AI Is Changing Everything. Is Music Next?

“This needs to be stopped”, posted one user. “This is going to destroy music”, said another.

Pat Lewis

--

The video these people were referring to shows the awesome potential of AI and music creation. The video (featured below), shows producer Robert Nickson demonstarting the power of an AI voice generator; turning his voice into Kanye West’s. Others shared this outlook, as if to say that AI is about to put every musician out of a job. So what is AI going to do to music exactly?

When Michelangelo finished the Sistine Chapel in 1512 after four long years, do you think he looked up at that now iconic ceiling and thought “Wow, what a masterpiece! I am a genius!”?

Maybe.

Or maybe it’s more likely that he thought “Wow, there are so many mistakes. Oh well, it’s just a corporate gig. Now I can finally get back to my real passion of sculpting”.

I would argue it was a lot more like the latter. Why?

Michelangelo, the reluctant painter.

Well for starters, it’s well documented that Michelangelo didn’t actually want to paint the ceiling in the first place, and not just because he was a sculptor, but because he was an artist. And what do artists hate? Their own work! Ok, that’s not entirely true — but any artists reading this will know that it is also kind of true. Artists often struggle with their own work, not because they dislike it necessarily but because for them, their work is deeply personal, even educational at times. An artists work is like a mirror, and one of the first things they notice is all the imperfections.

So what do artists enjoy then?

If they don’t love their art, why are they bothering to make it?

Michelangelo in His Studio, Visited by Pope Julius II — Alexandre Cabanel

Well in Michelangelo’s case, there was the money, for starters. He was paid 3200 Florins — about $600,000 USD in todays money, by Pope Julius II, who insisted that Michelangelo take on the gig. But Michelangelo, like almost all artists, made most of his work for nothing. No money at all! Instead it was for the love of creating things.

In ‘Art & Fear, Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Art Making’, a fabulous book by David Bayles & Ted Orland, which I cannot recommend enough, they note of art making that:

Making the work you want means finding nourishment in the work itself”.

What does that mean?

It means the true joy of art making is in the making of the art and not in the destination, which in this case is of course the finished piece of art.

This leads me in a slightly roundabout way, to the topic of this article:

Will AI Destroy Music?

In recent months, a number of companies have been racing to make an AI that can make music so sophisticated that it is indistinguishable from a human composer. Now whether or not you believe this is a good thing to do is the topic of debate for another article, but will AI destroy music?

Soundraw.io is just one of the many AI interfaces generating music.

There’s no doubt that AI is about to make the world look really, really different and it is all but guaranteed to shake up just about every industry we can think of. But destroy music? Well based off what we know about the different AI tools that are appearing, already you can whip up some relatively impressive music, and while it isn’t going to be a number one hit just yet, it is passable as human made.

But I ask you, who is going to use these tools?

The musicians, the artists creating music because of a deep burning desire inside them; that insatiable drive to create (that I’m sure some people reading this will be familiar with) — they’ll probably just keep making music the way they have been, because that’s the thing that feels good. For them, as we have established, it’s the journey that they love, not the finished music. That isn’t to say that artists don’t like their art at all by the way, of course they do. But the thing that gets them going is the making; getting lost in that process.

Perhaps these musicians will tinker with AI a little bit, but real musicians are unlikely to go and sell all their gear because finally, there’s a computer to do it for them that will save them all this time! They may decide to add it to their tool box; to use AI in the same way they use a loop library, a preset or a sample — but it will not change their world.

Roberto Nickson shows how AI can change his voice into Kanye West instantly.

So if musicians are unlikely to use AI to create complete pieces of music, who will? Non-musicians? Maybe. But if they weren’t that interested in making music before, it seems weird to pick it up now that they don’t have to do any of the hard work. In my opinion, these tools are made for people who have no interest in making music, but need it. I’m talking people in marketing, directors; people who need a project done quickly on a tight budget. An indie film student who blew the budget on lighting, for example. And sure, maybe there’s some people who will play around with it and they may even release some of ‘their creations’ for the world to hear. And while a concept like that is kind of gross to me and probably a few of you too, it will happen — but it is meaningless.

The AI Debate is dividing opinion on the future of music.

You could actually argue that by opening music “creation” up to more people, AI is actually benefitting music by helping people to make more of it, rather than destroy it.

But let me put another idea forward that might just put this whole argument to bed once and for all.

Blunders. Gaffes. Slip ups. Oversights. Flaws. Errors. Misunderstandings.

Or put another way: Mistakes.

Mistakes are as familiar to the artist as the backs of their hands with which they are creating. And frustrating as they may be at times, they are always one of two things:

  1. Completely necessary to the creative process.
  2. A path to a destination you didn’t know existed.

When you ask an AI to make you a piece of music, you are bound by the limitations of that software, but also the limitations of your own imagination. A mistake lets you break the confines of both.

Call it a ‘happy accident’. When you play a chord by mistake that you fall in love with, or drop the MIDI onto the wrong instrument, or apply the “wrong” effect to a track — only to find that this “mistake” fundamentally changes the entire work for the better. It’s these “mistakes” that make your work unique. They make your work human and in doing so make your work relatable.

An AI will go from your input to finished song in a matter of seconds without deviating from the path. It’s like driving from point A to point B without stopping and looking at the scenery. AI will make me the most perfect song it can and that’s why it will never destroy music, merely imitate it.

Hey, thanks for reading.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider giving me a follow.

You can also check out my other stuff here.

--

--