Workflow Enabling Tools

Day 362 Week 53 Q4  Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Occasionally reality almost catches up with hype!

Technology is incredible a lot of the time. Having spent a decade in college studying physics and engineering, I drank the Kool-Aid long ago. Over the years, a number of potentially astonishing breakthroughs have been just around the corner, like voice recognition, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. I have heard this for forty years and have gone on innumerable wild goose chases in pursuit of the highly touted benefits marketers have been screaming from the rooftops.

Hate to break the news to some of you, but word processing never did replace executive assistants. I know many billions have been made promising and promoting that computers could do a better job than people. And sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. There is no doubt that spreadsheets are awesome “what If” machines, and I could not imagine attempting to run a business without them.

In my corner of the universe, music creation tools are essential, and there is no doubt that DAWs digital audio workstations blow away analog tape decks in terms of powerful manipulation capability. On the other hand, if you want to record live music with your bandmates to work on creating a song together, the lowly Portastudio of yesteryear was far faster and more convenient if you could actually play an instrument. Now it is true that technology can make non-players sound awesome. For example, if you can not play in time or in tune, there are many correction tools available. In fact, they are so ubiquitous that running music through these “improvement” processes has become the norm for many genres.

Music composition is the corner of the world that occupies much of my attention these days. The ability to write music in the form of a score so that it can be accurately communicated with other professional musicians has been radically improved. However, it, too, remains a bit beyond the loud claims of software companies. The dream that you could play a musical instrument and have a computer listen and then get a usable score is still not nearly true.  

To be fair, most musicians, including me, cannot accurately transcribe the music we hear or improvise either. Some can, and I envy their ability. In fact, in the forty years, I have been waiting for the hype to become a reality, I could have invested the time to learn this skill many times. But being a true believer in technology, I keep thinking it was right around the corner, so being lazy, I never invested the effort.

But this morning, I experienced a piece of software listening to me playing the guitar and, in real-time displaying chord changes on my laptop. Furthermore, it was able to convert the sound file it recorded into midi, which I was able to export into Sibelius, one of the top-of-the-line scoring programs. 

It took me a few hours to overcome the lack of documentation and free version limitations, but eventually, for the modest price of $5 per month, I could get some results worth having. Is this actually worth paying for a subscription? I can not tell yet because the software is so unintuitive, poorly documented, and basically unprofessional. But I hear many of you early adopters saying. “So what else is new? It always begins this way, and sometimes even eventually works”. And I concur as a bleeding edge consumer and previous creator of technologies; I know the drill.

Still, there is the promise, and I likely hang in there for some more time, even if it is an inefficient use of my time because of the promise.

For those of you who play, improvise, and noodle, Chord AI may turn out to be an incredibly useful tool. But do not expect to be able to tell immediately.

The hype still exceeds the reality by a good deal, but this does not mean these evolving tools do not deserve a place in your workflow. You just have to dig some and adjust some and not be too upset when these tools do not work as you imagined they should. 

Be flexible and understanding of these fledglings who think they are already birds able to fly. They fall down a lot, but I, for one, am willing to vote with my wallet to support their efforts. Just do not ever expect to come away, saving a lot of time before you invest a lot of time.