My short bio:

Hi Reddit, I am Brendon, a self-employed (digital nomad) programmer. Over the past 12 months, I ran an experiment which attempted to automatically write a melody, based on the votes of anonymous internet visitors (mostly Redditors).

Starting from 2 given notes, the voter was asked which sequence sounded best, when an extra pitch was added to the end of the sequence:

[Note 1] [Note 2] [A/B/C/D/E/F/G] <- Which sequence sounds best?

The winning vote generated a new note and the crowd then voted on a longer sequence:

[Note 1] [Note 2] [Note 3] [A/B/C/D/E/F/G] <- Which sequence sounds best?

This process continued until the sequence became the length of an entire melody.

My theory was that if this system was extracting and expressing knowledge about what the majority enjoy listening to (at the most granular level)...the crowd should be able to generate their own song (which they also enjoy listening to). So the experiment began.

Anyway, after almost a year, the melody is now complete. The result is here

I recently launched a new experiment to write lyrics for the same song, one word at a time of course :)

Here for the next few hours, to answer any questions you have about the project.

You can follow the project on twitter @crowd_sound

My Proof:

Check the footer of (I refer to this AMA and my reddit username)

Edit: Crazy times. This is now on the front page of Reddit (totally surreal). Consequently, I am trying to keep my server alive at the same time as answering your questions - please bear with me. Thank you everybody for being so interested in this project.

The server is roughly under control now. Thank you for the gold kind stranger, whoever gave that to me. My second ever Reddit Gold!!

Well, I have been up all night (currently in Sri Lanka) but it has been worth it - I need to get a bit of sleep now. Thank you for your questions. It has been great fun discussing this project with each of you. I will continue this discussion as soon as I wake up.

Alright, I'm back again now. Really appreciate the interest from everybody. I will get through every single question in time.

Comments: 1079 • Responses: 44  • Date: 

bg-j38688 karma

Why is the end of the song so repetitive?

datadelivery845 karma

In theory, the concept made sense, in practice, it was hard to know what to expect. There were quite a few surprises throughout the song. It was amazing to see some themes / patterns being repeated and the "no note" option was chosen quite regularly despite being a less interesting option for the crowd.

So, the repetition at the end was also a surprise. It was as if the crowd got itself into a loop and couldn't stop "following the crowd". However, even when I put myself in the crowds shoes and tried to work out when to break away from the pattern, it was easy to say "there should be one more note the same and then it would sound good if it changed after that".

One reason for the repetition was the fact that the chord progression (sequence) was the same throughout the whole song. If there had of been more variety in the progression, it surely would have influenced the pattern to break out.

Regardless, many songs have repetitive sections and I think that some lyrics and background elements will make the section sound a lot more interesting.

jmrsplatt108 karma

Hey man, Really cool project.. and really cool song! Actually tons of songs end very repetitively making it not that surprising to me. Think about Beatles - Hey Jude, Led Zeppelin - Kashmir.. but more importantly this piece highly resembles a canon, and definitely Pachelbel's Canon. Excellent project!

datadelivery61 karma

Thank you. Another repetitive song which a reditor pointed out in another thread is this one.

It is only the second half of the song which is repetitive so I am sure there is a lot that we can do with it to make it sound good.

PureAttrition279 karma

Do you expect "Harambe McHarambeface" to show up in the lyrics?

datadelivery216 karma

The lyrics have a fixed dictionary (for the purpose of syllables etc) but the crowd can suggest for a missing word to be added.

Quite a few people have attempted to add Harambe. Sorry, it's not a dictionary word so I can't authorize it :)

choebit199 karma

What's inspired you to make that?

datadelivery342 karma

Well, I have been amazed by the power of Wikipedia for many years...then Stackoverflow came along and made it significantly easier to find answers to programming problems. Then I became addicted to Reddit and reading comments about articles actually became interesting when collated effectively.

So I realised collaboration was a powerful thing when harnessed in the right way. I wondered what else this could apply to. Something seemingly complex yet came to mind.

Whitefox573168 karma

The song of the people

R1pZone121 karma

This meme finally has its own ost.

datadelivery68 karma

Oh, has a meme gone over my head?

datadelivery14 karma

That was the idea. Though I never really expected this many people to get involved. It just went crazy from day 1!

timcotten152 karma

What is the licensing for this song?

