Can AI Music Be Made Ethically? 200+ Musicians Weigh In

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In a world where technology and creativity intertwine, over 200 musicians, including stars like Billie Eilish and representatives of icons like Frank Sinatra, have come together. Their mission? To send a powerful message to the masters of artificial intelligence (AI) under the banner of the Artist Rights Alliance.

A world with AI at our side brings pressing questions about creativity and the future of music. Will music become a product of machines, or will the unique human touch that breathes life into melodies continue to thrive?

This discussion goes beyond mere notes and rhythms; it’s a significant examination of artistry, ethics, and how we envision the music created with AI models.

Dive into this compelling story with us, where we’ll explore insights from thought leaders like Stanford’s Professor Ge Wang and industry giants Daniel Ek and Robert Kyncl, seeking a balance between technological innovation and the invaluable human element in music.

Key Takeaways

  • Over 200 musicians, including Billie Eilish and representatives of legends like Frank Sinatra, have united to advocate for ethical AI use in music production.
  • The Artist Rights Alliance-led initiative stresses the importance of preserving human creativity amidst technological advancements.
  • They caution against AI overshadowing or replacing musicians and emphasize fair compensation and cultural diversity.
  • Ultimately, the goal is to maintain music’s human essence while embracing AI’s capabilities responsibly.

The Artists’ Perspectives on AI Music

Over 200 musicians spanning genres and generations, have united to issue a significant appeal to technology firms regarding generative AIs role in music production. High-profile signatories such as Billie Eilish and representatives of Frank Sinatra’s estate have allied under the Artist Rights Alliance banner to urge the ethical application of AI in music.

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Other signatories include Nicki Minaj, Peter Frampton, R.E.M., Sam Smith, Jon Bon Jovi, Pearl Jam, Katy Perry, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, and the estate of Bob Marley.

They seek to establish boundaries that prevent AI from overshadowing or replacing the human element in music creation.

The open letter acknowledges the benefits AI could potentially offer to the industry, suggesting that it has a place in the music production process. However, it also stresses that AI must not replicate or erode the role of human musicians and songwriters.

The artists implore tech companies to refrain from pursuing AI solutions that could destroy human musicians’ careers or undercut their earnings.

The collective stance arises amid increasing worries over AI’s ability to emulate human voices and styles, potentially muddling AI-created works with those made by humans. This has already been happening: in November 2023, a new Beatles song was released.

In February 1995, as part of The Beatles Anthology project, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr sought to complete a treasured demo by John Lennon. Their efforts were stalled by technical challenges of the time, mainly separating Lennon’s voice from his piano music recorded in the 1970s. The project was put on hold indefinitely.

A significant breakthrough came in 2022, thanks to Peter Jackson’s team during the making of the documentary series “Get Back.” They used AI to isolate Lennon’s vocals from the piano, and the Beatles returned for one last encore.

That instance had the blessing of the remaining band members and was warmly welcomed by the world.

But what if AI can repeat this permissionlessly, with ‘original’ songs arriving with no way to trace authenticity?

For instance, we present to you 2003-era Linkin Park performing Gotye’s 2011 hit, “Somebody That I Used to Know”.

The continued development of technology is going to lead to complex legal and ethical problems, including reduced earnings for human artists and violations of long-standing copyright protections.

The letter’s signatories advocate for a principled use of AI, one that respects and upholds the rights of creators without harming the integrity of the music ecosystem. Their unified voice sends a clear message that while technology can be a powerful ally in the creative process, it should not become a substitute for the human artistry that lies at the heart of music.

Full list of signatories
The full list of signatories. (ArtistsRightsNow)

The open letter read in part:

“Make no mistake: we believe that, when used responsibly, AI has enormous potential to advance human creativity and in a manner that enables the development and growth of new and exciting experiences for music fans everywhere…. Unfortunately, some platforms and developers are employing AI to sabotage creativity and undermine artists, songwriters, musicians and rightsholders.

“We must protect against the predatory use of AI to steal professional artists’ voices and likenesses, violate creators’ rights, and destroy the music ecosystem.

“We call on all digital music platforms and music-based services to pledge that they will not develop or deploy AI music-generation technology, content, or tools that undermine or replace the human artistry of songwriters and artists or deny us fair compensation for our work.”

This letter reflects a strong call from the music community to address the challenges brought on by AI, pushing for a future where technology elevates rather than replaces artistic expression.

The Ethical Implications of AI in Music

The use of AI in music is sparking important ethical conversations about copyright, fair payment, and cultural impact while also revolutionizing the industry. AI’s ability to create or perform music is impressive, but it raises questions about whether such creations are genuinely authentic and what really makes something a work of art.

Leaders like Daniel Ek from Spotify and Warner Music’s Robert Kyncl have added depth to this debate.

Spotify’s Daniel Ek cautiously suggests that while technology can be useful, it must not copy artists without their agreement in order to honor and protect originality. Meanwhile, Warner Music’s Robert Kyncl sees AI’s big role in shaping the future of music and believes in integrating AI, but with clear guidelines to follow.

