Leveraging Music To Make An Impact

Read on Medium

Dec 4, 2017 | Music | Artificial Intelligence | 9 min read

“Without music, life would be a mistake” – Friedrich Nietzsche

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything” – Plato

“Music is the shorthand of emotion” – Leo Tolstoy

Music’s Primitive Roots

I think it’s pretty fair to say life without music would cease to exist. There’s an innate connection to music that begins within the third trimester of pregnancy. During this stage, as a fetus, the neocortex develops and begins learning. As it grows and develops, the natal brain morphs into a human brain. The process of learning, regardless of the stage, is achieved through experiences. At this time, in the womb, the experiences are limited to things such as hearing sounds, predominantly the mother’s heartbeat. The rhythmic qualities of the heartbeat is what makes music universal to human civilizations.

It’s no surprise music beats are deeply rooted and connected to our primitive life, especially as it pertains to our emotional state. Understanding emotions is beyond the scope of this article, but through such a powerful medium, music harnesses myriad possibilities to change the world. In my experience, I’ve witnessed three distinct ways in which music garners innovation, moves mountains, and creates game-changing movements.

Music’s Power to Connect

One of the most profound ways music can change the world is due to its ability to connect. It’s the ability to bridge the gap and not only connect across human civilizations but unite them as well. Because the language of music is universal, no translation is necessary, and everyone can understand. So not only does it provide a channel for all to love, but it also, in a way, removes stereotypes. A quiet librarian and a “biker dude” can easily share an appreciation to Mozart, Chopin, and Beethoven’s romantic yet somber sounds. A father and a young teenager may have nothing in common but the love for the classics by Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the likes. A straight-A student can find similarities with their antithetical rebellious classmates through underground rap. A music snob, like myself, can claim to loathe the radio because it’s “crap” yet is found singing along to the catchy tunes. It can and does bond two completely different types of people together.

And this bond, like the synaptic connections between our neurons, drives movements. Many celebrities use their influence to help a cause, but many don’t get the recognition they deserve. I first stumbled upon Chris Leamy through my usual procrastination habits of browsing the web when the Adderall has subsided, and my brain has reached its 40%. And naturally, when I find an artist I love, I virtually stalk the crap out of them. It was through this that I heard his story.

Having battled OCD, Chris, a Wall Street banker, found a connection with the often neglected and dismissed homeless. Initially, his strategy was to test new music, but now, he actively plays music to provide not only a direct financial contribution but also to raise awareness. Through his #HePlaysForMe campaign, Chris has raised over $20,000 for the homeless.


“I’ve learned so much from the homeless population. And you know, I feel very lucky.” – Chris Leamy

To say it’s admirable is not enough. There’s a valuable lesson here, and I’m a HUGE advocate for standing on the shoulders of giants. I’ve never really looked at the homeless in any specific way. Many people have a misinterpretation in that all, or even most homeless, are addicts of sorts who made poor decisions in life. I never really viewed them that way. There are so many success stories originating in such rock bottom (Chris Gardner, Michael Oher, Charlie Chaplin, Drew Carey, Tony Robbins, DJ Khaled, John Paul DeJoria, I can keep going). It almost seems you have to be homeless to be successful.

The point I’m making is that success, though many factors go into it, is primarily derived from perseverance. As an entrepreneur, I can’t count the number of bad days I’ve had, but I can confirm they outnumber the good days by far. And the only thing that keeps me going each day despite the hardships, setbacks, and failures is because I f*cking love it. The grit, passion, dedication, whatever you want to call it, but the ability to keep at it day in, day out with utmost enthusiasm despite circumstantial events, is the greatest gift on the planet. And like the nylon in our smart shirt, resilience can be seen throughout the homeless community and is depicted in Leamy’s latest song, “Hold Ground.”

I’ve always been told I’m a kid at heart, whatever that means. But I’ve also been told I have an old soul, whatever the heck that means. I’m a contradiction. In reality, it’s just that I can connect to people. I’m a “kid at heart,” probably because I have four nieces and nephews, coach gymnastics and at times wallow in nostalgia for the years where catching cooties was the biggest worry and climbing trees was a daily activity. I love spending time with kids for two main reasons. First, they have a knack for simplifying things. Life is pretty damn simple. It’s not easy, but it’s simple. And the second, they remind me not to take life too seriously.

And yet, I’m an “old soul.” Probably because I have mad respect for my elders, regardless of the age difference, they have lived through more experiences and have more insight – I don’t know why more people don’t leverage the people around them more often! You never really know who can teach you something valuable.

Music & Technological Creativity

The second way in which music brings about massive disruptive lies in the weaving of technology and creativity. Having partnered with IBM, Alex Da Kid found a way to incorporate Watson for a social movement.

What is Watson?

As a startup junkie and a complete nerd in general, I first got my experience with Watson while studying Android Development. Watson is an IBM supercomputer that takes in large sets of data and spits out an answer to the question posed. It’s artificial intelligence at its core. Watson understands a variety of data formats, including text, images, video, and audio. It is an integral part of many different facets of our life, but in the realm of music, Watson arms artists with the tools they need to spark inspiration they wouldn’t usually have been able to see. Whether AI is creative or not has been a long-recognized debate in the community, but regardless of your stance, there’s no denying its massive potential to be. It’s a subjective matter but no longer exclusively limited to humans. Artificial intelligence is modeled from our neocortex. Deep Learning, a subset of AI, is a process in which original ideas formulate through randomness. Watson’s unique ability to turn data into emotional insight is a huge testament to the future of artificial intelligence, and Alex Da Kid is the perfect producer to have used this tool.

