Raedio President Benoni Tagoe explains the lay of the land for music’s brave new world and how artists and the industry are choosing to navigate this uncharted technological territory.
In 2007, Deandre “Soulja Boy” Way released the hip-hop classic “Crank That (Soulja Boy).” The most intriguing conversation at the time, however, was how the song became a hit using a demo version of beat-making software, Fruity Loops. Following the release, the narrative around the growing feasibility of a DIY artist crashing the gates of the mainstream gained key momentum.
A few years later, Adam “Owl City” Young released the Billboard top-10 album Ocean Eyes, a record that he labeled an experiment and famously created in his parents’ basement.
Although makeshift studios in basements, closets, and even bathrooms were far from new even a generation ago, these moments reminded us that the music industry was evolving beyond the need for multi-million dollar studios and six-figure producers. Anyone could create a hit song for little to no money — and sometimes, in little to no time.
History has a tendency to repeat itself, and today, artificial intelligence is the latest trend to challenge the norms of how music is created, curated, and distributed. We’ve seen this pattern before: Expanded access to new technology has inevitably created a new crop of artists that couldn’t have existed several years ago.
Today, an increasing number of would-be stars are using AI for their gain.
Let’s explain what’s happening and the implications of AI-assisted and AI-generated music moving forward.
AI and Music: What You Need To Know
- On average, 100,000 songs are uploaded daily to streaming platforms, and in the AI era, there is a new class of artists that will raise that number far higher.
- While there is spirited opposition to AI in music in many circles, artists like Grimes and FN Meka have used it in some form to unlock new success.
- We’ve seen the playing field shrink in terms of how artists physically create music (e.g. no longer needing expensive studio spaces). Now, that playing field is evening out significantly more in that anyone with a perspective and access to AI can become an artist more or less immediately. Additionally, there are plenty of funding options outside of signing to a label to fund a new AI-assisted career.
With any emerging industry or technological phenomenon, there is always an adoption (or acceptance) stage within which the trend gains momentum. As expected, there has been a huge influx of AI-generated music that has saturated streaming platforms that are already gaining 100,000 songs daily without any special assistance from the bleeding edge.
In April, in response to the viral “Heart On My Sleeve” bop that featured AI-generated vocals that sounded an awful lot like Drake and The Weeknd, Universal Music Group sent an email to streaming platforms citing they have a “moral and commercial” responsibility to protect their artists’ rights. Major labels will always be expected to respond swiftly if they sense the slightest threat to their fortress of ownership, so it was inevitable that a spirited debate among record companies, artists, and fans was to emerge. All the while, a few entities have accepted this new reality more credulously and decided to play along with this new game.
When the Grammy Awards released their rules for eligibility, they stated in part, “Only human creators are eligible to be submitted for consideration for, nominated for, or win a Grammy Award. A work that contains no human authorship is not eligible in any Categories,” taking a direct shot at the new wave of AI and its creators like ghostwriter977, the TikTok user behind “Heart on My Sleeve.”
“What we intended to say was that material using AI can be submitted… but the human portion of the of the composition, or the performance, is the only portion that can be awarded or considered for a Grammy Award. So if an AI modeling system or app built a track — ‘wrote’ lyrics and a melody — that would not be eligible for a composition award. But if a human writes a track and AI is used to voice-model, or create a new voice, or use somebody else’s voice, the performance would not be eligible, but the writing of the track and the lyric or top line would be absolutely eligible for an award.”
While Mason may be adamant about what is and isn’t AI-generated music, the pop/R&B artist Grimes has openly accepted and allowed her fans to use her voice for AI-generated songs as long as a 50% royalty split is agreed, even giving fans access to the platform Elf Tech to make these new recordings. This approach screams “if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em,” and Grimes has leaned in much more resoundingly than the vast, vast majority of her peers.
In terms of platforms, Spotify is one of the few major entities that has similarly leaned in by launching an AI DJ earlier this year to help curate music based on your listening preferences. With the No. 1 threat accompanying so much new tech being the elimination of human-input jobs, this is a clear step toward a direction that, while presumably expedient for the company’s bottom line, is likely to be an uncomfortable topic for many with skin in the game.
It gets more fascinating when we analyze what these platforms are actually built on, which is ultimately human consumption. All streaming platforms need both content and for the end user to stay on their platform for an extended period of time. With artificial intelligence creating a new avenue for increased uploads from artists and non-artists alike, streaming platforms can publicly favor the stance of their label partners while still nodding to AI and the increased capacity for music output it enables.
So, should we actually be surprised at this new wave? Consider Gorillaz and FN Meka, both examples of virtual music artists — the latter specifically, explicitly created via AI — challenging the music industry through their approach to music creation. Gorillaz, formed in 1998 by Blur’s Damon Albarn and visual artist Jamie Hewlett, have criticized the use of AI tools but are nonetheless a virtual band whose “members” are depicted as animated fictional characters. FN Meka, meanwhile, is an AI-generated, human-voiced artist that debuted in 2019 and has 10.1 million followers on TikTok, arguably a spiritual offshoot of Albarn and Hewlett’s virtual concept.
With this in mind, the blueprint we’re watching play out today isn’t new. It’s just bigger, faster, and stronger than it used to be.
(The blueprint still has some flaws, however. FN Meka was “signed” to Capitol Records only to be dropped due to a controversy surrounding insensitive Instagram posts and racial appropriation. It was a poignant reminder that AI, due to being designed by humans, doesn’t truly have a mind of its own.)
The music industry is undergoing a transformative shift with the emergence of AI-generated songs and a new class of artists entering the marketplace. The influx of artists doesn’t guarantee a surge of successful stars; creating more songs in record time, however, is bound to have some stickiness. Traditional labels do still hold an advantage with their substantial funding capabilities, but alternative funding options like Beatbread and Duetti are providing opportunities for smaller players to compete. Plus, a new concept is gaining traction – the AI record label. This innovative approach allows a single person or entity to manage an entire roster of AI-assisted artists on a roster in a seamless fashion.
Ultimately, this wave of AI-generated music and heavily AI-assisted artists flooding the marketplace raises questions about the balance between human emotion and machine-generated creativity in music consumers’ minds. While countless listeners value the inherently authentic emotional connection they have with their favorite music, platforms, and labels focused on maximizing consumption are already seeing the benefits of the cost-effective and rapid output that AI artists can provide.
And away we go.
The music industry is experiencing not a paradigm shift, but out-and-out paradigm disruption with the rise of AI-generated music and the new class of artists that perpetuates it. As these emerging technologies continue to advance, the line between human-led and AI-assisted artistry will inevitably blur, presenting new challenges and opportunities for both artists and the industry as a whole.
Love it or hate it, those who can comprehend the far-reaching implications of these dramatic shifts will be the ones less likely to be left behind.
Benoni Tagoe is a senior executive in the music industry. After getting his start working alongside the Jonas Brothers, Benoni currently serves as President at audio everywhere company Raedio, where he oversees the company’s label, podcasts, music supervision, and beyond.
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