Could it be used in commercial projects?

The idea was impressive, and actually listening to it impressed me more. It's really not bad and pretty surprising how it holds together.

datadelivery161 karma

You will probably be surprised to hear that I do not have an answer for that yet.

I launched the site in half-finished state, thinking that I would test out the concept with a few hundred people and work out what to do from there. Within 24 hours it was getting thousands of visitors and New Scientist magazine were requesting a media interview.

So the legal "damage" had already been done from day 1. I didn't have the cash to talk to lawyers - so it is all up in the air right now. Lawyers or Reddit...what do you suggest? :)

waitingfordunno156 karma

Open source it. GPL or BSD style is probably best. Tell people they can use it as they wish as long as the following terms are met in their work:

  • They can't claim they wrote it.

  • They have to cite if they use it in a product they are selling

  • They can't sue if something bad happens because of the song

datadelivery44 karma

Yes but now that people have already participated, I would need to seek proper legal advice before making a decision like that to ensure that there would not be an issue for those who have already voted.

cerbric4 karma

It would be very interesting to find out what the legal situation is. IIRC a single note individually wouldn't be covered by copyright, but the complete song would be.

Did people have to register to add notes? Could you (in theory) contact everyone to agree to some licence?

datadelivery4 karma

In order to promote as much participation as possible, there was no requirement to register, however, optionally the users could create a username and register their email address.

So it would not be possible to contact absolutely everybody, only the people who have left their email address.

series_of_derps107 karma

Do you feel the project has succeeded? Would you ever listen to the melody for your enjoyment?

datadelivery281 karma

Though the melody project is complete, the full song is still a work in progress. It is a skeleton which still sounds quite mechanical as it does not yet have any variation in the gaps.

For example, here is a keyboard performance of the verse which sounds a lot more interesting than the main website.

So I think I will reserve my judgement until we produce a professional remix with lyrics and backing elements.

Mind10156 karma

Did you add the chord progression yourself after the notes were chosen by vote, or did you start off with that one chord and then people went with it?

The experiment is interesting and it would be cool if you could take the same approach and do it with different demographics of people - teenagers, listeners of classical music, metalheads, that sort of thing. Because as it sounds now it looks like your crowd enjoys cookie cutter 4 chord progression pop ballads the most.

datadelivery72 karma

The chord progression was pre-defined by myself before the melody began. I analysed a few popular songs but was mostly influenced by this video

A few days ago I released a new feature where you can pre-set your own song structure and then crowd-source the melody with your friends or a facebook group for example. Yes, I would be really interested in seeing what a group of professional musicians would be able to produce using this system.

TheSpiffySpaceman38 karma

From a technical perspective, what was the hardest part about this project? What did you learn from it?

datadelivery63 karma

Ensuring that the site stays up while it is being bombarded by massive amounts of traffic from sites such as Reddit :)

You have to be careful when aggregating data if you are expecting a lot of traffic.

Apart from that, the system itself was fairly straightforward - it's a simple idea really.

undergroundmonorail35 karma

How happy are you with how it turned out? It's a lot better than I expected it to be, tbh.

datadelivery28 karma

I am very happy with the result. It is a mixed bag of surprises. I don't think the song is the perfect melody but I think we have something which we can work with to have a good shot at producing a nice sounding song.

swahl33 karma

How did you choose the rhythm / length of each note? I feel if that had a little more variation, the result might have been better.

datadelivery43 karma

The length of each note was chosen by the crowd. The vote panel had each pitch as well as a "no note" placeholder if they preferred to have a pause. This article shows a screenshot of the panel.

So the gaps between the notes created by the crowd are left flexible as to what specific combination of ties / rests they form. This can be ad-libbed by the musician as the remixes come in.

I think if the chord structure varied some more in the conclusion section, there would have been more variety in the last half of the melody.

AnonymousChimpanzee30 karma

I think your site got reddit-hugged... would you mind posting a mirror of the results? :) Edit: The page loaded and revealed remixes, including this one, check it out if you don't want to wait for 5 min for the page to load. Edit2: This shows the melody a little bit more clearly.

datadelivery6 karma

I spent the last half an hour trying to resurrect the site. The stats page is what eats all the memory, so I have disabled those for now and that seems to have worked.

