough time and the proper algorithms. After all, if patterns, trends, and/or conventions in music that people widely enjoy didn't exist, we wouldn't have popular music in the first place. We just need a computer with a good "ear." Come to think of it, I do remember reading about one label developing a tool that could listen to a song and project the probability that it would become popular, but I got the hunch it wasn't that precise and listened for BPM more than anything else.

It seems to understand singing, but not sing talk, which the B-52's Love Shack demonstrates painfully. Let's get Shatner's "music" remade this way. Anyone got an isolated vocal track?

And I have to say, Crazy Train pretty much got turned into a song that I think toddlers could enjoy with no trauma whatsoever. Do you realize what that means? This is a tool that took all the edge off of even Ozzy Ozborne, meaning that we've now automated the tasks we used to count on Radio Disney and commercial radio to perform.

What freaks me out the most is that they actually made it into a piece of software that costs money. I'd understand it as a "Tech Demo" or "PowerToy," or maybe even "Freeware Music Utility," but not a piece of software at the price of three music CDs.
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:23 AM on January 30, 2009


It seems to understand singing, but not sing talk...
Oh, my god, can someone get started on Pierrot Lunaire immediately please?
posted by Wolfdog at 11:30 AM on January 30, 2009


I agree with PhoBWan... I kinda liked Sloop John B., though it was getting kind of repetitive by the end. I also think Hotel California came out pretty good overall.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 11:30 AM on January 30, 2009


Most of 'em sound like Weird Al's "polka mix" versions of these tracks. I don't know how the program works, but it sure does seem to like cheesy MIDI-sounding polka.

For a change of pace, try listening to "Just What I Needed" as a sensitive piano ballad.
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:32 AM on January 30, 2009


Did I miss something? Are all of these songs available as acapellas? (As an aside, I have to admit to enjoying some of these as well.)
posted by mike_bling at 11:37 AM on January 30, 2009


http://www.videosift.com/video/Songsmith-Does-Crazy-Train

Holy mother of God we can close the internets now...somebody won. That is freakin fantastic. BEST OF WEB WOULD BUY AGAIN ++++++++++
posted by spicynuts at 11:40 AM on January 30, 2009


We ended up talking about SongSmith (esp. in previously-on-mefi context) a fair bit in the first quarter or so of the most recent podcast. I don't think I will ever get sick of SongSmith related stuff.

It seems to understand singing, but not sing talk, which the B-52's Love Shack demonstrates painfully.

Oh man. That's fantastic.

Did I miss something? Are all of these songs available as acapellas?

Presumably. There's a lot of these things floating around if you know where to look, apparently.
posted by cortex at 12:02 PM on January 30, 2009


This Songsmith shit gives me an all but uncontrollable urge to punch someone, really hard, in the face. Why this should be so, I cannot say.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:03 PM on January 30, 2009


Er, I've not used Songsmith yet so maybe I don't know, but, what's with the massive levels of schadenfreude over this?

Didn't Microsoft Research come up with this, that is to say, the least evil branch of the company? Yes, the remixes are funny, but it's the derisive component of the comments that worries me. It's like people taking stuff and running them through Babelfish and laughing at the result, taking it as an indication that the service must suck. Of course it's not perfect, it's a song-writing computer program! It might not be perfect but as they say, it's amazing that the dog talks at all.

Maybe if they weren't trying to sell it, or it were a free thing, people wouldn't be so spiteful over this?

In other news.... the new version of Hotel California, a song I've always had an intense, irrational dislike for (I been heard calling it the Manos Song), I found excellent.

Hmmm... has anyone done Black Eyed Peas' My Humps yet? Alanis Morrisette's version?
posted by JHarris at 12:06 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh it just keeps getting better and better...

Radiohead - Creep.


Enter Songsmith
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:08 PM on January 30, 2009


(I should say, Hotel California I find excellent because it's bad. It just takes the piss entirely out of that song for me.)
posted by JHarris at 12:26 PM on January 30, 2009


You haters only point out when it doesn't work and ignore it when it does.

i was just about to say that Eye of the Tiger is particularly sublime.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:42 PM on January 30, 2009


A Milli is really good.
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:43 PM on January 30, 2009


and yeah, that Sloop John B is close to something pretty good.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:44 PM on January 30, 2009


Hotel California is also better when Songsmithed. "Sweeeet summer sweat ..."
posted by mrgrimm at 12:47 PM on January 30, 2009


Songsmith's Sloop John B is a lot like the Killers, as they both prey heavily on the love of synth and harmony planted in my childhood heart by A-Ha.
posted by redsparkler at 12:51 PM on January 30, 2009


Some of these would be much more tolerable if it were possible to customize the chord changes after Songsmith picks them. (I don't even know, is that possible?) I had high hopes for the Beach Boys' tune, but no.

From listening to these, it seems like every song MUST be in 4/4, and chord changes MUST happen every four beats. That's just dumb.
posted by emelenjr at 12:54 PM on January 30, 2009


WOW. Enjoy the silence actually doesn't sound too far off style wise - If it matched the key like songsmith is actually supposed to, it would be creepy.

