You can listen to the latest MBW podcast above, or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart etc. via this link.
Imagine being able to tell an app exactly the type of music you’d like to create – the key, the tempo, the genre, the sub-genre – and then that app just… making it for you.
Imagine recording yourself singing a verse and a chorus into your phone, uploading this vocal to a platform, and that platform wrapping an entire professional musical production around it, all in the style of your choosing.
And imagine the result sounding so polished, it could comfortably sit within Spotify‘s Today’s Top Hits.
Welcome to Soundful.
The artificial intelligence-driven platform, currently in beta, was founded and created by San Diego-based entrepreneur, Diaa El All.
To date, Soundful has raised somewhere around $4 million in seed funding – apparently from “leaders” of companies such as Disney and Microsoft. A fuller Series A round is expected to open soon.
Soundful promises that anyone using it can “make tracks at the speed of sound”.
AI music-generating platforms already exist, of course: Witness Jukedeck, acquired by TikTok for an undisclosed fee in 2019.
The Soundful difference, according to Diaa, is all in the algorithm – which, he claims, has been “taught musical theory”.
Indeed, Soundful’s website describes the platform thusly: “Soundful’s music-theory trained algorithms put studio-quality tracks in your hands so you can produce the next hot album, make a viral-worthy TikTok or YouTube sound, or amplify your gaming stream.”
Soundful’s Egypt-born, US-raised founder is optimistic about how his platform will help today’s billion-plus online content creators find music to use in their videos.
But he also suggests Soundful can inspire today’s music makers to move in interesting new creative directions.
This assertion is lent weight by the below video, from hit songwriter Kennedi (Britney Spears, Snoop Dogg, Demi Lovato), who has been working with Soundful as a tool to assist her in the studio.
With Soundful users not only able to create AI-constructed tracks at a click of a button – but also to download the stems of these tracks and import them into external production software – Kennedi says she sees the app as “almost as if a new instrument [has] been created”.
I remain somewhat more nervy about Soundful’s potential wider impact on the entertainment biz.
I can’t help wondering whether the ability for literally anyone to create studio-quality music at the touch of a button might have… well, just one or two tricky repercussions for the traditional music industry.
As I say on the podcast: “In short, I’m a bit scared of Soundful. And I’m utterly amazed by Soundful and its creator.”
Listen to the full podcast interview above, and/or read an edited and abridged version of MBW’s Q&A with Diaa El All below.
How is it that you have come to the point in your life where you’re launching an AI-driven music platform?
I was originally born and raised in Cairo, Egypt. My love of music started when I was three years old [when I] started playing piano.
I then went to the Royal Academy of London to get my first certificate in classical piano when I was 13 years old, then moved to the US, and I wanted to make a career out of music. So I studied and got my degree in sound engineering and music production.
“I got to work with Rockstar Games as a sound designer on GTA [Grand Theft Auto] San Andreas, if you remember it, and I also had a few records [released] on Interscope. then I went the route of DJ/artist/producer/touring/ghost producer.”
During that time, I got to work with Rockstar Games as a sound designer on GTA [Grand Theft Auto] San Andreas, if you remember it, and I also had a few records [released] on Interscope. Then I went the route of DJ/artist/producer/touring/ghost producer.
But I’m an entrepreneur at heart, so I exited the music industry and started a few ventures which led to Soundful today.
Are there any frustrations from your time in the music industry that have partly driven the creation of Soundful?
Absolutely: creativity blocks.
Starting projects, taking a long time, and never finishing them. Getting into ruts when you can’t get to finish an idea or start an idea. That all led to Soundful.
Last year, TIKTOK CLAIMED that there’s a massive commercial opportunity for music in terms of brands on its platform looking for quickly-licensed tracks for promotional videos. TikTok believes this opportunity can increase the size of the sync market by multiples. Soundful would be one answer to that kind of problem for brands. And that’s not even mentioning DIY content creators – all those people creating videos on YouTube, Twitch, TikTok etc. It seems to me there is a very vast commercial market opening up for you.
