We thought Limewire was an issue for music piracy and the music industry. Then came AI.
In the last few weeks we've seen endless conversations around AI and the impact it will have on music and artistry - and for once, these conversations aren't just hype.
First we saw AI generated 'Drake' covers of Cardi B's "WAP", Bryson Tiller's "Don’t" and Ice Spice's "Munch". And then people took it a step further and leveraged AI to create AI generated 'Drake' songs like What you Mean and Heart on my Sleeve.
The Ice Spice cover pushed him over the edge as he posted an Instagram story saying- "This is the final straw AI”.
Obviously, social media has blown up with jokes and memes about these covers - but for the music industry, it really isn't a joke.
From my experience of working with the music industry - they never really like change or new technologies initially. The reaction is usually "this is going to destroy everything" - but this time they're not catastrophizing.
The creator ofHeart on my Sleeve (the AI generated song using Drake and The Weekend's voices) was made by someone who goes by the name of Ghostwriter977. They appeared on TikTok hidden beneath a white sheet, claiming: “I was a ghostwriter for years and got paid close to nothing for major labels to profit. The future is here.”
The AI generated Drake and Weekend song literally replicates their voices and the lyrics don't feel off-brand. At a first listen - it sounds scarily authentic.
What's really interesting, I think, is the level or detail with which we listen to music. If we look at how streaming has changed listening habits - for many people the Spotify algorithm dictates so much. So I think it's fair to say that for many - music is often background noise. People don't always know the song playing in their kitchen. So would some people even notice if music became AI all of a sudden?
I listen to Hip-Hop all the time, so when I listen I'm noticing the flow, the melody, the lyrics, the rhymes, the production and more. It's all these things together that create an amazing song. But someone who isn't as passionate taking any kind of analytical approach might not be able to tell the difference. There's no chance I'd be able to tell the difference between an AI generated techno song, or one by one of the best DJ's in the world.
Legally, and ethically the surge in these AI creations raise some important questions around copyrights. Another example I saw recently was when David Guetta leveraged an AI tool (he doesn’t specify which) to create a deep fake of Eminem’s voice in one of his sets. As it’s technically not a sample, he doesn’t owe Eminem any royalties. But that doesn't mean it's ethical - does it?
You can literally ask these platforms to compose a song in the style of Kendrick Lamar, with the lyrics of Lana Del Rey and the vocals of Jhene Aiko. The issue is the “song” you get has been trained on these artists’ intellectual property, so these songs tread a fine line between influence and plagiarism.
Art in itself is subjective. For example, a mental health organisation Over The Bridge launched the collection Lost Tapes of the 27 Club - a series of AI-composed “new” songs from the likes of Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison. The charity describes them as an attempt to ‘imagine what these artists might have created’ if they were still alive today.
Instinctually, I hate the idea.
But I'll try and think about it objectively for a second. These tapes did generate awareness around mental health. They did start a conversation. And the use of AI arguably communicated the message in a more emotional and compelling way than that of a traditional campaign. They don’t seem to have been used to ‘copy’ but more to drive a positive message whilst providing recognition to musical legends.
My personal opinion is that these artists aren’t here today to agree or disagree to this use of their art and legacy and it's generating 'art' that is attached to their name, yet not created by or 'signed off' by them.
We only have to look at the responses of artists who are alive today to understand the general response to AI. We’ve barely seen any artists having a positive reaction to it. After seeing a song in the written ‘in the style’ of himself by ChatGPT-3, Nick Cave said:
‘I understand that ChatGPT is in its infancy but perhaps that is the emerging horror of AI – that it will forever be in its infancy, as it will always have further to go, and the direction is always forward, always faster…It doesn’t look good. The apocalypse is well on its way. This song sucks.’
The only artist I've seen who seems to be accepting of the democratization of this technology is Grimes. This isn't surprising as she was an early adopter of NFTs, seems to regularly question the status quo and isn't signed to a major label.
It's an interesting conversation. What happens if fans are given the tools to create music for their favourite artists and those songs are successful? AI should only be used when artists have provided permission but what's the likelihood of this being the reality when the technology can be used by literally anyone?
Another big issue is distribution. Many music streamers don’t differentiate between professionally produced and amateur content the way that video platforms do, so it may be increasingly hard to spot what is or isn't AI generated. Spotify will likely become the place where large portions of consumer-created music ends up - which could eventually lead to their detriment. Universal Music Group has demanded that streaming platforms, like Spotify and Apple, block artificial intelligence services from scraping melodies and lyrics from their copyrighted songs. But AI creations aren’t slowing down - the software covers.ai has had so many requests that it’s had to create a waiting list for new users.
Part of the issue is that on one hand: it’s amazing that certain technologies aren’t gate kept and are democratised. It’s exciting that we can experiment with them and utilise them for our benefit (e.g ChatGPT). However, the flip side is that once these technologies become democratised and put into the hands of the public - anything can happen. And often peoples’ experimentation and deliberate pushing boundaries (whether for the sake of art or not) creates big issues.
As always - people haven't done enough proactive thinking into the ethics and consequences of these technologies. So I’m not sure why anyone is surprised that this is happening.
It really does provoke an important conversation around both AI and creativity, as well as AI and ethics. It’s all subjective - where’s the line? What happens when people use AI to copy? And in this digital age, what does ‘copy’ actually mean? There wouldn’t be art or creativity without influence - but through the increasing use of AI, we could begin to see that line become increasingly blurred.
The reality is, art for everyone is different - it's kind of the whole point. But for many it’s about expressing or releasing real soul, real lived experiences or thoughts, beliefs, observations, hopes or fears. AI can’t feel, it cannot experience, it doesn't live. It doesn’t know what it is to love or to lose love. Everything it creates is a copy or a caricature.
When I think about sitting to listen to Frank Ocean's new album (please God let it come soon)... the reason I'm so excited is because I know it's coming from Frank. Not because it's just music. It's his mind and talent and creativity. It's his expression of his experiences or imagination that I want to experience. AI can't ever create this or come close to the love people have for real artists - so that's not ever really at risk.
But AI can and will create a lot of mess.
I think it's important to note that there's a surge of people experimenting, breaking the rules and trying to create headlines because this technology has just become democratised. This is normal with new tech. What will (likely) happen soon is most people will move on with their lives and on to the next hype. Only then will we see the real impact AI will have on the music industry.
Maybe genres like pop (which are becoming more and more lazy, homogenous and formulaic than ever before) will be entirely taken over by AI. But is this really the end of the world?
If we could get to a place where people aren't creating copies and AI isn't harming artists that are trying to create real art, it could be used as a tool to drive or support creativity - rather than a tool to excuse laziness or to mimic.
There are already lots of examples of highly intelligent AI applications that can add effects, draft vocals or add live-sounding drums. And with these new iterations and developments of AI, there could be a world where AI is used as a creative collaborator, another voice in the room to join in the creative process. Musicians could collaborate in a similar way as they do with songwriters - by bouncing ideas around. Just like a bass player and pianist would in a jam. I’ve seen cases of AI supported songwriting - where AI uncovers genuinely unique and unusual suggestions from the “digital box” which can alleviate writer’s blocks and provide inspiration. David Bowie was doing this years ago.
We should always be taking a ‘think before you build’ approach. The important thing is how and why technology is used - rather than if it’s used.