Ownership is no longer a reality creatives hope to live in during the latter years of our careers. It’s a professional standard we all know is possible, and frankly, it’s absolutely necessary. The Information Age is transitioning into the Artificial Intelligence Age, where ideas can be turned into tangible assets and automatically delivered to target audiences at the push of a button. We’re getting very close to an era where the actual creative may not be needed to generate ideas and bring them to life.
This is being made possible by system integration, an aggregation of subsystems cooperating to deliver assets. In other words, tech companies are tasking engineers with combining analytics and enterprise/cloud applications. From there they can turn companies into digital manufacturers. Enabling them to generate ideas, define business challenges, assess risk, and identify gaps in processes or technical capabilities. Simply put, machines will do the problem solving and asset creation to reach business goals. Artificial intelligence will fill the roles that human beings use creativity to fulfill, turning a forecasted 73 million jobs obsolete by 2030.
By now you may be asking what this has to do with Black Music Month, and what should be done if the big bad machines are coming to destroy the value of human creatives. What if I told you machine-made music is already a reality? What if told you companies like Google are already experimenting with making hits using artificial intelligence? As of 2017, Hip-Hop is the number one genre powered by a 72% increase in streaming, resulting in $43 billion dollars in revenue of which artists only received 12%. Wall Street juggernaut Goldman Sachs predicts that music industry revenue will more than double to $131 billion by 2030. This surge will be powered by streaming. Hip-Hop and R&B are the music industry’s most consumed genres as the driving force behind an 18.4% increase in consumption since 2018.
Let’s put this all into perspective. Tech companies are already arming entire industries with artificial intelligence software to measure and create assets to take advantage of consumer buying trends. If the music industry is slated to generate $131 billion in the next decade, it’s a safe bet that these same tech companies will see the lucrative opportunity to further develop and sell AI-technology to record labels. If you think artists receiving just 12% of $43 billion in industry revenue is bad, how much less do you think they’ll make when labels decide they don’t need to pay human songwriters, producers, and performers to make the product?
Artificially made music is not a new concept, it dates back to 1990 when David Bowie helped develop an app called Verbasizer. It took literary source material and randomly reordered the words to generate brand new combinations that could be used as lyrics. Fast forward to 2016 when Sony used software called Flow Machines to create Beatles inspired melodies which were then turned into songs and entire albums. In 2019, there’s a growing industry industry artificial music creation including IBM’s Watson Beat, Spotify’s Creator Technology Lab, Google’s Magenta Synth, and plenty more.
How exactly does this technology work? Artificial intelligence systems work by analyzing massive sets of data to find patterns. From those patterns, the technology gathers distinct tempos, song length, chords, and arrangements. Eventually, the system can learn to write its own melodies. Some software is more advanced than others, with the capability of using coding rooted in musical theory.
This could spell big problems for black musicians specifically in Hip-Hop and R&B once artificial technology is used to analyze hit records and replicate song structure and lyrics into original tracks. As new popular sounds emerge, AI will capture streaming data indicating what’s hot and replicate it in record time. Rappers have been copying the Migos flow since 2013, and producers have been regenerating the same trap beats for the same time period. Drake and 40’s Lo-Fi approach to music has been recreated for a decade now. If artists could cash in on copying popular song structure and production for this long, it’s more than realistic for machines to do the same. The problem is evident in that artists need ways to protect their intellectual property from tech companies looking to industrialize artificial music. Ironically, they’ll have to get creative with solutions.
Copyright, Copyright, Copyright!
As an artist, you’re still the composer of the music being analyzed by machines. They still need humans to be effective. The question that remains unanswered for now is to what extent does the law attribute value to human origin? It’s important for you to dig deeper into copyrighting and trademarking than just the lyrics and titles of songs. You must protect everything down to arrangements and chord structure. If the sound or melody didn’t exist before you made it then it’s imperative to protect it.
Protect Your Audience Data
Identify ways to own your audience data outside of the social and streaming platforms you use to distribute. If you can get creative enough to effectively isolate the listening experience your fans have with your music, then you can protect that listener data from being prodded by AI tech companies. For example, in 2015 New Orleans rapper Curren$y distributed his Pilot Talk 3 tape via flash-drive as part of a bundle. Technically, listening to music via flash drive rather than streaming platforms protects listener data. You’ll need to get innovate with ways to cut the middle man out. Independence has new requirements beyond avoiding label deals. Now it means taking the power away from streaming platforms who can do what they want with your data once you agree to their terms of service. That includes selling listening habits to third-party AI companies. Make your audience come to you instead.
Cryptocurrency & Blockchain
Blockchain technology may, in fact, be the saving grace for most artists, assuming it becomes widely used over the next decade. It’s a system in which a record of transactions made in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency are maintained across several computers that are linked in a peer-to-peer network. Basically, blockchain technology makes it possible to maintain records of the original creators of various works, and the people they sell their works to. Artists can then sell directly to consumer in exchange for payment via cryptocurrency.
If we’re talking about cutting out the data aggregating middle man then crypto and blockchain is a viable option. In theory, even if AI technology can analyze what you’re audience is purchasing the most, it still can’t access the actual music being purchased or played. There are platforms already in place for artists to take advantage of, you can review 17 of them here. Artificial intelligence as it relates to popular music still has a long way to go before it’s massively used on an industrial scale. However, the internet of things has a way of fast-forwarding developments in technology. Don’t sleep, use that creative brain of yours to figure out ways to maintain the value of human artistry.