Music

Music Biz 2024: Music Leaders Discuss AI & Potential Industry Impact: ‘It’s Destabilizing, but Empowering’

NASHVILLE — Ahead of the 2024 Music Biz conference, Music Business Association president Portia Sabin predicted that artificial intelligence would be the most hotly-discussed topic.

“AI is the big one that everyone’s talking about,” she told Billboard.

That premonition proved true during the current conference (held in Nashville May 13-16), as dozens of speakers across the spectrum of music, tech, legal and more discussed AI’s uncertain future in the space, and its current impact on the industry.

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One such panel was “How AI and Tech Are Shaping the Business of Music” on Monday (May 13). Moderated by Elizabeth Brooks, managing partner at Better Angels Venture, the panelists—head of artist marketing and digital strategy at Friends At Work, Jeremy Gruber; senior vp of product and technology at MAX, Jeff Rosenfeld; MADKAT founder Maddy Sundquist; and singer-songwriter Stephen Day — discussed the emergence of AI in music, some of the concerns surrounding its potential impact on artist creativity, and how artists can maintain an authentic connection to their fans.

As the sole artist on the panel, Day kicked off the AI portion of the discussion and countered that, despite the recent uptick in the use of generative AI in popular music — most recently with Drake on “Taylor Made Freestyle,” the diss track in which he uses AI to recreate Snoop Dogg and the late Tupac Shakur’s voices, which has since been taken down after the Shakur estate threatened to take legal action — he’s not concerned about generative AI’s emergence. “Overall, I’m not really scared about it because technology has always advanced,” he said. “The human with the heart and the soul is what makes it important.”

Rosenfeld agreed, adding that “technology continually upends the business of music,” pointing to social media as an example of something that changed digital marketing strategies for artists and labels. One group that could be at risk though, he said, are artists that people don’t have a direct connection with, like film/TV composers. “It’s the personal connection [that fans are after]. It is the person and their story behind the music that people relate to,” he said. “And that’s why it’s important to have a relationship with your fans.”

Rosenfeld isn’t the first exec to note that risk for artists who make instrumental music. In a 2023 Billboard story, Oleg Stavitsky, co-founder/CEO of AI-driven functional sound company Endel, pointed to “functional music” (that is, a type of audio “not designed for conscious listening”) as an area of focus for their firm. While the company isn’t in the business of making hits, it’s focused on making music that promotes sleep or relaxation (lo-fi music, ambient electronics, etc.) with help from AI tools. Another company, LifeScore, which uses AI to “create unique, real-time soundtracks for every journey,” recruited James Blake to create an AI ambient soundtrack titled Wind Down.

While that’s a threat to that corner of the market, the panelists were largely optimistic, albeit cautiously, about AI’s future impact.

“AI is not our overlord today,” Brooks said. Added Rosenfeld, “It’s enabled small businesses to expand… It’s destabilizing, but at the same time empowering.”

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At a separate panel on Wednesday (May 15) titled “How AI Is Changing the Way We Market, Promote & Sell Music,” the speakers also had a positive outlook on AI in the industry. Moderated by co-founder and CEO of 24/7 Artists, Yudu Gray, Jr., the panel featured chief product officer of SymphonyOS, Chuka Chase; head of communications & creator insights at BandLab Technologies, Dani Deahl; and Visionary Rising founder LaTecia Johnson.

Chase said that his company has used AI to streamline the process of finding and growing an audience for artists. One way has been to use AI to build a setlist for an emerging artist’s first tour. Chase explained that his team was able to harness AI by sending out emails and putting out polls in order to gain insight into what that artist should perform in each city. “We went into the CRM and blasted emails to put out polls, a microsite asking what songs [that artist] should perform. After a couple hours we got around 20,000 responses,” he said, adding that he could then plug that data into GPT and make a setlist based on the most-requested songs.

For Deahl, who’s also a DJ and music producer, AI has helped with delegating various administrative tasks. “One of the biggest hurdles that artists now have to overcome is they don’t have to just worry about the creative components… They have to worry about all these different facets of their business.” She argues that any tool that gives her the ability to “cut out the BS” and give her the time to focus on the creative process is the best way to help her amplify her work. “Not every artist is built to be an entrepreneur,” she said.

Several companies are beginning to launch similar “AI assistants” for these kinds of admin roles. Last month, for example, Venice Music launched a new tool called Co-Manager “to educate artists on the business and marketing of music, so artists can spend more time focused on their creative vision,” Suzy Ryoo, co-founder and president of the company, said in a statement at the time. The idea is to, as Deahl said, give artists more time to be artists.

To that end, as AI tools become more prominent, the humans on an artist’s team are now more crucial than ever. While AI tools perhaps shrink the size of an artist’s team due to their functionality, Deahl doesn’t envision a world in which human roles are fully replaced. “I don’t worry about replacement when it comes to the people I engage with,” she said. “It would be a really lonely road for me as an artist if the only things that I relied on were AI chatbots or tools that tell me what my strategy should be. I need human feedback.”

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