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Elton John in 1974. Photo: SSPL/Getty Images

Every year, it becomes less and less likely that a human being composed the upbeat jingle you just heard in the background of a video.

What's happening: Simple online tools have turned music generation into a matter of a dozen clicks, and can crank out pleasant if somewhat boring background music in a few seconds. These algorithmically generated ditties end up in product videos, news clips and occasionally even on musicians' albums.

  • They may soon proliferate on streaming services like Spotify, which are angling to soundtrack every moment of the day.
  • Atmospheric songs can be tuned to match a mood and be generated on the spot for listeners, or spit out en masse ahead of time for streamers to choose from.

The big picture: Computer-composed music has been around for few years, mostly in novelty form. But there are increasing signs that music companies are taking it seriously.

  • In 2017, Spotify hired François Pachet, a computer scientist and composer. Last January, he published an album of computer-generated music.
  • Tencent's popular QQ Music streaming service announced this week that it's a customer of Amper, a company that builds music-generation software.

Amper's CEO, Drew Silverstein, wouldn't tell me what exactly QQ plans to do with the software, but he offered a few hints. "How do we have the best type of music situated for our day based on what we want to do?" he asked. "Amper can create individualized music on a global scale."

How it works: Earlier this week, I watched as Zachary Shuster, an Amper product manager, created a video soundtrack with Amper's tool.

  • He uploaded a short video clip and marked on a timeline where he wanted the music to intro, climax, and outro.
  • From among several genres — cinematic, folk, hip-hop, rock — he picked "documentary," and then chose "relaxed" and "happy" from an array of moods.
  • Then, he lined up a couple instruments — marimbas and shakers for a tropical vibe — and hit the go button. Within seconds, the software had generated five tracks.

Our take: The end result won't win a Grammy, but it got the job done. A casual listener wouldn't know it wasn't composed or performed by people.

Go deeper

44 mins ago - Health

Standardized testing becomes another pandemic victim

Photo: Edmund D. Fountain for The Washington Post via Getty

National standardized reading and math tests have been pushed from next year to 2022, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: There’s mounting national evidence that students are suffering major setbacks this year, with a surge in the number of failing grades.

1 hour ago - World

European countries extend lockdowns

A medical worker takes a COVID-19 throat swab sample at the Berlin-Brandenburg Airport. Photo by Maja Hitij via Getty

Recent spikes in COVID-19 infections across Europe have led authorities to extend restrictions ahead of the holiday season.

Why it matters: "Relaxing too fast and too much is a risk for a third wave after Christmas," said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

2 hours ago - Health

Africa CDC: Vaccines likely won't be available until Q2 of 2021

Africa CDC director Dr. John Nkengasong. Photo: Mohammed Abdu Abdulbaqi/Anadolu Agency via Getty

Africa may have to wait until the second quarter of 2021 to roll out vaccines, Africa CDC director John Nkengasong said Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

Why it matters: “I have seen how Africa is neglected when drugs are available,” Nkengasong said.