Searching for Inspiration

Any professional who’s deeply immersed in their work very rarely remove themselves from it in order to see a different point of view or to get a spark of creativity. But now, living in a cognitive era, AI’s like Watson provide a more efficient solution. Watson has a suite of open APIs available to the public. Alex Da Kid used Watson’s AlchemyLanguage API to analyze five years of natural language texts to learn the most significant cultural themes. Then, Watson Tone Analyzer read news articles, blogs, and tweets to discover what people feel about these cultural themes. It also read lyrics of over 26,000 Billboard Hit 100 songs. Cognitive Color Design Tool was used to analyze album art, and Watson Beat was used to look at the composition of those songs to find patterns between various keys, chord progressions, and genres.

Having found the inspiration and understanding of the emotions, Alex Da Kid used this cognitive collaboration to depict the “heartbreak” we all have experienced.

Combined with such diverse artists – X Ambassadors, Elle King and Wiz Khalifa, this hits all the feels.

And then, there are startups aimed at disrupting the space – applying artificial intelligence to democratize music creation. I first met the guys behind Amper – an artificial intelligence composer, performer, and producer – a few years back at a tech event in Manhattan. When they presented Amper, I was immediately skeptical but naturally inquisitive, so I had to try it out.

For someone who is musically inept, it’s a great tool to create and customize music. And the interface is pretty seamless. To begin, you choose from either a “Simple” or “Pro” version; select your style (from Hip Hop, Cinematic, Classic Rock, Modern Folk, and 90’s Pop); choose your mood (I chose “Uplifting Atmospheric”); select your desired music length and voila!

How exactly is it AI?

Like any AI, it lives on data. The team behind Amper are all musicians or audio professionals and have built their database by manually recording each and every single note. If that sounds tediously exhausting, that’s because it probably is. But when there’s a dream, you do whatever it takes. Although their algorithm is hush, I would imagine it’s a machine learning algorithm with a lot of human manipulation, adjustment, and intervention at each adjustable parameter. In fact, Taryn Southern confirmed there was a lot of back and forth with Amper to create an entire song on the platform.

It’s definitely not to say this isn’t a massive milestone for creative AI. And to move forward, deep learning, a subfield of machine learning, would need to be applied if it isn’t already. Image recognition is one form of applied deep learning and can serve as a prelude to the creation of visual art. Pierre Barreau, CEO of Aiva Technologies, thinks visual art will be the easiest type of art because it’s easier to attach meaning to something abstract like art as opposed to a piece of music. We’ve already seen poems from AI pass the Turing test, AI art that’s been scored higher than art made by humans, and now it’s creating music, so for anyone that thinks AI can’t be creative, I’d like to challenge their thinking.

Amper is an excellent tool for amateur filmmakers or marketing gurus as it’s affordable and doesn’t require any licensing fee. But it still seems like there are some limitations for full-blown musicians.

Music Fueling Entrepreneurs

We’ve now seen music’s ability to promote social goodness and drive technological advancements. The third lies in its ability to fuel entrepreneurial greatness. I’d be remiss to say music equates to entrepreneurship success, but I’d also be benighted to discount it. In fact, there have been studies that show music has a direct correlation to success; it serves as a source of creativity</>, shown to improve cognition, enhance learning and improve memory.

Have you ever heard a song that just changes your mood infinitely degrees?

There’s a reason behind it. You’re not going to be listening to metal rock to fall asleep. You’re not going to listen to classical music when training for a marathon. Music takes you into a numinous world of infinite feelings. It’s an experience that invokes fear and fascination. Challenges and successes. Enigma yet familiarity. It’s invasive but inviting at the same time. Listening to music is like opia; no words could begin to describe it. It’s a sense of being overwhelmed and inspired at the same time.

These contradictory emotions are extremely powerful. And when an entrepreneur channels it, the outcome can reap unprecedented changes. The definition of an entrepreneur itself is debatable. But an entrepreneur is anybody who risks it all to leave the scripted life society invokes upon us and successfully manages to do so. Anybody who sees what they want and finds a way to get it is an entrepreneur. And we all know how damn difficult it is. As they said, if it were easy, everyone would do it. The daily challenges alone conjure scads of panic attacks, and the weekly doubts steer you away from your dreams. But the one thing I’ve learned in my entrepreneurial journey is to rid of all of that noise. Challenges and problems should be embraced, not feared. Doubts must be trumped with affirmative beliefs. That’s the only way to succeed. Because if you set out to accomplish something, you’ll do whatever it takes to get there – which is how I’ve used music to refrain from feeling deflated. The moment I feel defeated, I put on one of the many songs below and listen to it repeatedly until I’m out of my momentarily lapse of confidence.

How can you not be pumped when listening to this? Some more of my favorites include “Legendary” by Welshly Arms.

This song screams entrepreneurship. It was originally inspired by Lebron James – I’m a Warriors fan so not too enthused about that detail but regardless – hard work is admirable.

“He always goes hard. That idea extends to music. The six of us leave everything on the court. we ignore the doubters, naysayers, and obstackles and just keep fighting”

And of course, the best one of them all….

And ultimately, that’s the key to success. F*ck the noise that doesn’t make you dance. Channel the ones that do.