Ujam, making the music of tomorrow

One of the most remarkable things about the Web is the impact that it has had on music. Not only has the Web been responsible for demolishing the business models of the big music labels (currently Sony Music Entertainment, EMI Group, Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group) but it has also made it possible for more people to explore, discuss, and share (and pirate) more music than they would have otherwise ever been able to hear. The Web has increased not only the reach of the consumer but also weakened the hold of the Big Music.

Accompanying the impact of the Web on music has been the explosion of digital tools making it cheaper and easier for amateur musicians to create music. Just consider the astounding power of music composition systems such as Sony's Acid product line and Zoom's R16 multi-track digital recorder which bring professional level tools down to consumer pricing.

All of these factors conspire to democratize music, making creation, editing, packaging, distribution, and promotion things that anyone can do easily. And the next big transformative force for music will also be driven by the Web.

This new force is all about music creation tools that are being offered as free or low-priced Web-based services. These will provide simplified and assisted music composition features to the point where rank amateurs can produce good, or, at least, reasonably good, music.

A great example of this direction is the recently released public beta version of the Ujam service. Proclaiming itself "cloud-based" (and who isn't these days?), Ujam provides a Flash-based Web application to create musical content.

You start with either an uploaded recording of a melody or you can play or humming a tune. Uploading a recording is OK except you can't do much with it … it stays as a sound sample.

On the other hand, if you record someone humming or playing an instrument from your PC's microphone, Ujam will translate the notes it picks out of the audio into a score and render it as the sound of a musical instrument such as a piano, alto sax or a guitar.

You can edit the score to fix mis-recognized notes or change the melody (currently, you can't hear the notes you're editing unless you're in playback mode; being able to click on a note and hear it would be a huge improvement) and, when you're happy with the tune, you can change the instrument, select a style (which adds various backing and supporting instruments), edit the song form (this assigns style sections that modify the backing), change tempo, and edit the cords used.

A really cool part of the interface is its ability to identify and warn you when you change the pitch of a note or use a chord that doesn't "fit" the composition.

When you're satisfied with your composition you can save it and, if you wish, share it on Facebook, upload to SoundCloud, publish it on Ujam, or download it as an MP3 file.

When you're starting out with Ujam the results can be disappointing but with a little effort, you can generate some remarkably good music. One of the things Ujam is particularly good for is playing with melodies … the transcription of humming to a score is pretty cool.

The key thing about Ujam is that it is a work in progress. There are many aspects of editing your composition that could be streamlined and enhanced (the ability to duplicate, extend, or move a section is desperately needed) but even so, this is a remarkable and powerful concept.

You can also see where this service might go … premium enhancements, extra storage, offering loops and sound samples for purchase, packaging and distribution of user’s works, and merchandising are all huge opportunities for Ujam.

I have high hopes for Ujam but now you'll have to excuse me: I have a chill out groove I'm working on and I think it's going to be a hit.

Learn more about this topic

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