Absolutely. Technology has democratized creation, period.
Research papers show there are one billion creators [online] today – that includes podcasters, bloggers, music creators, artists, people trying to learn an instrument etc. And that’s forecasted to double by 2028.
So 2 billion creators. That’s a big market!
Okay, some devil’s advocate questions. You’ve created a platform that enables the musically illiterate – myself included – able to make professional-sounding tracks. you are a classically trained pianist; you probably still have calluses on your hands from sitting at the piano as a child long enough to become proficient on that instrument. Aren’t you threatening the sacred journey of learning an instrument and becoming an expert musician?
Absolutely not. What we’re doing at Soundful is democratizing music creation to the masses, in the same way that the phone has democratized video creation. That doesn’t take away from the professional photographers, etc. – it gives [photographers] an extra tool in their pocket, enabling them to capture something on the go if they don’t have their camera.
“What we’re doing at Soundful is democratizing music creation to the masses, in the same way that the phone has democratized video creation.”
It’s the same thing with music today. There hasn’t been a tool that enables everybody – those billion creators – to go and create studio quality music at the touch of a button. And [it’s also something that] empowers the next generation of artists.
That’s all true and understandable. At the same time, before this interview you were adding top-line vocals from artists to the platform, and Soundful’s AI was wrapping entire, mastered productions around those vocals in your chosen style. And the tracks being produced were – to my ear – professional quality. Is that not terrifying news for human producers?
I really don’t think so. Coming from my background as a producer, if there was a tool [in the past] that enabled me to create [a full track], at speed, and enabled me to export whole stem files – MIDI and WAV – and put them into Logic or Pro Tools, and get a project started?
Or [if I was] going into a studio session, not being able to find the right song to work with an artist, and just having access to a tool like Soundful – just to get me from point A to point B, in a few seconds?
I mean, I would have been in a different place. I might not have started Soundful today!
For us, this is like creating a new instrument. It’s just an instrument that enables me to create something that I wasn’t able to create before, at a speed that I wasn’t able to do before.
– You can listen to the latest MBW podcast above, or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart etc. via this link –
What about rights? Here’s a scenario: I’m a Twitch or a TikTok video creator. I go on Soundful, I click the right buttons, I set my parameters and the AI creates an original piece of music. I love that piece of music, so I download it, I put some vocals over the top. I upload the finished product via TuneCore to Spotify etc. And the next day I have 10 million streams globally. Who’s getting the money from those streams?
Any user [of Soundful], even a free subscriber, has the rights to use the music royalty-free for personal use.
So we’re empowering creators to actually own their own IP in music, which has never been done before.
And to be honest with you, it’s been a struggle for a lot of creators – and even like bigger companies like TikTok – battling with music getting taken down, or videos getting taken down [for copyright infringement].
This is a solution for that side of the equation.
I completely understand that and as I said before, I think there’s a ridiculously huge creator market ahead of you. But in my specific example, Spotify wants to pay all these royalties out for 10 million streams of my amazing Soundful track. Where do they go? Who gets them?
In that case, if the user wants to actually own the copyright, they’re able to enter an exclusive deal with Soundful to take it a step further.
They’re able, for a very minimal fee, to purchase the copyright for the track, and then they’re able to monetize it.
One of the amazing things about Soundful – I don’t know if this part of the technology is fully there yet, but it will be – is that I can be at home and come up with a vocal line. I can then record it without any instrumentation, I can upload it to Soundful, and it will wrap sonics, an entire musical production, around my vocals. my question is, if Soundful does that, creates essentially the entire track around my vocals, I can then own the copyright to this piece of music via one simple transaction?
Absolutely. With no questions. Yes.
This is this anathema to the music industry. This is the opposite of what any label would ever do in history! You’re saying, ‘Have the copyright – we’re not going to participate in the copyright world at all’?!