An important issue is how musicians are paid. An overload of AI music mimicking popular artists may threaten the earnings of artists who depend on royalties. It’s vital to ensure these artists are paid fairly in an industry increasingly influenced by AI-made music.

Furthermore, the impact of AI on cultural diversity in music is a concern. The music reflects our collective human stories and cultures. If AI-created music lacks this connection to various cultural backgrounds, it could lead to a less diverse, more uniform global music scene.

There’s also a debate about whether AI-generated works can be called “art,” as art traditionally involves human intentions, feelings, and awareness — elements that may not be present in AI.

Some people view AI as just another tool for making music, but others feel that, though technologically advanced, AI’s creations lack the emotional depth that comes from human experience and shouldn’t be seen as true art.

However, OpenAI’s recent debut of the Sora AI model, which created the first AI-generated music video for August Kamp’s ‘Worldweight’, only highlights this intersection between AI and artistic expression.

Ultimately, industry professionals agree that we need to find a middle ground. As we move towards using more AI in music, we must work together to keep music’s emotional essence alive, making sure that, even with new technologies, the spirit of music stays true.

The Technological Perspective

Expanding on this discussion, Stanford’s Professor Ge Wang brings a tech-focused view that supports the concerns of artists. Leading the Stanford Laptop Orchestra (SLOrk), Wang sees AI as a tool that should work with musicians, not overshadow them. His leadership with SLOrk shows how technology, when used responsibly, can enhance human creativity rather than compete with it.

In an episode of the podcast “The Future of Everything” by Stanford Engineering, Wang explains that SLOrk is more than an orchestra; it’s a vision for a new era of music where computers are instruments just like violins or pianos, played by humans.

Wang calls for AI to be integrated into music ethically, enhancing human creativity instead of replacing it. He imagines a future where AI and human music blend, supporting each other in harmony.

He believes the future of music depends on the interaction between people and machines, a concept central to SLOrk. Here, musicians use laptops and technology to create an advanced yet deeply personal music experience.

Wang’s approach to computer music and AI is thoughtful and values-driven. He argues that technology in music must be used thoughtfully and with a clear purpose, ensuring AI enriches the music world while respecting traditional human emotions and creativity.

Towards an Ethical Framework for AI Music

Developing an ethical approach to AI in music involves setting rules that respect human creativity while also welcoming the benefits of technology. Inspired by Ge Wang’s insights, we can outline the following key principles:

  • Focus on Collaboration, Not Replacement: View AI as a supportive tool that boosts the artist’s work rather than taking over their creative role. Allow AI to enhance an artist’s ability to innovate and express themselves, ensuring the human element that defines music remains central.
  • Importance of Being Transparent: AI creations should be clearly labeled to show what is made by AI and what is made by humans. This clarity helps keep the creative process honest and lets listeners know where the music comes from.
  • Solving Issues Around Payment and Copyright: Create a fair payment model that compensates artists for their work used in AI training. This system should ensure that artists get paid for their contributions to AI’s growth, safeguarding their original work.
  • Encouraging Cultural Diversity: Direct AI development with the goal of celebrating and expanding the diversity found in music worldwide. AI should enhance the music scene with different cultural influences rather than making it more uniform.
  • Joint Work Between the Industry and Tech Experts: Assemble teams from different fields, including ethics, arts, technology, and law, to set standards for AI in music that are ethical and respectful. Work on collaborative projects to define best practices that protect artists’ rights and make AI a complementary force in music creation. Ensure that the teams are made up of diverse groups of people to capture all perspectives.

Creating an ethical structure for AI in music involves a comprehensive strategy that honors the artist’s perspective, encourages creativity, and uses AI’s capabilities to enhance the musical world. Through collaboration, the music industry and tech experts can develop a harmonious environment where AI supports human creativity, keeping the essence of music genuinely human.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, as AI becomes increasingly involved in the process of creating music, it raises significant ethical questions. These include concerns about the authenticity of AI-created music and the fundamental nature of artistic creativity in the digital era.

This discussion is not just about the future of music but about maintaining the personal touch that makes music resonate deeply with listeners.

The consensus is that the future of music will likely blend technology and human creativity. The challenge lies in creating a framework that respects creators’ rights, encourages innovation, and ensures that music’s soul remains unmistakably human.

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Maria Webb
Technology Journalist
Maria Webb
Technology Journalist

Maria is a technology journalist with over five years of experience with a deep interest in AI and machine learning. She excels in data-driven journalism, making complex topics both accessible and engaging for her audience. Her work is prominently featured on Techopedia, Business2Community, and Eurostat, where she provides creative technical writing. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Honours in English and a Master of Science in Strategic Management and Digital Marketing from the University of Malta. Maria's background includes journalism for Newsbook.com.mt, covering a range of topics from local events to international tech trends.