As a musician, educator, and author, I’ve spent the last few years examining AI’s challenges to the music ecosystem. But recently, after a comical misunderstanding on a U.S. podcast, I ended up playing devil’s advocate for the AI side of the AI and music equation. The experience was thought-provoking as I took on the role of an accidental AI evangelist, and I started to refocus on the question of, “Why are we fighting for ethical use of AI in music in the first place? What are the benefits, and are they worth the time and effort?”
As we hurtle from the now-quaint AI chatbot ChatGPT, to the expected text-to-video and text-to-music capabilities of GPT 5 (rumoured to drop in December), to Microsoft’s acknowledgment that AGI is feasible (artificial general intelligence, or a sentient AI being, or Skynet to be alarmist), to viral AI-generated hits with vocals in the style of Drake & The Weeknd and Bad Bunny & Rihanna, it can be easy to focus on the doom and gloom of AI. However, doing so does us a disservice, as it shifts the conversation from “how do we harness AI’s benefits ethically” to “how do we stop AI from destroying the world?” There are many, with a cheeky chappie nod to Ian Dury, “Reasons to Be Cheerful” (or at least not fearful) about music and AI. Here are nine reasons why we need to embrace it with guardrails, rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Fun: Yes, damn the ethics – temporarily. Generative AI technologies, which ingest content and then create new content based on those inputs, are incredibly fun. They tease and capture our curiosity, drawing us in. We might tell our employers that we use text-to-image services like DALL-E and Stable Diffusion or chat and search bots like ChatGPT and Jasper to optimise workflow to stay ahead of the technological curve, but they are also so seductively entertaining. Elementary AI prohibition won’t work; our solutions must be at least as stimulating as our challenges.
Time-saving: According to a survey by Water & Music, this is what music makers desire most. Many musicians spend countless hours managing social media accounts, wishing they could focus on music-making instead. AI solutions promise to grant that wish, allowing them to auto-generate text for social posts and announcements, and providing inspiration and potential starting points for new tracks, giving them the gift of time and helping them write, record, and release music more quickly. Let’s use automation wisely to free up musicians for their art and their economics.
Education: Despite dwindling funds for music education, technology offers new ways to make music accessible to everyone. Affordable AI tools can help students break through privileged barriers, providing access to personalised learning. I work with Ableton, which makes a variety of music production hardware and software. Successful initiatives such as the Ableton Push 1 campaign, which provided discounts to those who traded in their Push 1 midi controller and then refurbished and provided them for free to schools that needed them, demonstrate how digital tools can empower the economically marginalised, enable them to explore new musical styles and techniques, and nurture their passion for music.
Imperfect charm: AI’s imperfections and quirks make it endearing and relatable. AI’s unpredictable nature can lead to happy accidents and repurposing technologies for new musical uses. The fact that LMMs (large language models), which analyze huge swaths of text and then generate new text based on the patterns it learns, can be flawed retains a touch of human magic and humour in our interactions with them. Let’s enjoy this fleeting VHS fuzziness before it’s gone.
Affordable: Setting aside the environmental costs for a moment, AI has become exponentially accessible. AI allows creators to produce incredible results with basic tools. Last July, I purchased an expensive GPU-filled MacBook with dreams of making mind-blowing AI musical creations, but by September, I was doing just that using only my old phone’s browser. This so-called “democratisation” of music production can level the playing field for musicians worldwide, allowing more people to pursue their passion. Can we get it to increase their income too?
Tech Stacking: Experimenting with new combinations of generative AI APIs (application programming interfaces) opens up a world of DIY creativity. APIs are essentially pre-made functionality that developers can slot into their code easily, allowing them to focus on innovation rather than spending their time creating generative AI applications from scratch. This collision of technologies can encourage collaboration between musicians and developers, fostering a dynamic and innovative environment that crucially must be aligned with new licensing and rights payment models.
Elevated Chatter: As AI becomes more prevalent, the quality of conversations surrounding it has improved. People are starting to debate the legality of using copyrighted material to train AI, particularly in the music world, with a variety of strong arguments being made on behalf of human creators. In my research, I tried to address the complexities of AI in the music ecosystem, and now, I find these discussions happening everywhere, from John Oliver to barber shops. This elevated discourse can help us as a global industry make informed and necessarily swift decisions about AI’s role in our lives, better integrating its reasonably cheerful benefits and not being overwhelmed by its many chilling implications.
Inspiring the next generation: Introducing AI to young minds can be inspiring and terrifying. In my undergraduate module at Windmill Studios Dublin, I tasked students with inventing new music IP using existing cutting-edge technologies, with one rule of thumb: they could use a hologram but not bring someone back from the dead. Initially, I felt terrible about presenting such a potentially dystopian vision to young minds. But what happened next amazed me: all 40-odd students (from two classes) came up with outstanding commercial ideas. Their creativity and enthusiasm reminded me that the adage, “no one knows anything,” holds as true for music as it ever did.
Time to adapt: Perhaps the biggest reason to be cheerful at the moment, we still have enough time to address AI’s challenges. As Microsoft announces the “first sparks of AGI” and we face a saturated streaming market, we must work quickly together to ensure an equitable future for music makers. In my book, “Artificial Intelligence and Music Ecosystem,” my fellow contributors and I delve into the pressing issues surrounding AI, and now, more than ever, we need to take action to steer the course of music’s evolution. As AI continues to develop, it’s crucial for musicians, industry professionals, and policymakers to engage in open dialogue, collaborating to create a sustainable and equitable music ecosystem. Otherwise, what looks like Drake and sounds like Drake may not actually be Drake in the future.
The Human Artistry Campaign is the first step in this direction and interlinks with the concerns of MIT’s Max Tegmark’s “Pause Giant AI Experiments Open Letter” (which currently has 27,000+ signatures and called for a pause in the development of AI to give governments the chance to regulate it) for a big-vision picture. As we work together, we can ensure that AI serves as a tool for artistic growth and sustainability. But we must move fast and nurture things as AI’s growth is exponential. Do you remember back when ChatGPT was on the cutting edge of AI? Well, that was only five months ago, and we’re now talking about the possibility of sentience. That’s why I am working with some of the biggest companies in music and big tech to create AI:OK, a system to identify ethical stakeholders and help to create an equitable AI music ecosystem. If you are human and would like to help shape this future, it might be the most significant reason to be cheerful of all.
Dr. Martin Clancy, PhD is a musician, author, artist manager and AI expert. He is a founding member of Irish rock band In Tua Nua, chairs the IEEE Global AI Ethics Arts Committee, serves as an IRC Research Fellow at Trinity College Dublin, and authored the book Artificial Intelligence and Music Ecosystem. He also manages Irish singer Jack Lukeman and is a leading voice in advocating ethical use of AI in music.
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