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AI-generated music is about to flood streaming platforms

It starts with a familiar intro, unmistakably the Weeknd’s 2017 hit “Die for You.” But as the first verse of the song begins, a different vocalist is heard: Michael Jackson. Or, at least, a machine simulation of the late pop star’s voice.

It’s just one example of how artificial intelligence is seeping into the music industry. Surf YouTube or TikTok and you’ll find many convincing AI-made covers. The software has a waiting list for new users. But there are also tools that can generate instrumentals from text, give people a starting beat or inspiration, and help them to edit tunes.

AI will no doubt speed the creation of music, but that acceleration comes at a time when music streaming services are already inundated with content. There are now more than 100 million songs on Apple MusicAmazon Music, and Spotify. Listening to them all would take hundreds of years. Even more have been uploaded to SoundCloud. AI tools democratize music making. But there’s potential for a flood of AI-generated content to be unleashed onto streaming platforms, competing with real people and their compositions for the attention of your ears.

The music industry has often been trepidatious about innovation only to later embrace it. “Everything was seen as the end of music,” says Martin Clancy, editor of the 2022 book Artificial Intelligence and Music Ecosystem. But AI developments are more than an automated drum machine, computerized synths, or even Napster. “AI is different—different because of its speed, its scale, its ability for personalization,” Clancy says. “It really can outcompete with human endeavor and has the ability to produce a huge amount of material.”

It’s also a boon to the amateur creator. People might use generators for fun rather than to rival trained musicians, but their work may still crowd the market, says Tatiana Cirisano, a music industry analyst and consultant with MIDiA Research. That poses a challenge, because some music streamers don’t differentiate between professionally produced and amateur content the way that video does (think Netflix compared to YouTube or TikTok). “Spotify will become the place where large portions of consumer-created music ends up, mixing in with everything else,” Cirisano says.

Music streamers may brag about their libraries, but quantity isn’t quality. So many of those songs are never or rarely played. In 2022, 50 percent of audio tracks followed by the entertainment data company Luminate in the US had 10 or fewer on-demand streams, according CEO Rob Jonas. It’s a years-long trend that spurred Forgotify, a website that shuffles through unplayed songs from Spotify. And streaming music and storing those vast libraries of unheard tracks has a notable environmental impact.

Not just anyone can upload to the biggest music streamers. Spotify and Apple require artists to go through a distributor or have a label to upload to the platform, but it’s much easier for small artists to do this than for independent filmmakers to find a big-name streaming home for their shows and movies. And anyone can upload to SoundCloud.The music business is pushing back against AI. Universal Music Group, home to superstars like Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, and Bob Dylan, has urged Spotify and Apple to block AI tools from scraping lyrics and melodies from its artists’ copyrighted songs, the Financial Times reported last week. UMG executive vice president Michael Nash wrote in a recent op-ed that AI music is “diluting the market, making original creations harder to find, and violating artists’ legal rights to compensation from their work.”

Neither Apple nor Spotify returned requests for comment about how many AI-generated songs are on their platforms or whether AI has created more copyright infringement issues.

The news came on the heels of a request from UMG that a rap about cats in the style of Eminem be removed from YouTube for violating copyright. But the music industry is worried about more than AI copycatting a vocal performance; it’s also fretting about machines learning from their artists’ songs. Last year, the Recording Industry Association of America submittedlist of AI scrapers to the US government, claiming that their “use is unauthorized and infringes our members’ rights” when they use copyrighted work to train models.

This argument is similar to the one artists used in a lawsuit brought against AI image generators earlier this year. As with that case, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the legality of AI-generated art, but Erin Jacobson, a music attorney in Los Angeles, notes that those uploading AI-made material that clearly violates copyright could be held liable. Whether the streamers will be liable is more nuanced.

The new generative tech shows a tendency toward mimicry. Earlier this year, Google announced it had created an AI tool called MusicLM that can generate music from text. Enter a prompt asking for a “fusion of reggaeton and electronic dance music, with a spacey, otherworldly sound,” and the generator delivers a clip. But Google did not release the tool widely, noting in its paper that about 1 percent of the music generated matched existing recordings.

A lot of this AI music could take over the mood-based genres, like ambient piano music or lo-fi. And it may be cheaper for streamers to make playlists using AI-generated music than to pay out even paltry royalties. Clancy says he doesn’t think AI is moving too quickly but that people may be moving too slowly to adapt, which could leave human artists without the equity they deserve in the industry. Changing that means making clear distinctions between AI- and human-made music. “I don’t think it’s fair to say ‘AI music is bad’ or ‘human music is good,’” Clancy says. “But one thing I think we can all agree on is, we like to know what we’re listening to.”

But there are many examples of artists working with AI, not in competition with it. Musician Holly Herndon used AI to create a clone of her voice, which she calls Holly+, to sing in languages and styles she cannot. Herndon created it to keep sovereignty over her own voice, but as she told WIRED late last year, she also did it in the hope other artists would follow her lead. BandLab has a SongStarter feature, which lets users work with AI to create royalty-free beats. It’s meant to remove some of the barriers to songwriting.

AI might become a perfect imitator, but it may not, on its own, create music that resonates with listeners. Our favorite songs capture heartbreak or speak to and shape the current culture; they break new ground during times of political upheaval. AI will have a role in writing, recording, and performing songs. But if people open music streamers and see too many AI-made songs, they may not be able to connect.

Article: AI-generated music is about to flood streaming platforms

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