As of now, no [we’re not participating in the copyright ownership]. We’re all about empowering the next generation of creators, and this current generation of creators.
One part of this that sticks out to me, a reason for us to tackle this problem, is songwriters. Songwriters have been getting the short end of the stick in the music industry for a long time. And the reason for that, for many of them, is that they’re not able to produce.
So they write down lyrics [and the bones of a song] using a guitar or a piano, then they send it to the producer or the artist. Then that producer creates a new track, and then the artist releases it. And the songwriter only shares on the publishing, not on the master.
“One part of this that sticks out to me, a reason for us to tackle this problem, is songwriters.”
But now let’s flip it around. Now a songwriter writes something and then uploads it to Soundful – building a track around his vocals or her vocals – and from there they download the full stem files and send [them] to the producer.
From there, the producer can in some cases be like: ‘Hey, I don’t like it at all, I’m just going to use the top line [melody].’ And that’s going to fall into the same model [as the way things work today].
But in a lot [of cases], probably 80% or 90%, the producer will start using certain elements from that [Soundful-produced] song and will build on it.
And [as a result, because Soundful gave the original creator copyright ownership], that songwriter will have participation on the master.
How have you created an AI music platform that appears, to me at least, to be more sophisticated than other platforms in the marketplace?
In the beginning I wanted to empower [artists] and create an assistive tool for music production: studio quality, at scale, in a very short period of time.
Today, a user would log into the platform, select a template, select very minimal parameters – BPM, and the key – and click Create, and in three to five seconds, it gives them the preview of the track.
If they like it, they save it and then they go in and download it. When you download it, Soundful renders and then it mixes and masters that track.
“I was like: can we teach the machine music theory? So it writes chord progressions, melodies and basslines based on music theory? And we were able to achieve that.”
But how does Soundful create the tracks? First, we wanted to deconstruct the music producer’s brain and follow the same building blocks that a producer [uses to] produce today.
So going back to my background [as a musician and producer], I was like: can we teach the machine music theory? So it writes chord progressions, melodies and basslines based on music theory? And we were able to achieve that – which a lot of different companies out in the [AI music] space does as well.
“The beauty of Soundful is we’re not really using loops in the back end: we’re using one-shot samples and real instruments that have been sampled specifically for Soundful through our sound designers.”
From there, we built our sound libraries. And the beauty of Soundful is we’re not really using loops in the back end: we’re using one-shot samples and real instruments that have been sampled specifically for Soundful through our sound designers.
And from there we started working on crafting: how the producer mixes, how the producer masters, how did they assemble the arrangement, different types of arrangement for different genres.
And we bottled all of that under the template. That’s how we were able to achieve what Soundful produces today.
I completely get that for an a&r person or producer, Soundful can be useful: ‘Can we try this as tropical house? Can we try this as EDM? Can we try this as trap?’ I can’t believe, though – knowing that MOORE’S LAW means this tech is just going to get better and better – That eventually, we’re not going to have 100% soundful tracks (or ‘self-produced’ soundful tracks from indie artists) in the charts, globally.
I can’t confirm or deny whether that will happen. In my opinion, it can possibly be the case.
But again, if [a track has] charted, it’s not just because of the instrumental [made by Soundful] – it’s because of the craft of the person: the songwriter, or even the producer that just finished the final touches on the mixing or mastering. And then of course the vocalist that created the melody on top.
How’s your relationship with the major record companies at this point in time? Is it collaborative, or are they bringing pitchforks to the office?
Erm, so far, I’d say 99% [of Soundful’s dealings] have been great interactions. I’ve met with some of the biggest and most influential music executives in the world, and they’ve all loved Soundful; they’re fascinated about what it’s going to do to the industry, especially in terms of helping their A&R teams.
As you know, we’ve done a few projects I unfortunately can’t [talk about] with some major labels where they’ve sent us certain acapellas from artists. And we’ve been able to do three, four or five different variations of those tracks.
