The phenomenon of artificial intelligence within pop music appears to be at a strange tipping point, as it’s easier and easier for fans to use technology to imitate famous artists’ voices, delivery styles, and even lyrics. Right now, there’s a whole cottage YouTube industry of AI cover versions — deepfake approximations of stars, often dead ones, singing songs that may not have come out when those stars were alive. It’s an open question whether that’s a fun diversion or a sign of the apocalypse, but it seems like something that the world can’t stop. Instead, the record labels and tech platforms would like to figure out how to make money from it.
The Financial Times reports that Google and Universal Music are negotiating to partner up on a venture where they’d license out the music in their catalog for AI purposes. They’re a long ways away from coming to an agreement or launching a product, but the idea is to make it easy for fans to make AI music based on the voices of Universal artists, with the copyright owners being compensated for the privilege. Warner Music is also holding similar talks with Google, and Sony already has an executive whose job is dedicated to AI.
Under this proposed system, artists could decide whether or not to opt in. (Grimes has already been an early proponent of this system, offering to split royalties with producers who use AI versions of her voice.) According to the Financial Times, label executives are looking at the rise of AI as being similar to YouTube in its early Wild West days. At first, labels sent out takedown orders when videos used their music. Now, there’s a system in place, and the music business makes $20 billion per year off of syncs from YouTube videos.
Earlier this year, “Heart On My Sleeve,” a song that used AI to mimic the voices of Drake and the Weeknd, became a viral hit before Universal forced its removal from streaming services. In some potential future, the labels, tech companies, artists, and AI users could all instead make money from a song like “Heart On My Sleeve.”
Warner Music chief executive Robert Kyncl recently told investors that this kind of system could “enable fans to pay their heroes the ultimate compliment through a new level of user-driven content… including new cover versions and mash-ups.” Google has already previewed generative AI software that can make music based on vague prompts, but it’s not commercially available yet. You can see the full Financial Times report here.
If Terminator 2 happened today, these dang record executives would be trying to sign the dang liquid metal Terminator.