You only need to have watched the recent Google I/O keynote, in which around two-thirds of the presentation was taken up by AI discussion, to see how big a deal Artificial Intelligence is. The likes of ChatGPT and Google Bard are impressive and have their own concerns for the authenticity of the written word, but as a Spotify obsessive, I’m more worried about AI music.
Last month music fans were treated to a surprise treat, two of the biggest artists in the world, Drake and The Weeknd, released a surprise song, Heart On My Sleeve… except they didn’t. The song, released under the pseudonym Ghostwriter, sounded exactly like the two Canadian artists but was in fact created without permission by an AI trained on their voices. Scary stuff. This was the most high profile of thousands of AI songs that have been released onto the platform, many of which came from AI platform Boomy.
Technology definitely has a place in music, I mean whole genres, such as techno, are built around it, while Gorillaz has been one of the most high-profile bands in the world for decades now despite the fact none of their animated avatars really exist.
At least there’s still genuine human creativity involved. AI songs like the Drake/Weeknd collab however could destroy the music industry. Simply asking an AI to "create X song about X subject in the style of X artist" has no artistic merit and has all sorts of copyright issues if released commercially. A quick Google search for “AI Song Generators” could help you create a song in the style of someone like Taylor Swift in two minutes, but it won’t be anywhere near as good and isn’t art.
Why would anyone release music as someone else? The easy answer is money. Streaming residuals can be lucrative if a song takes off and it’s a low-cost scam. To get on Spotify, artists need to be attached to a recognised distributor – but this is not a high-barrier to entry, as some such as Distrokid offer the chance to upload an unlimited amount of songs to Spotify for as little as $22.99. Great if you’re an aspiring musician, but also easily exploitable.
Some artists have actually embraced AI’s potential: Grimes (who has over 5 million monthly listeners on Spotify) has promised to split royalties 50/50 with anyone who wishes to use her voice to generate AI music. In fairness, this is a great way to make music available to the masses. But merely copying another artist without permission isn’t cool.
Spotify itself has been bringing AI to the platform with its AI DJ function, but as annoying as it is, at least it isn't claiming to be someone else. We love music because of its emotional authenticity – and not only is AI music robbing artists, it’s depriving listeners of time they could be listening to any one of the thousands of brilliant up-and-coming artists who need support.