The line that divides human and machine is being realigned and reimagined. In 2016 Facebook launched its chatbots feature and opened up Messenger to the minds of developers. Since then, over 100,000 bots have been made active, with the spectrum of ideas and possibilities seemingly expanding with no end in sight. And these ideas can be shared with anyone; the first marketplace for free chatbot templates was launched by Snatchbot this year. Music has become part of the twenty-first-century chatbot evolution, as an unavoidable consequence of developers’ desires to create a computer programme that will mimic human intelligence, and creativity. Music has transcended time as a feature of societies throughout tens of centuries of history. Its footprint is prehistoric and sacred, with each groove representing a certain style and fashion. Music is also imitable and exemplary — as Frank Zappa once said, “all the good music has already been written by people with wigs and stuff’’. In the future, music might be written by programmes with faces and stuff, but whether or not it will be good is another matter. Right now, it seems like bots are being designed to cater to the needs of users in a very similar fashion to music producers and music journalists. I write this with no hint of alarm, and you shouldn’t feel any either. The careers of producers and journalists are not being encroached on and are quite secure from any bot ‘take over’, at least for the foreseeable future — which nobody can see beyond. As a journalist with a possible stake in the future of computer programmes with spontaneity, I took a look at the current state of music bots.
A music journalist is only worth their stripes if they have their finger on the pulse of the industry every day. As much as is humanly possible is how the saying goes. Unfortunately, humans have limits and other demands on their time, which even the most dedicated journalist cannot avoid. This is where chatbots have an edge — they never sleep and they have unlimited time on their hands to respond to their audience. One of the things that chatbots are doing that overlaps with a music journalist’s roles, is providing music news and updates. Those questions that music lovers might have in their heads, such as ‘are Depeche Mode releasing any new music?’ (yes, they released a new album this year), or ‘what are the new releases by my favourite artist?’ would normally direct people towards a music blog or publication. An alternative now exists, as a chatbot called Record Bird. This bot will tailor information about new and upcoming music to your tastes. Its fairly new, but has a 4.2 rating on the Play store, and it’s a name that keeps cropping up in articles.
MTV News has their own chatbot on Messenger, which includes celebrity news on top of the music content. The MTV Facebook page has several million likes, but it is unclear how well their chatbot has been received. Hi Karl is a chatbot that lets you know what gigs are happening around you, but it is limited to the US. Its avatar appears to be modelled on the world famous house DJ Carl Cox, who certainly knows how to party. Songkick is another Messenger bot which offers concert listings as well as ticket purchasing services. Being a database of concerts and gigs is part of the dream of us music journalists, which means I am a little jealous of this programme’s encyclopedic ‘brain’. However, not being involved in an ongoing lawsuit with the biggest ticket-selling business in the industry makes this pill easier to swallow.
These bots are instant, easy to use, and are not restricted to weekly or daily updates on a blog. These are the facts of what they are. What they really mean for journalists will be discussed later.