Artificial Intelligence refers to machine learning programs that can mimic anything a human can do. AI in music ranges from inspiration ‘in the style of’ an artist, to voice cloning and data training. Differentiation matters, because of a confusing distinction within the realms of trademark and royalty.
The AI upheaval of the music industry has materialised through a series of projects and voice imitations- some positive, others ending in lawsuits. Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne lent his technological expertise to The Beatles’ final single ‘Now and Then’. The foundations had been established by Peter Jackson for the Get Back Beatles documentary, thanks to which the group could take a soundtrack and split the different components into different tracks. As a result, after decades collecting dust, an original John Lennon recording was made crisp and input into a new Beatles track.
Paul McCartney addressed any potential moral qualms, claiming that had he had the chance to ask Lennon for permission, the answer would have been a resounding yes. Concerning the use of someone’s voice posthumously; we as creators and listeners can never be certain if they would approve. The best we can do is trust the judgment of their nearest and dearest, and of course the copyright owners. This project was on the whole, regardless of the track itself, well received as a wholesome last hurrah.
Other artists have had stickier relationships with emerging AI. Drake’s voice and persona was used on AI track Winter’s Cold, and was promptly taken down by UMG over copyright infringement. It’s been debated whether this copyright claim was well founded, legally speaking. The Main concern being whether UMG owns Drake’s voice, or if it should be fair use. Impersonation is illegal, parody is not. It seems as though UMG would have had less of a problem with AI Drake if he was worse than Drake; but comments have been overwhelmingly in support of the track, pitting it against Drake’s originals.
Grimes been more appreciative of AI. Not only is there both Grimes and Grimes AI on Spotify, she’s also given anyone free reign to use her voice so long as she receives 60 per cent of the profits. She’s also founded ElfTech, an AI that allows anyone to morph their voice into hers. She is totally unconcerned with the debates surrounding impersonation vs parody; so long as Grimes gets her due diligence, her voice is a free-for-all. She’s not concerned with eclipsing her own success either. Her next album will be released alongside an AI counterpart, as she conducts an experiment in determining which album does best. There are limits to her pandering to AI, though- she’s made it clear she does not believe it should write lyrics or generate music automatically. Grimes sees the artistic benefits of AI, namely in her foresight that it is a technological advancement that is as unavoidable as it is momentous. It is a case of get behind or fall behind, but that does not mean it should be unregulated or take over music production.
Read more on AI in art: Is AI art as human as it gets?
Inevitably, all this will culminate in fights over rights to voices and profits. UMG maintained that they embrace AI, but the use of their artists’ voices is a breach of copyright laws. As for profit, it is unclear whether AI fits into the current rulebook of inspiration, copying and ownership. Namely, is AI copying or inspiration; parody or imitation.
Daniel Ek, Spotify’s CEO, has spoken on some of the main benefits of AI, namely the closing of ‘The Gap’. That being, the difference between technical skill and creativity. Technological advancement shrinks this gap: as a composition 200 years ago would have had to have been made by a musical genius with the skills to sight-read, play, compose etc; inventions like the computer have lessened the level of skill needed to produce a great composition.
Furthermore, the aspect of live performance prevents a total AI takeover. Live performance is necessary to facilitating fans’ connection to the music because of joint experience and group authentication. Unless you’re Madonna or Michael Jackson, an artist often needs a modicum of authenticity and relatability.
Until we have lifelike holograms, the live performance will be an obstacle to AI takeover.
Illustration by Rosie Hodgson Smith