Thoughts on recent AI music related news
As someone who has been involved in generative music for most of my career, I wanted to weigh in on some recent news related to AI music. Specifically, I want to share my views on some of the uses and benefits of using these tools, while also addressing some recent concerns.
My Work and Approach
I am a composer who started learning programming in order to expand my creative toolbox. At first I mostly wrote scripts to try out various process based ideas I had, as it is easier to be objective about whether the result is good or not when you can try out variations within seconds rather than hours of working things out by hand. Later I began developing tools for using computers in live performances, including editing the code producing the audio and video live on stage.
Eventually my personal and academic work on generative music led to me joining a startup called Amper Music in 2015 (which was acquired by Shutterstock in 2020). In my role of Chief Scientist, I was the architect behind the AI music composition system. Our focus was empowering nonmusicians, typically video creators who would otherwise use stock music, to 1) get the music they are looking for faster, 2) avoid spending time and effort editing the audio to match the video, and simplify the licensing for using the music.
With Amper, you, at a minimum, specify how long the music should be (optionally also saying there major changes should happen), the genre, and the mood that the music should convey. Then, in a matter of seconds you have a finished piece of audio. We also offered the ability to change almost anything about the result while keeping everything else as close to unchanged as possible.
Specifically, the music that Amper was focused on was what we referred to as "functional music," which is valued for how it is used, as opposed to "artistic music," which is is valued for its artistry on its own merits. As Amper was most focused on being a stock music alternative, it was primarily background music: no singing or lyrics. Artists have used Amper to get inspiration, or even generate some or all of the backing tracks for them to write melodies on top of, such as Taryn Southern. Even though the product was not tailored specifically to artists, creative people found ways to use it to expand their own creativity.
Recent Goings On
Over a year since the iconic electronic music duo Daft Punk broke up, an interview came out citing that one of the major factors of their decision to disband was due to advances in AI. As a huge fan of Daft Punk, I was upset about the breakup, but what was even more devastating was that that AI --a field that I actively contribute to -- was part of the cause.
Shortly after that, two instances of AI generated vocals popped up. The first was an artist rapping with an AI version of Jay Z (here is a video by MKBHD discussing his reaction to the track). Then there was the fictitious collaboration between Drake and The Weekend. In both cases, many artists and listeners have come out with strong condemnation.
With respect to the fake vocals, I would not classify this as "AI music" so much as I would say that deepfakes can now sing (or rap) convincingly. I would caution against associating the creation of synthetic vocals with AI music as a general statement. These are some of the most convincing instances of deepfakes in music. While there have been deepfakes of speakers and video for a long time, that has not led to general condemnation of all of speech synthesis and video generation. There are plenty of perfectly reasonable uses for this kind of technology (Hatsune Miku being a classic example). What should be condemned is unauthorized deepfakes that use someone's identity. I hope that everyone can separate this particular use from their opinions on AI music as a whole.
As for Daft Punk, while I understand and respect their reasoning, I would like to offer my more optimistic outlook on the future of music in the age of AI. Like I said at the start, I started working on generative music as a means of extending my own expression, not as a way of replacing it. Everything that I worked on professionally has been geared towards augmenting creativity rather than replacing it. I frequently say that AI will allow us to automate parts of the artistic process that we do no want to spend our time on anyway, giving us more time to focus on the truly creative work that we ultimately want to be doing.
AI will make some tasks more efficient; it will make others obsolete, while at the same time creating new opportunities, just as all major technological advancements have in the past. What it will never do is fundamentally replace creativity. As soon as AI is able to faithfully reproduce a genre, people will come up with a new genre. If anything, this will create a game of whack-a-mole that could inject more novelty into our art.
I often cite this cartoon regarding one person using AI to write an email from a single sentence and someone else using AI to summarize the email back to the original sentence and ask: in that world, do we even value the full email? It is not so much a question of whether it should be possible or whether people should do it, but more about whether we as a society should continue to value long form writing if a summary would suffice? This does not mean the death of writing, though it does mean that we need to reevaluate what about writing we find valuable, and what parts of that do we believe are only valuable coming from a human.