Right now it is number 9 on Reddit and this is the most insane amount of traffic that the site has ever received.

rcparts29 karma

How about crowd-sourcing the album cover pixel by pixel? :)

datadelivery13 karma

Well the melody took a year. I would hate to think how long that would take :)

7LPdWcaW21 karma

How come you didnt open source the code?

datadelivery23 karma

I am still open to open-sourcing the code - it is just something I have never done before (being from a Microsoft coding background). The code is written in C# but I guess that could be uploaded to GitHub.

embit15 karma

Why did I know it would be the Pachelbel chords before listening?

randopoit13 karma

Do you have data on your voters? Were many repeat voters?

datadelivery19 karma

Yes - the votes for every note are collated on the stats page.

You can also see the voter breakdown by country

Most of the voters were one-time only but hundreds voted multiple times.

d_line36243612 karma

Can you make one to create a drum rhythm for the song?

datadelivery15 karma

Yes, in theory every aspect of the song could be crowd-sourced.

My initial thinking was to put the core elements of the song in places (chords / melody / lyrics) and then leave the rest flexible to see what the artists of the world can come up with.

Maybe the drum ryhthm could be like a side-vote to give rough ideas for remixes rather than setting things in stone.

cool_hand_luke11 karma

Voting on music is how we all end up with shitty pop music pandering to the lowest common denominator.

How did this experiment effect your outlook on people's musical tastes in the aggrigate?

datadelivery9 karma

I hope I haven't created a monster - a method for a crowd to easily get what they want ;)

It was certainly frustrating at times during the repetitive sections when there was a crossroad for the crowd to break out into something more interesting...the averages kept bringing things back to the same course though.

illuminick11 karma

After the first 2 or 3 notes, did you ever think you might get crowd-trolled with the "The Promise"?

Because that's what my brain heard from the first few notes sounded.

datadelivery13 karma

Haha - Crowd trolling was always a big concern, so I used some methods which attempted to detect patterns of irregular voting.

So, there would have had to have been very technically sophisticated trolling in order to have an impact on the song.

R1pZone10 karma

What are you looking forward to do next?

datadelivery12 karma

I have a long list of ideas which I keep throwing into an ideas list. Some of those would be great fun to work on but it's a balancing act as I need to also work on less interesting projects which pay the bills.

Regarding, I am hoping that I can build it into a music writing platform which explores different algorithms for writing music. Perhaps it could eventually use AI techniques.

TheManStache8 karma

Am I missing something or is there no way to vote for the next word?!

datadelivery2 karma

Did the vote end up working for you?

You can either choose an existing word or add a new word if you think of a better one than what is in the list.

haveSomeIdeas5 karma

What voting system did you use? Did each person have only one vote and did you take the note that got the most votes ("first past the post", FPTP)? Or were voters allowed to rank the notes, or given multiple votes?

FPTP would tend to choose things like the no-note option because it differs a lot from all the other options. That is, only a small minority might prefer no-note, yet it might have more votes than any one of the notes. However, with a different voting system that result would probably be different: people could register the fact that they'd rather have some note than no note.

datadelivery3 karma

Yes, every person (locked down to an IP address and cookie) could have at most one vote per note.

For the first song I wanted to make it as simple and easy to understand as possible. So the majority voted vote was the one that was selected.

I had never thought of the benefits of FPTP - perhaps it is worth considering for the next song.

kiwijews4 karma

Did you name the melody Notey McNoteFace?

datadelivery7 karma

You joke but there have been many attempts to introduce "boaty" as a valid word in the lyrics. These requests have been continually rejected.

LeftLegCemetary4 karma

What software do you like most for composition?

datadelivery4 karma

Though I learnt a bit of piano and guitar when I was young, I haven't really been into music much for a long time. My background is more programming than music - though I did remember most of the theory concepts.

Many years ago, my friends used to talk about Cakewalk and that is the only music software I actually know the name of - is that still popular these days?

Rockky673 karma

Cakewalk (well now Sonar) is a really good interface for a programmer as you can write scripts in the CAL language to do all sorts of interesting things with MIDI events and the like.

datadelivery2 karma

Writing music with professional software like Cakewalk was something that I always really wanted to get but I never found the time for it unfortunately. Perhaps that fact was a subconscious influence on this project :)

xxAnge3 karma

Do you plan on making more songs, with different variables such as tempo, pitch, style, or anything of the sort?

datadelivery4 karma

Yes, I would like to do a song in a minor key next. Also, there are a few different things I could look at refining after learning a few things from this first song.

