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Could AI Music Be the New Normal?

Could AI Music Be the New Normal?

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Other artistes are dismissive of the tool, suggesting that it makes a mockery of humanity. Australian singer and songwriter, Nick Cave, once described lyrics written “in the style of Nick Cave” by the ChatGPT AI as “a grotesque mockery of what it is to be human…”

By Sybil Fekurumoh

There is a song on YouTube that has Rihanna singing Tems’ “Higher.” The audio is very convincing, and with Rihanna’s powerful voice and Tems’ gracious lyrics, it makes listeners wonder why they hadn’t heard it sooner. The only thing is, Rihanna never made the cover. She hasn’t put out a new song since she made the “Lift Me Up” soundtrack for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. The “Higher” rendition is Artificial Intelligence (AI) generated with Rihanna’s voice. There are other AI-generated songs like this scattered across the Internet, such as AI Rihanna singing Tems’ “Free Mind,” and AI Rihanna singing Billie Eilish’s “Ocean Eyes.”

AI has disrupted many industries, and the music industry is no exception. With the right set of instructions, AI can easily become adaptive. This potential can see AI adopted in areas where intelligence did not exist. But it goes beyond creating songs using the voice of another artiste. With AI-generated music, a machine learning algorithm can be trained on a set of data from existing music. This existing music may consist of a vast collection of songs. The algorithm then analyses the patterns and structures in the music, such as melodies and instrumentation. The algorithm uses the information gotten from the dataset to generate new music that shares a similar style and structure.

Generative AI has been on the rise lately. The AI revolution continues since the introduction of the language model, ChatGPT by Open AI, and image generators like DALL-E and Midjourney. Even now, there are YouTube channels dedicated to AI-generated music. Interestingly, Google’s AI music generator has been described as the ChatGPT for audio.  AI is another invention to be added to the forte of technology used in the industry, such as the synthesiser, and the sampler. AI becomes an allusive tool useful in composing new music and mashups and possibly creating lyrics, the figmental “creative block” forever vanquished. AI is an advancement in the ways technology is making musicians more creative, and decentralising creative processes within the music industry. The impact of today’s AI-generated music builds up from the ways AI has made music creation more seamless, such as how creatives can make rights-free music, and automise music mixing and mastering, or how streaming platforms use AI to make recommendations based on algorithms.

(Read also: New Technology in the Arts and Music Industry: What Does This Mean for Africa?)

AI-generated music has however been received with mixed reactions. With some AI-generated songs, it’s easy to tell they’re artificially generated. Some audiences find the voice-over songs emotive, while others find them playful and witty. In the African music industry, AI music can help artistes to become more creative and to gain popularity. Artistes can experiment with the more mainstream sounds. But as with several generative AI models in recent times, AI-generated music tools have also aroused concerns about the implication of their usage. As genres that originate from Africa, such as Amapiano and Afrobeats, become more mainstream, there is a tendency for bad actors to use AI to rip off independent artistes through imitation. Unofficial albums created using AI can be produced and marketed as original works.

There is also the concern that AI and automation services will take over human jobs, thereby making creatives such as songwriters, producers, or even musicians irrelevant. Other artistes are dismissive of the tool, suggesting that it makes a mockery of humanity. Australian singer and songwriter, Nick Cave, once described lyrics written “in the style of Nick Cave” by the ChatGPT AI as “a grotesque mockery of what it is to be human…”

Copyright infringement and loss of creative control are also troubling with AI usage. AI usage raises further disquieting apprehensions regarding its ethical and legal ramifications. For one, there are ethical concerns about cultural appropriation with AI-generated music. Take, for instance, some of the AI-generated songs that have stirred up social discourse and left people conflicted. There is the AI-generated verse in the style of rapper, Kanye West, which went viral on the Internet in March with lyrics that made reference to West’s controversial anti-Semitic comments and his now-dissolved partnership with the Adidas brand. Perhaps the most controversial of them all was an AI track of Drake singing “Heart on My Sleeve” by The Weeknd, which was uploaded on Spotify by a certain “ghostwriter.” The song has now been removed from the platform.  These songs are originally created by African-American artistes, and such AI simulations of the original have been considered a denigration of Black culture, with the creators of AI-generated music devaluing the artistry of these artistes and further perpetuating racial stereotypes. One easily recalls the first digital artiste, an AI-powered rapper, FN Meka, who was signed with Capitol Records. The character’s deal was eventually terminated when the record company faced backlash for its inappropriate stereotype of Black culture in FN Meka’s behaviour and social media presence. FN Meka used the N-word in his lyrics and depicted police brutality on his social media, for example, by posting images of him being assaulted by the police.

(Read also: The Single Narrative about Africa is Exhausting)

Since the Drake AI version of “Heart on My Sleeve” incident, there have been more conversations about creative theft and copyright laws in the American music industry. For one, Universal Music Group, which artistes like Drake and the Weeknd are signed to, has asked streaming platforms to take off all music it considers inferior, including AI-generated songs. The music company reasons this call to action as a way to protect the company’s rights and those of its artistes.

It is quite clear that AI is here to stay. Ultimately, our ability to align with it in a rapidly changing society will determine our success. The music industry has so far dealt with copyright laws as with music sampling and beat production, and so far, only human beings are able to generate protected intellectual property. But as artists increasingly adopt artificial intelligence, the lines become blurred, technology today changes so fast that the law struggles to keep up with it. As the legal system and legislators grapple with the issue of ownership in the realm of artificial intelligence, the already complex topic of music copyrights becomes even more intricate, so perhaps copyright laws will evolve to address this new frontier.

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Ugandan Museveni addressing a crowd in a rally. Museveni signed an anti-homosexuality bill in the country, which has gained support from populist conservative society. Afrocritik

We can also begin to ask salient questions like where does one draw the line with artificial intelligence? Would AI promote human rights or further widen the inequality gap? Would AI usage become regulated or would there be an AI power imbalance that puts AI tools in the hands of a select few? Researcher, Scott Timcke, further discusses the necessity to address social inequality with AI usage, and the tendency for it to become an exploitative tool by saying, “An adequate global digital compact must begin by centrally addressing power and profit, and entrench public interest as the over-determining principle in all circumstances.” It is humans who create technology, and still, pose the power to skew such technology to favour some other others.

(Read also: Can Artificial Intelligence Change the Face of Africa?)

AI technology continues to be improved such that it is harder to tell apart what is “real” music and what isn’t. Perhaps, AI usage will become fully saturated that it becomes easy to tell the difference.  Perhaps, people would begin to long for music that is sentient, or for the lack of better words, original. What is certain, however, is that AI is here and that, at best, individuals would adjust to the changing times.

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Sybil Fekurumoh is a senior writer for Afrocritik. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram at @toqueensaber.

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