Jukedeck takes computer-generated music mainstream

Ed Rex was visiting his girlfriend at Harvard when he attended one of her computer science lectures. He’d long wondered if teaching computers to write music—good music—were possible. But Rex wasn’t a programmer. He was a trained singer, a former Kings College chorister to be exact, who’d recently earned a degree from Cambridge's Faculty of Music. He had a background in maths and economics but no computer coding experience whatsoever.

But the lecture proved to be an unexpected turning point for Rex. He felt inspired to try. “I went to the library and started work on it that very day,” he says.

His early attempts at programming were simple but arduous, transposing a series of notes on the computer as numbers and gauging the success of the effort. He recalls sitting in his London bedroom the first time he heard his computer produce something akin to a hymn. “Hearing that tune was a big moment,” says Rex. “I suddenly thought it might work….This was worth pursuing.”

What followed was a revelation, both to Rex and a burgeoning industry interested in generative music.

Because, let’s be clear, machine-generated music was out there. It was palatable, but not game-­­changing. Rex was out to develop software algorithms that would turn the world of machine learning on its ear by composing songs that were both top-tappingly likeable and generated entirely by machine. The applications, he felt, were many.

In 2015, Rex officially launched Jukedeck, a University start-up with the goal of providing music, at least initially, to the video game industry and the YouTube crowd. The idea was to help low-budget users compose music effortlessly themselves—literally at the touch of a button—without agonizing about copyright restrictions or shelling out royalties.

Although Rex approached a series of investors in his would-be business, they all passed, saying it was too early in Jukedeck’s journey to provide financial commitment. He secured initial seed funding from Cambridge Enterprise and its sister organisation Cambridge Innovation Capital (CIC), an investor in high-growth technology and healthcare companies. “Cambridge Enterprise’s role was massive,” Rex said. “We simply couldn’t have got off the ground without them.”

And, like a match to a fuse, Jukedeck exploded into the mainstream, racking up a dizzying number of awards:

Jukedeck was a winner at the 2014 LeWeb Start-up Competition in Paris; the following year it won the prestigious Pitch@Palace 3.0, an event spearheaded by HRH The Duke of York to identify the most promising technology start-ups, and was named one of WIRED’s ‘100 Hottest European Startups‘ followed by a win at TechCrunch Disrupt London in December.

Most recently Jukedeck was honoured with a Cannes Innovation Lion.

Jukedeck’s success has no doubt been aided by Rex’s own performance acumen, which has helped him win-over contest judges. Twice he has rapped his company’s investment pitch before heaving, cheering audiences with the help of Patrick Stobbs, a University classmate and Jukedeck co-founder.

In the world of nervous company founders with shaky business strategies, theirs is an undeniably hard act to follow on stage.

Last year, Jukedeck received a £2m round of venture-capital funding led by CIC with participation by Backed VC and others to grow a new web-based composition tool. The company is supported by a growing team of composers and developers, and allows video creators to effortlessly make the music they want. Individuals can use it for free. Businesses pay a fee.

Current Jukedeck users include Google for Developers and the Natural History Museum. To date, videos using Jukedeck music have generated more than 16 million views on YouTube.

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