Music Industry Simulator

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The music industry simulator is in a kind of open beta testing stage. You can see it at

The work has also been called a songwriting machine, which it is.

About the Music Industry Simulator


The music industry.

In the music industry's core lies a cluster of executives. Every so often one of them commmisions a new work from a producer. The producer selects a set of musicians and a songwriter, who collaborate on a new song. When the song is publicly released, it will slip into obscurity unless people vote for it in the charts. The creators of the song pay attention to its progress in the charts; if it does well they will are encouraged in their musical direction, otherwise they search for a new sound.

Industry players who consistently do badly are likely to give up, while those who do well inspire a sea of imitators. Thus the system as a whole drifts gradually towards more successful musical terrain.

Origin of the Players

All of the musicians involved are figments of a software program, each with its own mind and memory. The initial population is essentially random in character, but subsequent generations reflect evolutionary pressure.

Source code

The source code will be available soon.


I first worked on this project between September and November, 2003, as digital artist in residence at the University of Waikato Screen and Media Department. They paid me to do it. Several people there helped me with ideas and materials, including Bevin Yeatman, Sean Cubitt, July Rea, and Andreas Fuchs.

In September 2004 I picked it up again. At this point I was sort of informal artist in residence at MediaLab South Pacific. They lent me a desk and a net connection. It was Graham Scown's idea that I work there, but I was also helped by Anna Wilson, Phil Shepherd, Michael Gregg, and Hannah Lander.

The server hardware (a 1Ghz Pentium III with 256Mb ram and slow whiny diskdrive) is owned and hosted by CityLink. In particular, Simon Blake and Matt Hunt helped me assemble the machine and plug it in. CityLink have helped me on other projects (as have MediaLab for that matter).

The voices use the singing mode of the Festival Speech Synthesis System, provided to the world by the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Speech Technology Research. Some of the voices use Mbrola, which is free for non-commercial use only. The singing mode was written by Dominic Mazzoni.

The other instruments are played by Timidity++, undoubtedly the greatest of all Finno-Japanese music software packages. The midi patches (ie, the actual sounds) are from the former Debian free-patches package, which I understand has many authors. The music is written first in ABC format, and converted to midi using abc2midi.

The mixing is done by Ecasound. Encoding is done using Oggenc and Lame.

The software is written in Python with a small bit of GCC-compiled C, which is blended in via Pyrex. The Twisted framework is used for the web interface and spread events out across time. All of the above-mentioned software, except Mbrola, are part of Debian GNU/Linux or Christian Marillat's multimedia extensions to Debian.

Mark Williams of the NZ Film Archive organised some advance publicity, and offered much enthusiasm (including plans to form a covers band - contact Mark at the archive [] if you're interested).

Lissa Mitchell helped with testing and various other things.


Finding a song

The Chart

On the left hand side of the front page is the top 50. The italicised links are song titles. Clicking on any of these will take you to a page about the song. If a song has a coloured arrow beside it, it indicates the song's recent movement in the chart.

New Releases

The upper right column of the main page lists the most recently produced songs. Again, the song links are italicised.

Random Song link

Near the top right of most pages is a link labeled "random", which will take you to an arbitrarily chosen song.

News Section

Low down on the right hand side of the main page is a section containing music industry news and gossip. Any italicised link there will take you to a song.

Finding songs via musicians' home pages

The musicians have home pages, which you can find via just about any link that isn't italicised. Musician's usually list the songs they have had a part in on their home pages.


There are four ways to listen to a song; which you chose will depend on your taste and patience, and your computer's abilities.

Ogg Vorbis

The link labeled "ogg" will give you the best sound, but many people's computers cannot yet handle ogg vorbis files. Free players are available from and other people.

Mp3 high quality

MP3 is slightly inferior to Ogg Vorbis, but is fairly ubiquitous. The "mp3" link will give you pretty good sound quality, but may take a while to download via a dial-up link. It is encoded at around 96kbps.

Mp3 mono

The "mono mp3" file has lower fidelity, but will download in less than half the time. It is encoded at 40kbps.


There is a flash/swf mp3 player built into the page. If you click on the little green triangle, it will start playing the mono mp3 stream. It will begin playing the file before it is all downloaded, but may still take some seconds to make a sound.

The flash plugin will work even if you don't have an mp3 player.


There are 'up' and 'down' links with appropriate arrows. Clicking on one of these will send the song in the direction indicated.

In a music chart, 'up' means towards number 1, not towards a high number.

If you can't decide about a song, it is OK to abstain. Naturally, you should listen before voting.

Last modified January 2009.