‘A future where all music is generated by AI’ – Fake Drake tune is just the beginning, says expert

An image from the AI-generated song “Heart On My Sleeve” circulating online, featuring computerized reconstructions of Drake and the Weeknd’s voices. Music companies have been asked to remove the song.
picture: Screenshot / YouTube

AI-generated music will become the norm sooner than we think, says an expert technology futurist.

Last week, AI became big on the internet. The two-minute track “Heart On My Sleeve” features AI-generated vocals that sound like megastars Drake and The Weeknd.

It was quickly pulled from streaming services by the artists’ label for copyright infringement.

This audio cannot be downloaded due to copyright restrictions.

“Heart On My Sleeve” was taken down by Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer and Tidal, and was removed from TikTok and YouTube, but some versions remain available.

Publishers Universal Music Group said the song violated copyright law.

In a statement to a music industry trade magazine billboardUniversal said “platforms have a fundamental legal and ethical responsibility to prevent their services from being used in ways that harm artists.”

Tech futurist and Memia newsletter writer Ben Reid talks to Jesse Mulligan about the bigger issues at play here.

“We’ve seen this explosion of generative AI tools in the last few months,” such as ChatGPT and image emulator DALL-E, Reid said, “so yes, text-to-music is next.”

“Voice synthesis tools are developing very quickly… sometimes they’re called DeepFakes, where you can train an AI model to reproduce someone’s voice, speech patterns, intonation, and then you can give it a script to speak.

“We’re now seeing this applied in the commercial space.”

The Weeknd performed on stage at this year's Coachella music festival.

The Weeknd has sold millions of records.
picture: AFP

The sweeping changes that AI technology will create are just beginning, with some fearful and some optimistic.

“It’s a generational shift, a paradigm shift in terms of what technology allows.

“We’ve moved from an era where music was relatively scarce and now it’s completely abundant… The opportunity now is that you can create hours and hours of AI-generated music with very little effort.

“The question around copyright is what are these AI models trained on initially? Is copyrighted material included in the patterns?

“Music publishers, that’s their business model and they’re looking to protect the legal rights from copyright.”

“I’m not a lawyer, but these questions have been raised before,” Reed noted, such as in the early 2000s when Google tried to scan and upload every book in the world, prompting concern from authors’ guilds.

That case eventually went to the US Supreme Court, which found it fair use for Google to put the material online.

The rapid pace of technology development makes it difficult for the legal system to keep up, Reed said.

“Regulation tends to leave behind technology innovation to a large extent.

“I think that until this legal process goes through the courts — and it could take years and years and years, and the lawyers are going to make a lot of money from it — by then, my hunch is that you’re going to go find AI models that are trained on AI-generated content and in fact has no real ability to trace back to any original copyrighted content.

“My sense of the future is that we may see a future where all music is generated by AI and there’s this complete democratization of the ability to create, consume and completely customize music streams.”

But does that take away any personality and human element in the music?

Reed said it’s possible that if you had an endless procession of AI avatars and AI musicians, each with a fully fleshed out personal story, we might not be able to tell the difference.

“Why would you choose Ed Sheeran over your favorite custom selection?”

As the AI ​​revolution gathers pace, there have been some pretty gloomy predictions and utopian imaginings about where it all might lead.

Reid said she already finds the tools useful in her own work life.

“I think there will be huge benefits in terms of personal productivity. I now integrate ChatGPT and a number of imaging tools into my workflows on a daily basis and it makes me incredibly productive.

“I think our ability as a society to absorb these new technologies and adapt and possibly change some of the fundamental principles of how our economy works, I think is going to raise some big questions in the year ahead.”

Some people panicked at the introduction of the printing press, television and the Internet, and some of the AI ​​backlash is no different, Reid said.

“It’s just a new technology coming in to create an abundance of something that was quite scarce. I think the difference here is probably the speed at which things happen.

“Given the speed of change now, the question is whether people can reskill, reskill quickly enough, and whether the work that people do today and even the work that we expect will be thrown out really, really quickly, so like okay?

“Maybe we’ll go down to four-day work weeks, three-day work weeks, that’s one possible outcome there.”

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