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Is AI a threat to musicians?

AI-generated music is on the rise. A large chunk of this music has not been produced by a human hand. Anyone can generate a track at the touch of a button. On the other hand, there are also more and more AI tools that allow you to generate separate musical elements such as chord progressions, melodies or drum rhythms that you then have to process into a complete track yourself. What do these developments mean for you as a musician and your way of working? Should you worry about this new artificial competitor or is there nothing to worry about?

Holly Herndon is an American musician who experiments a lot with AI and voice cloning and music rights.

As Nick Cave aptly said early this year: “Writing a good song is not mimicry, or replication, or pastiche, it is the opposite. It is an act of self-murder.” Most people make music for themselves and for others, to express feelings or to convey a message. The question is whether AI will ever be able to express meaningful feelings or convey a personal message. A melody or text generated by an algorithm is impersonal by definition because a computer is not a person who can be in love or suffer from heartbreak. But suppose a computer can learn what love songs are by listening to millions of love songs and recognize what is popular and what is not. Suppose it learns to understand genres and formats, learns which chords, instruments and lyrics have an effect and can combine them into recognizable music. Is that bad?

A parallel can be drawn with chess. Chess computers have been able to beat even the best grandmasters since the 1970s. Nevertheless, in 2023 most people do not find it interesting to watch a match between two computers playing chess. In fact, the (human) sport of chess has only become more popular since then. The chess computer introduced a new way of playing, invented new moves and challenged people to look at the sport differently. The rise of AI similarly challenges us as music professionals.

Making music is becoming accessible to an increasing group of people due to the emergence of accessible AI tools. Programs such as Bandlab and Soundraw ensure that people with very limited musical knowledge can generate their own songs and use music as an outlet. It democratizes and gives a large group access to a form of expression that was previously unattainable. Whether it's hip-hop, house or jazz, these AI tools know the simplest basics.

The emergence of voice clones is already contributing to the impact of AI on the music industry. There are already handfuls of voice-cloning programs available that allow artists to clone their own voices, but also allow others to clone voices of their favorite artists. Apple recently announced that voice clones will become a standard part of iOS this year, making the technology even more accessible.

But not only music creation is influenced by AI, also mixing and mastering. Rick Beato, producer, musician and YouTuber believes it won't be long before producers' styles are mimicked by AI. There are already robotic microphone stands that are used by technicians via an app. These could easily be controlled by an AI.

Nobody & The Computer is a YouTube channel that explores and shares the possibilities of emerging AI.

There are different ways to look at this development. American artist Grimes offers everyone the opportunity to use her voice through a public AI voice clone. If you make money with her vote, she gets a small share. And Sir Paul McCartney says he's using AI to finish the last Beatles song ever by replacing the deceased John Lennon and George Harrison with AI systems that have learned to emulate Lennon and Harrison's styles. Grimes and McCartney explore how AI can be a unique addition to their work, rather than a replacement.

Another way to look at it is to stop comparing ourselves to AI. Computer scientist Jaron Lanier calls the idea that AI threatens human capabilities 'foolish'. He indicates that AI is made by humans, but can never be human: 'Comparing ourselves to AI is like comparing ourselves to a car: It is like saying that a car can go faster than a human runner. Of course you can, but then we don't say that the car has become a better runner.' The music that AI makes is different from music made by humans.

No one can predict how the musical landscape will change in the near future with the rise of AI-generated music. But that AI will play a significant role in the music industry is certain. We are convinced that artists should not be afraid that their artistic freedom will disappear, because we will always need other people who can do something unique and share it. The music industry is known for its innovative character and we can therefore assume that artists will continue to be able to embrace new technology and create beautiful new works with it.

At Open Culture Tech, we are convinced that artists should not be afraid that their artistic freedom will disappear. Most people make music for themselves and for other people, to express feelings or to convey a message. AI has proven that it can help you come up with surprising melodies, find unique sounds or mix your audio. But together we must continue to ensure that computers do not determine what you, as a musician, should do. The best way to avoid this is to keep looking critically at how these computers work, to experiment together with the latest technology and to share experiences with each other and our audience.


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