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08/22/2023
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A New App Could Help Musicians Use AI Ethically—Here's Why You Should Care

Musicians are flooding streaming services with new songs made using artificial intelligence (AI), but the practice raises issues of fairness that a new program hopes to address.

BeatStars has announced an initiative to bring "ethical AI" to music producers and artists. The program provides AI training through a community of producers who are compensated for sharing their work.

"Without the application of collaborative elements in music production, we wouldn't be seeing the rapidly growing independent music segment of the industry," Abe Batshon, CEO of BeatStars, told Lifewire in an email interview. "In the case of music producers who are mostly digital musicians, their access to generative AI elements for creative inspiration can potentially scale their business exponentially while still maintaining the integrity and originality of the resulting music."

Credit Where It’s Due
With Seeds, BeatStars' subscribers can access AI to help generate ideas and spark inspiration. Fighting what Lemonaide calls "beatblock," Seeds is meant to help BeatStars creators push through creative slumps with AI that produces short, four-bar MIDI files to provide a jumping-off point for tracks. Some critics say that generative AI for music production doesn't properly pay artists.

"Spotify has announced publicly that over 100,000 commercial songs are being uploaded to their platform daily," Batshon said. "In this kind of environment, our music producer creators have to keep up with the demand in the market. We expect that this number will continue growing every day as more and more affordable creator tools become available to every artist at every stage of their careers. Our partnership with Lemonaide gives our creators the ability to generate millions of variations of melodies and chords, which has been the most challenging part to master for digital-first creators."

The issues concerning ethics and AI are disrupting the music industry, Robert Harari, the director of music and technology at Stevens Institute of Technology, noted in an email. He said that many musical recordings are being fed into machine learning models to give AI the building blocks to create new music.

"The question becomes whether it is regurgitating previously copyrighted material without the requisite citations and licensing fees humans must deliver with their productions," he added.

The same analytical process meant for AI can be used to generate new tones that are very close representations of the original voice or instrument, Harari said.

The question becomes whether it is regurgitating previously copyrighted material without the requisite citations and licensing fees humans must deliver with their productions.

"By analyzing the huge canon of music for melodic construction and musical performance, with the appropriate prompts, AI can generate very close simulations to what humans create," he added. "But this is not original music; it is a form of sampling previously existing music and assembling it in such a way."

Harsari said an argument can be made that AI sampling is similar to what DJs do when they mash together elements of songs to create a new beat.

"And here is the catch, they have to declare the samples they used to create these mash-ups for commercial release and pay the required royalties to the original publisher/artist for use," he added. "Implementing that same licensing requirement to AI would make the practice equally ethical to current copyright law."

The Future of AI and Music
The AI music race could soon heat up. The ability for text-to-music AI to produce an entire album instantly to your liking will change how we listen to music, Eric Alexander, the CEO of Soundscape, a music and entertainment platform built for VR that includes AI, noted in an email. He said human musicians would have difficulty competing, just as digital painters struggle against the AI image-generating program Midjourney or copywriters against the text-generating chatGPT.

Someone listening to music with headphones on.
Listening to music generated by AI. Francesco Carta fotografo / Getty Images
"And because it can all be generated and consumed locally at your home, creativity will thrive hottest here, similar to the explosion of sampling and electronic music," he added. "But the best AI music won't be just high-tech cover bands, and it will reveal superiority to even the best human musicians as AI and AI-powered artists become the festival headliners of the future."

Musician Vernon Reid said in an email that he is most concerned about the convergence of AI with "human-directed amorality and greed."

"Will the rise of streaming services that pay music artists mere fractions of pennies for their work take an even darker turn as AI-fueled technologies continue to converge, with no sense of moral balance, set to serve audiences with less and less aesthetic discernment?" he asked.