“I’ve met with some of the biggest and most influential music executives in the world, and they’ve all loved Soundful; they love the idea and they are fascinated about what it’s going to do to the industry, especially in terms of helping their A&R teams.”
And when the [label] got [those tracks back] they were like, ‘Oh, I didn’t even think or imagine that [this track] could be a tropical house [production].’
What Soundful does there is open up the imagination.
I can see a day when you’re going to be entertaining multiple big money acquisition offers. In the end, what kind of company and/or investors does soundful want to be in business with?
Soundful’s mission is to empower every creator out there.
I will stand by my word: I will not sell to or ‘get into bed’ with any company that will try to make this technology proprietary or try to take it and [exclusively] empower their own individuals and empower their own people.
This is about mass adoption. This is about empowering everybody to create music. Soundful is a tool for everybody to listen and create.
“I will stand by my word: I will not sell to or ‘get into bed’ with any company that will try to make this technology proprietary to them or try to take it and [exclusively] empower their own individuals and empower their own people.”
I am not going to sell to – or take investment from – parties that will try to steer me away from [that mission] just to benefit a specific group of people.
Soundful is here to empower the creator economy, period.
I have a lot of cognitive dissonance going on because on the one hand, the technology is brilliant. On the other hand, I see a day when technology that may be Soundful, or other technology that comes up in parallel with Soundful, is going to flood the world with music – and that’s going to cause the music industry problems! I completely understand that Soundful can inspire songwriters and producers, but at the same time, I think it’s a challenge to them. So I guess my final question is: why should the music industry – artists and producers included – not be scared of Soundful?
The music industry is split into two parts: creation and consumption. As you know, consumption has been disrupted in the past two decades by Napster, then Steve Jobs, then SoundCloud, and then Spotify democratized that consumption space.
However, the creation part is still a legacy product: yes, we’ve advanced from [needing] multimillion dollar recording studios to now being able to just produce on your laptop. But I would like to think of Soundful as a new instrument that’s been created.
Think of when the synthesizers were developed, and everybody on the orchestral side was like, ‘No, we don’t want it! It’s going to take our jobs away! What do you mean it’s going to replace me playing the violin?’
But [in the end] synthesizers added, in certain cases, to the orchestral [music], and created new jobs for people that were not able to play in an orchestra. It enabled creativity.
It’s the same thing with the drum machine. When the drum machine came out, it was always: ‘We don’t want it! What is this? What are you doing?’ Until Prince started using one, and then it started becoming the norm.
“One of my investors told me a very great [allegory] about Soundful. He said it’s like going from typewriters to Word documents.”
Today, we’re surrounded by AI – computers, phones, everything is machine learning. That machine learning doesn’t take away from you; it actually empowers your humanity.
[Humans] leverage the technology and make it work for our benefit.
One of my investors told me a very great [allegory] about Soundful. He said it’s like going from typewriters to Word documents.
Back in the day, there were hundreds of different people sitting in an office typing on the typewriter, and checking grammar. But when Microsoft Word came along… it democratized that product. It gave it to everyone.
Now you don’t have to just write everything on a typewriter; [tools like word processing and grammar checking etc.] are available for everybody.
I look at Soundful the same way: Why would we just keep [this technology exclusive] to us, when we can empower the next generation and the current generation of people?
I take your point. I am pleased and proud every day to run a business at MBW that’s built on words. we get to use the tech you mentioned – Microsoft Word, Google Docs. Another more recent example is Grammarly – we don’t use that yet, but people say it’s amazing (and built by Ukrainian geniuses). But what those apps and platforms don’t do is they don’t write the actual articles for us.
But that’s the human element. That’s the human touch. That’s why I read your columns. That’s why other people are following you – the human element.
The computer simply enabled you to be able to write and publish right away.
It’s the same thing in music with Soundful.
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