Jonathan Coulton: Creativity & AI

A conversation with Jonathan Coulton about generative AI, songwriting, and creativity.

Jonathan Coulton

If you’ve read our show notes, you’ll know that our music was written and performed by Jonathan Coulton. I’ve known Jonathan for more than 30 years, dating back to when we sang together in college. But that’s a story for another day, or perhaps never.

Jonathan spent his first decade post college as a software coder and then through a bit of happenstance and throwing care to the wind, he transitioned to music. In the mid 2000s, he blazed a trail of creating his own career on the internet—without a label or any of the support that musicians normally have. While he was pushing out a new song each week as part of his Thing-A-Week Project, he became known as the “internet music-business guy” since he had successfully used the internet to build his career and a dedicated fanbase. He has since released several albums, toured plenty, and launched an annual cruise for his fans.

Throughout his career, technology, and specifically AI, has been a theme—starting with his song Chiron Beta Prime in 2006 about a planet where all humans have been enslaved by uncaring and violent robots. During this interview we talk about his 2017 album Solid State which is well described by writer Emily Nussbaum who wrote, “Coulton’s latest album, “Solid State,” is, like so many breakthrough albums, the product of a raging personal crisis—one that is equally about making music and living online, getting older, and worrying about the apocalypse. A concept album about digital dystopia, it’s Coulton’s warped meditation on the ugly ways the internet has morphed since 2004. At the same time, it’s a musical homage to his earliest Pink Floyd fanhood, a rock-opera about artificial intelligence. It’s a worried album by a man hunting for a way to stay hopeful.”

In this interview, we talk with Jonathan about how he feels about Solid State now, his reaction to generative AI, and his experiences trying to use generative AI in songwriting. We’re grateful to be able to grab Jonathan just before he left on tour with Aimee Mann. We hope you all take time to listen to Solid State and catch him live.

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Thanks to Jonathan Coulton for our music

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