Chatting with the Alien (in the column); Lincoln Exposed begins tonight…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , — @ 3:54 pm February 19, 2023

by Tim McMahan,

Feb. 9, 2023 – The February issue of The Reader is on newsstands (or so I’m told) and within its pages is the following column wherein I ask ChatGPT about the Omaha music scene. You can read it online at The Reader website right here, or you can read below, where its included for posterity’s sake. 

Tonight is the kick-off of the 18th anniversary of Lincoln Exposed. Check out the line-up and get ticket info here

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Chatting with Our Inevitable Replacement

The Reader, February 2023

Omaha, Nebraska, has a vibrant and diverse music scene, with a mix of local and national acts performing in venues throughout the city. The city is home to several music venues, including the Slowdown, The Waiting Room, and the Holland Performing Arts Center. These venues host a variety of music genres, including rock, indie, hip-hop, electronic, and jazz.

Thus began my chat with OpenAI’s ChatGPT. What, pray tell, is ChatGPT? It’s a computer-based “answering machine” that interacts in a conversational way, but unlike other chatbots, it not only provides answers, but it also admits its mistakes, challenges incorrect premises and rejects inappropriate requests. And it does all this by tapping into its own data in its “neural network” rather than searching the web. I guess you could say it “thinks.”

ChatGPT doesn’t just write simple phrases, it composes full essays as if written by a human being, but with much better grammar (certainly better than mine). Think of it as a HAL 9000 computer with better manners.

Since its launch in November, ChatGPT has been used to write everything from poetry to movie scripts, even to write songs in the style of Nick Cave. It’s like a deep fake for literature. In fact, the program has proven to be a headache in the academic world. Axios reports ChatGPT is being used by some dodgy college students to write term papers … and getting away with it. They call it Chat Cheating.

Algorithmic journalism — or robot journalism — is nothing new. There’s a good chance the financial report, earnings review, even the recap of last night’s Knicks game was written by a robot. Writing stats-based stories is kind of robotic by its very nature, but could ChatGPT write fluently about art and culture — or, for that matter, local music?

To find out, I pulled up on my Mac, created an account and began asking questions about the Omaha music scene. The initial responses were somewhat mundane and not much different than a Wiki search. Like anything else, I tended to skip over what it got right and zoomed in on the mistakes.

For example, it listed The Hive among the city’s “several independent music venues” alongside The Waiting Room, O’Leaver’s, the Slowdown and Reverb. The Hive has been closed for years and was never an indie music venue. It listed Hear Nebraska as a top source for indie music news, though that website hasn’t been active since 2017. When it didn’t list among the city’s indie blogs, it apologized, and later listed Tim McMahan as “a notable figure in the Omaha music scene.” Hear! Hear! Clearly this is Machine Learning at its finest.

As the discussion went on, ChatGPT began crafting its answers around what it presumed were my preferences, ignoring a broader view of Omaha music. Asked “What are some of the best bands in Omaha?” ChatGPT listed Bright Eyes, Cursive, The Faint, The Good Life, Ladyfinger (ne), The Mynabirds and O+S. Most of those bands haven’t released new music in a decade. Asked to list the best non-indie bands, it came up with 311, Saddle Creek Records, The Decatures, The Hottman Sisters, Big Harp, Digital Leather and Icky Blossoms — some of which are inactive or no longer living in Omaha.

But it got weirdly accurate when asked to list the “worst things about Omaha’s music scene.” ChatGPT’s answers ranged from “Limited exposure: Omaha is not a major music industry hub” to “Omaha has limited opportunities for local bands to perform” to “Omaha is not a main destination for touring bands.” Where was it getting this information?

Conversely, when asked how Omaha could improve its music scene, ChatGPT turned into a sage. Among its seven-point plan:

  1. By providing more funding and resources to local bands and venues, Omaha could help to support and grow the local music scene. This could include things like grants, low-interest loans, and tax incentives for music-related businesses.
  2. By working to develop an industry infrastructure, Omaha could help to connect local bands and venues with agents, managers, and other industry professionals who can help them take their careers to the next level. This could include things like music conferences, networking events, and mentorship programs.
  3. By promoting the Omaha music scene to a national and international level, the city could help to draw more attention to the local music scene and attract more visitors to the city. This could include things like hosting music festivals, creating a music-themed tourist trail, and working with local media outlets to promote the scene.

Further points included encouraging diversity, developing more affordable housing, encouraging collaboration and networking, and increasing education and mentorship opportunities. It’s hard to fault any of the robot’s suggestions, which leads me to believe at the very least that ChatGPT could replace our local politicians after it replaces our local music writers.

Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at

First published in The Reader, February 2023. Copyright © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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