This week I actually launched a feature where anyone can crowd-source their own song - with this you can pre-define the sections, length, chords etc. and then get your friends or the public to crowd-source a part of it.

cerbric3 karma

Really interesting experiment, thanks for having an AMA. You mentioned that you are a digital nomad. How did you become one? How often do you move? What places do you visit? What was surprising about the lifestyle?

datadelivery6 karma

Thank you. Yeah, I already had about 15 years experience as a programmer. I lost all my savings in the financial crisis (2008) and I couldn't stand the thought of going back to an office again. I decided that I would rather scrape cash together near an exotic beach rather than spend years saving for a mortgage.

Then I started getting some small project work through to pay the bills. From there I started working on ideas which would bring in more sustainable income.

I like to stay in a place between 3 and 6 months at a time so that you are more than just a tourist and you start to really understand the culture etc.

I guess it surprised me that wherever you go in the world, it doesn't take long become you are comfortable with your new surroundings. An obscure culture becomes familiar quickly.

20Points3 karma

So it looks like, as I feel like I kind of expected, pentatonic patterns emerged the most often, with the B/F seemingly making far less frequent appearances than other notes.

Was the conclusion intended to be the length it was, or was that chosen by the crowd too? If it was already written to be that long, I feel that that might be a large part of why it became so repetitive.

datadelivery2 karma

Yeah - the conclusion structure was designed by me - a musical amateur :) The wisdom of the crowd would have done a better job I think.

My idea was to create a song length which was equal to the average pop song. Rather than specifying a coda, pre-chorus etc. I thought I would leave it fairly flexible to see what the crowd would come up with. My hope was that there would be more prior themes in the verse reproduced etc. but the crowd seemed to have that one descending theme locked into its hive-mind. Kind of similar to how Reddit can't shake its memes haha

beltenebros3 karma

You should check out rLoop's crowd sourced engineering project, largely comprised of redditors.

datadelivery3 karma

I've heard of you guys. You are involved with hyperloop right?

tidderwork2 karma

Have you considered posting the arrangements generated by other permutations of the input data? Like a song made from the lowest-voted notes, or the 2nd-highest voted notes, etc.

I'm really curious what those would sound like, compared to your final published result.

Also, how many ties were there for a given note? How did you handle tie-breakers?

datadelivery2 karma

It would be difficult to string together notes like that as they are all premised on the previous sequenced.

Similarly, however, I thought it would be incredible to allow participants to branch the melody at any point they dislike. This would immediately present to them the most voted for pattern in the new direction.

This concept would probably require a much larger amount of participants - however, it is something I would love to implement.

The crowd effectively had the power to choose the gaps between notes. It will be left up to the artist to choose the combination of ties / rests which a gap comprises.

Rendywithawhy2 karma

Are you going to put up a download for the song?

datadelivery3 karma

You can listen to the latest remixes here. This list should grow over the coming weeks / months.

It will probably be a while before a final official download is ready but I do plan to put one up eventually.

Cstanchfield2 karma

Why does it think "wish-ing for" is inappropriate at the current point in the song [lyrics]?

datadelivery2 karma

As this Ama is currently on the front page of Reddit, the lyrics project is receiving a huge amount of votes (so many that I am trying to prevent my server from crashing).

As there is such a high volume of users, many were incorrectly reporting that the word "for" was invalid. I can flag words as a "false negative" and have done so now, so that word is now applicable once again.

Dragonogon2 karma

Are you afraid that 4chan would show up and put horribly offensive stuff as the lyrics?

datadelivery2 karma

No. I have thought about this inevitable scenario and have measures in place to prevent any shenanigans. They have already mentioned a few times and talked about having a go at attacking it.

reversebottle2 karma

Did you ever consider allowing voters to vote to change the time signature?

Awesome project overall.

datadelivery2 karma

Well, I used 4/4 as it is one of the most common time signatures and I wanted to keep things as simple as possible.

In future, I will add the ability to change the signature in the write your own song page, which people can use as a base for crowd-sourcing their own melody.