Most of these sound exactly like what I used to do with my old casio keyboard for laughs... it's convenient that it can now be automated.
posted by MysticMCJ at 12:54 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Using my superpowers as a journalist (which consist of saying "hello, I'm a journalist"), I put in a formal request for an interview with someone on the Songsmith team to get some perspective on the embroglio. Microsoft refused.
posted by bicyclefish at 12:58 PM on January 30, 2009


Welcome... to the Future of Music!

This was supposed to have been the future of our music.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:12 PM on January 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Most of 'em sound like Weird Al's "polka mix" versions of these tracks.

I'm impressed how authentic the polka sound is. Someone worked hard on getting it to do polka right!
posted by smackfu at 1:13 PM on January 30, 2009


mrgrimm nailed it!

I was just going to post how much improved Eye of the Tiger is over the original.

I mean, really, it's astonishing.
posted by Xoebe at 1:50 PM on January 30, 2009


Blazecock Pileon (awesome name BTW), I was just thinking of that! The unremixed version with the leadup.

It's from Look Around You: Series Two, which was a parody of futurist shows on the BBC from the 70s-80s, in case you wanted beter citations. Made in 2005 or so I believe.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:41 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's from Look Around You: Series Two, which was a parody of futurist shows on the BBC from the 70s-80s, in case you wanted beter citations. Made in 2005 or so I believe.

My favorite futuristic music is rap music.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:46 PM on January 30, 2009


Did I miss something? Are all of these songs available as acapellas?

Probably not. From the looks of the songlist, somebody decrypted the files from Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Those games have the master recordings as multi-track ogg files. So, voila, acapella version.
posted by Furie at 2:54 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


what's with the massive levels of schadenfreude over this?

Fair question. I'll confess that I have a masochistic fascination with Songsmith, which started when I ran across this unspeakably awful ad for it. (The little stickers covering up the Apple logo on the Macbook - LOL!!) I'm a musician and composer, so my reaction to the program is colored by that: I see the program as a travesty of what musical creation is all about. It's personal for me; I can't just laugh at the vapid chord progressions and be done with it. When I see this - where some MS employee is actually telling us that Songsmith could be used for actual music creation as a "musical sketchpad" - then I wonder how he can sleep at night. He must know that he's talking out his ass. I'm also a former music teacher, so a program like this makes me despair over what the kids who use this thing - it's got to be targeted at kids - will soak up into their impressionable little heads about musical creation, and how uncritical and unskilled their listening will be.

Calming down a bit, though... what this program does is to analyze the pitches in a melody and then come up with some rhythmic/harmonic accompaniment. Hardly the end of civilization as we know it. And yes, some of the Songsmith'ed hits are sort of amusing, I guess, and occasionally they don't sound completely awful.

There's a lot of musical comedy that I can laugh at -- PDQ Bach is hilarious, for instance, but that's because it's musically intelligent and, yes, respectful in its own way. Songsmith isn't intelligent; it doesn't really even qualify as stupid, it's just an obvious algorithm at work, so to me, it isn't funny.

But this - now that's funny.
posted by semblance at 3:09 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


...crap! They took down the Songsmith parody. Wow -- MS has no sense of humor at all. Who knew?
posted by semblance at 3:16 PM on January 30, 2009


From listening to these, it seems like every song MUST be in 4/4, and chord changes MUST happen every four beats. That's just dumb.

Progsmith, on the other hand, assumes every song switches freely between 29/8, 5/4, 3/4, and other random time signatures, only works if you sing in falsetto, and requires a 15 minute long pause around the middle of the song for computed-generated masturbatory solos.
posted by qvantamon at 3:31 PM on January 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


HOW TO MAKE SOMETHING ENJOYABLE WITH SONGSMITH

1. Play karaoke music on headphones, & record your vocals.
2. Play your vocals back into Songsmith.
3. Remove your original vocals from the result.
4. Dub over it. My suggestion: Drunken, abusive bandleader.
5. Share & enjoy!

Please?
posted by Pronoiac at 5:14 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


it's got to be targeted at kids - will soak up into their impressionable little heads about musical creation, and how uncritical and unskilled their listening will be.

Holy crap..way to have faith in kids. Kids break things..that's what they do. And then they put i back together to create something new. Innovation. Have some faith.
posted by spicynuts at 5:33 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, so that's where "Thanks, ants. Thants." came from.
posted by xorry at 5:35 PM on January 30, 2009


Semblance, I think these are enjoyable for exactly the same reason that PDQ Bach is enjoyable. When Runnin' with the Songsmith was unveiled, I laughed myself to tears (literally) because a) it was so damned bad and yet b) I could understand exactly why Songsmith chose to do what it did. It was horrible, yes, but it was all based on sound music theory.

Really, the rest of them are no different. They're laughable, but they also show how melody and harmony work together to evoke different moods and themes when one or the other is altered. This could be seen as a fantastic learning tool for young music students, so long as they don't take the results too seriously. Properly used, it could bolster critical listening.

And make bad remixes. Really, really bad remixes for the world to laugh at. And that has to be worth something too.
posted by lekvar at 5:52 PM on January 30, 2009


This one of I Heard It Through the Grapevine is actually not completely horrible. No, wait. As I listen to it again, it sounds completely horrible.
posted by nooneyouknow at 6:52 PM on January 30, 2009


Thank you, this was endlessly enjoyable.
posted by marble at 8:33 PM on January 30, 2009


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