Sputnik discussed the app with Drew Silverstein, the CEO and co-founder of Amper Music on the sidelines of the VIII International Forum for Innovation Development "Open Innovations" hosted by the Russian Skolkovo Innovation Centre between 21-23 October.
Sputnik: How did you come up with the idea of creating a portal that turns the process of creating music into a “one-click” mechanism?
Drew Silverstein: Before my co-founders and I started Amper, we were composers in LA and we wrote music for movies, TV shows and video games. We worked with a lot of directors and editors that would say: “We love working with you when we have time and budget to focus on music as an artistic part of what we’re doing,” but for a lot of the content we’re creating they would say that they have neither of those two ingredients, which often means they have to license pre-created music, stock music and production music.
And they would say they really don’t like that process because of the time it takes to search for the music, the legal and financial licensing issues, the lack of creativity, collaboration, uniqueness.
And they said: “Could you just write the music for us instead?” And, unfortunately, most of the time we had to say no because the economics of a boutique studio did not line up well with mass music licensing. What we said was that as composers, we were experts fundamentally at translating music into emotion, and emotion into music.
And we said: “What if we build a creative AI that gives you the same collaborative experience of working with us, but with a time and economic framework that you need?” Our partner said yes 5 years ago, and that was the cornel of the idea for where we stared to build what is now Amper.
Sputnik: You graduated from Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music, where you studied Music Composition. You have a classical musical education. But can people without a musical education, say amateurs, create music through your portal?
Drew Silverstein: So, it is actually specifically designed for people without special music education. In fact, all you need to know are the style of the music you want to create, the mood that you want to convey and the length of your music. Those three things are the only inputs you need to be able to create unique and professional music. What’s great about it is that even though you’re not required to give anything else, if you have more knowledge, you can share more input: the harmony, the rhythm, the instrumentation, the tempo, you can input those things as well; and you can use those things as creative feedback elements, but you’re not required to know this at all. So, if you are the least musical individual in the world, as long as you have a creative idea, you can turn that into music.
Sputnik: Will electronic music by a person with a musical education differ from the music of a person without it? If so, how? Would this be noticeable?
Drew Silverstein: Possibly. A person without musical education is probably going to use Amper, download the music as a complete track, and use that in their video as an example. A musician, an artist or a composer is probably going to make a piece of music, download the stems – download each instrument on its own audio track – and use those as ingredients in their own piece of music. So, rather than just taking an end piece of music and using it wholesale as a non-musical individual might do, an artist or a composer might take elements of what Amper creates and use those elements as ingredients in their own pieces of music.
Sputnik: For you, is Amper Music more a love of music or a successful business project that landed you a spot on the Forbes class of 2018 “30 Under 30” list for music?
Drew Silverstein: What I love about Amper is that out of almost 30 employees we have, almost every single person is a professional composer or musician. And then we all have our functional areas of expertise. Certainly, we are a business, so we have investors and we have to create a return; and we have to think on the business. But the reason why we do what we do is because we want to push the boundaries of creative expression; we want to enable anyone around the world to turn their idea into reality.
It’s very much a work of love and a passion project that we are lucky to roll into a business project and have a company. But the motivation for why we do what we do is very clearly our love of music, our love of creative expression and a keen desire to share that with everybody else.
Sputnik: You received an MBA from Columbia Business School. According to your experience, in your view, what is the key driver for a business project to succeed? Why has the Amper Music project succeeded?
Drew Silverstein: First of all, I think we’re on the path towards succeeding. But for the goals we have in mind, where we want to get, we are not there yet; we’re still work in progress. I think the key ingredients towards that, very clearly, are that you’ve got to be working on something that not only you heard of but that others care about, whether they want to pay for the thing, whether they just want to use it. If you’re opening a business, your business needs to serve somebody.
And the question is how what you do helps somebody else. And being able to answer that question very early on is very important because if it doesn’t help anybody else in any way, it’ll be hard to build a business around it; it could still be your hobby, but there’re obviously differences between a business and a hobby. A hobby is something you do for you, and a business is something you do for others. I think that’s a prerequisite.
The next thing you’re going to think of, which I tell to all entrepreneurs, is that once you have an idea, once you think there’s a business, there’s typically some set of assumptions that must be true in order for your business to work. And the most important thing to do is to try to validate those assumptions because you want to find out if you need A, B and C to all be correct. How quickly, how cheaply and how easily can you find out that’s the case? Because if A and B are correct but C is not, you want to know that now, and not in 5 years. And if you know that now, that’s okay because then you can try to adapt what you’re working on to work on those facts.
But a lot of times what we see is one of the biggest causes of businesses that don’t really get off the ground, even in there’s a lot of hard work and passion into it, is because the core assumptions and hypotheses were never validated. And if you don’t validate hypotheses like you should do with every major decision in life, you’re gambling; and you shouldn’t gamble with business.
Sputnik: Can technology completely replace a musician and classic instrumental music? Or this is just another creative tool?
Drew Silverstein: Yes and no. We think of two types of music, functional music and artistic music. Functional music is music that’s made and that’s valued for the use case, but not necessarily for the collaboration and creativity that goes into making it; it’s background music. And in those situations, AI music can be the end-to-end solution. You can allow any content creator to turn their idea into music and they’re done.
But then you’ve got artistic music. And artistic music is valued for the collaboration and creativity that goes into making it, much more so than just for its use case. One of the defining characteristics of the human race is that we value the process of making art together with other people, it’s part of who we are. And so, even though AI music is continuing to get better, it will never replace artistic music because the value is so different. The value of art is working with people and focusing on the human element of that art; and that’s something that, I think, will forever be in humans.
This is the same reason why, even though we all have cameras in our phones, most of the time for your wedding you want to hire a wedding photographer, because there’s an artistic element.
What you value is not the picture, but the artist behind the camera, the person who is manipulating the tool. And that’s why we might spend 99 cents for coffee in McDonalds and get caffeine because it’s functional; but then we might go to an artisan coffee shop and pay 10 dollars for the same coffee because we value the process, the artistry and humanity behind it.
For artistic music, Amper plays a role where it can be a tool that’s utilized by musicians, artists and composers because we already, as composers, use technology, whether it’s an acoustic piano or digital audio workstation, or prod tools, or a guitar, all these things are tools; Amper just happens to be a bleeding edge tool of the 21 century and something that’s very new. And the goal from an artistic perspective is to look at it and say how artists can leverage this new technology to express their creativity more clearly, more efficiently, more creatively, more effectively and perhaps more novelly than ever before.
Sputnik: By the way, do you play any musical instrument?
Drew Silverstein: I play the piano and the guitar. I love playing the piano and singing. I love 70s and 80s classic rock music, Jackson Browne, Chicago; I also love film scores. I typically play the piano to relax and calm down; I work really hard during the day, and music for me is a great outlet, which is nice. So I get to write songs and to play songs that other people compose, like classical music.