In case you have been living on Mars for the past year and have just come back to Earth, you might have heard that Microsoft is really big into AI. Bing Chat, Windows Copilot, Bing Image Creator, and more have been examples of Microsoft's trend of using generative AI to do repetitive tasks that free people up to do other things with their time.
However, over a decade ago, Microsoft released an app that was supposed to help singers and song lyric writers from having to come up with their own music. It's called Microsoft Songsmith, and believe or not, it's still around, but in a limited capacity.
Songsmith came out of Microsoft Research and launched in early 2009. It was mainly developed by two team members, Sumit Basu and Dan Morris, both of which were also musicians. Basically, you ran the app on your PC, then you sing into a connected microphone. You can sing any lyric, and Songsmith would generate "original" music automatically based on your lyrics and song style.
Morris talked about the main idea behind the app in a Microsoft Research blog post:
The goal is to give somebody who doesn’t know anything about chords or music theory a way to make something that is authentically musical, more than good enough to make a cute birthday card for Mom or a Valentine’s Day love song. That’s the core functionality of the application, to give you a taste of songwriting.
The app will let users pick a song style ahead of time (Rock, Reggae, R&B, etc) and you can customize the tempo of the music it creates as well. Then you just start singing your song, and the music is created on the fly.
Songsmith also has a number of sliders in its app that allow you to change the music. If you really are a skilled musician, the app offers more advanced options to adjust, like edit or type in your own chords, or you can even play your instrument into the app.
Microsoft Research launched Songsmith around the time of CES in 2009. It also created a promotional video to show it off and, well, it's more than a little cringe-worthy. That's perhaps because it was made by Microsoft Research and not a real ad agency.
Indeed, both of Songsmith's co-creators are in the clip. Dan Morris is the dad amazed by her daughter's new app, and Sumit Basu is one of the employees at the ad agency later in the video who remarks, "Microsoft, huh. So it's pretty easy to use?"
Microsoft Songsmith was not just a research project for the company. Microsoft actually sold it online for $29.99. However, that didn't last very long. However, the program is still around and Microsoft even says that it will work with Windows 11.
The bad news is that Songsmith is only available for everyone as a limited free trial. For some unknown reason, the full version is now only available for teachers to access and use.
Honestly, if Microsoft is releasing products like Bing Image Creator, which makes art from a few text prompts, perhaps it could also look at giving Songsmith a reboot as well. It certainly fits in with the company's current stance of trying to make working easier for all types of jobs.
Also, the use of Songsmith honestly reminds us of musicals where people just start singing for no apparent reason and the music just starts up automatically in the background as well. Yes, we are indeed referencing the recent Star Trek: Strange New Worlds musical episode, but any movie, TV show, or stage musical will do.