Has AI already changed the music industry?

Has AI already changed the music industry?

Bambos Eracleous, Partner for Sports, Media & Entertainment, says that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will not go away, and that the music business should be clear on how and when to harness it.

When Billie Eilish’s single ‘Bad Guy’ hit Number 1 in 2019 it made her the first artist born in the 21st century to top the charts. But for the singer, who subsequently became the youngest ever person to win two Academy Awards, the bad guy may be not so much a guy, as AI.

In April, Eilish was among 200+ artists and songwriters to sign an open letter calling on AI developers, tech companies, platforms and digital music services to stop using AI  “to infringe upon and devalue the rights of human artists”. Other famous signatories included Aerosmith, Nicki Minaj, Elvis Costello, Katy Perry, Jon Bon Jovi, Jess Glynne and the estates of Bob Marley and Frank Sinatra.

While acknowledging that AI has enormous potential to advance human creativity, the letter attacked some platforms and developers for irresponsibly posing a threat to artists’ ability to protect their privacy, identity, music and livelihood. A specific concern was the “predatory” use of AI models to create sounds and images, including deepfakes, that would harm musicians and songwriters by substantially diluting the royalties paid out to them. “Unchecked, AI will set in motion a race to the bottom that will degrade the value of our work and prevent us from being fairly compensated for it,” argued the artists.

The letter came less than two weeks after Tennessee – home to the ‘music cities’ of Nashville and Memphis – became the first US state to sign off on legislation protecting musicians from unauthorised use of AI. That legislation comes into effect on 1 July.

Clearly, major concerns abound regarding AI’s potentially negative impact within the world of music. Last year’s fake Drake and The Weeknd song is a case in point. Yet AI is undoubtedly here to stay, its impact is already being felt, and it is unleashing a wave of positive opportunities too.

UK Music, the voice of the British music industry notes that many artists and businesses are taking advantage of AI. “As a tool it can be used in assisting creative endeavours, mastering recorded performance, improving sound, as well as providing useful insights into fan engagement. Music publishers and record companies use AI to assist with administration and enforcement operations.”

While some music groups are embracing AI, I know of one major record label that has banned its employees from using it in any form. However, after extensive consultation with its members, UK Music is in favour of AI…but with some big caveats. It believes policies should be developed in line with five key principles designed to protect artists, including clear labelling of music generated by AI and taking the stance that without human creativity there should be no copyright.

Last year, AI was used to extricate and clean-up John Lennon’s voice from a cassette demo for the release of the “final” Beatles song ‘Now and Then’. “There it was, John’s voice, crystal clear,” said Paul McCartney in a statement. “It’s quite emotional. And we all play on it, it’s a genuine Beatles recording. In 2023, to still be working on Beatles music, and about to release a new song the public haven’t heard, I think it’s an exciting thing.”

More contentiously, superstar producer David Guetta has played a track at one of his DJ sets which he created by using AI to replicate the writing style and voice of Eminem. Guetta was quick to clarify he would not be releasing it commercially. Canadian performer Grimes has gone further, arguing that streaming services such as Spotify should have a selection dedicated to AI songs. Additionally, she has developed her own Elf Tech AI platform and encouraged fans to use her voice "without penalty" to create music, in return for a share of the royalties.

Meanwhile, actor and filmmaker Donald Glover (aka musician Childish Gambino) has been a vocal supporter of AI in the creative process. He appeared at Google’s I/O 2024 event last month to speak about the tech giant’s new video generation AI tool, Veo. Glover took the position that Veo was not about the deletion of human ideas but a means of allowing creatives to "make mistakes faster”.  

Some will be fine with that, others less so.

But change is here. We have entered the third era of tech-led disruption of music, following the advent of file sharing service Napster (1999) and soon afterwards the iPod and iTunes; and then the arrival of Spotify (2006). There is no doubt AI has huge momentum given the rise of services like Boomy, Udio and Suno. Apparently, Udio users are creating a mind-blowing 10 tracks a second.

It’s interesting to note that in its most recent set of financial results, Tencent Music Entertainment Group (TME), the leading online music and audio entertainment platform in China, chose to highlight that it “capitalised on our AI capabilities to bolster audience interaction and sing-alongs, amplifying artists' reach.”

TME is making a big play on AI, also using it in areas such as hit prediction and music production tools. But as AI becomes more integral to its business it is paying greater attention to the associated risks around flawed algorithms and other factors. 

This new wave of tech-led disruption brings a heady mix of creativity, risk, productivity and ethical issues. Talent has always been the cornerstone of the music business, but right now it needs people with strategic expertise in AI every bit as much as it needs producers, singers and songwriters.


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