The music industry must find a way to stay in tune with GenAI

Artificial intelligence can continue to amplify human creativity, if everyone plays by certain key principles.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Music and technology have co-existed for eons. In the past few decades, the music industry has had to reinvent itself to keep up with evolving tech. This trend can continue in the generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) era, as long the industry figures out how to address the latest issues.

Take the companies training large language models (LLMs) on data they probably should not be using. Paul McCabe, vice president of R&D and strategic partnerships at Roland, the Japanese brand behind electronic music instruments, told ZDNET this poses a challenge for companies that want to be responsible and equitable with their training data, and are willing to compensate for the use of that data. Applications built using scraped online data clearly have the advantage over those that want to follow AI ethics guidelines.

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While regulators will provide the "teeth" necessary to compel AI developers to comply, McCabe underscored the importance of also galvanizing grassroot support and helping drive the need for updated copyright laws. Rather than slow the adoption of GenAI in the field of music, the focus should be on ensuring they can continue to co-exist in harmony.

"Music and technology have always been intricately connected," McCabe said, adding that the introduction of new technology has not replaced humans in the past. Drum machines, for instance, did not replace drummers and had led to hybrid forms of rhythm composing and performance. Early forms of electronic keyboards did not replace ensembles and music sampling is widely used now as the base to create new sounds, evolving from the days where it once generated a lot of conversations around copyright.

GenAI can benefit musicians as well as the general public. Songwriters are no longer limited to the instruments they can play or a recording process they know, and beginners can more easily learn a new instrument with natural language processing and through conversational prompts. Music, including human-created music, will continue to evolve like before, with GenAI creating another inflection point, McCabe suggested. "What that is and what it might look like we don't yet know," he said.

For now, Roland hopes to lay the groundwork for an AI-driven environment in which music creators will be equitably recognized and compensated for their work. The company, which produces electronic musical instruments and production tools, has partnered with Universal Music Group to release "Principles for Music Creation with AI," aiming to provide a clear path toward the responsible use of AI in music creation, including production, composition, and songwriting.

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These guidelines currently encompass seven core principles, including the belief that AI will amplify human creativity and that transparency is essential in establishing trustworthy AI. "We believe humanity and music are inseparable. We believe that human-created works must be respected and protected," the principles state

This means using copyrighted works and music artists' names, images, likenesses, and voices should be authorized prior to their use. Furthermore, artists must be compensated. AI-powered platforms and policies should prioritize record-keeping and disclosure to maintain trust across all stakeholders, including fans and artists.

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More than 60 global companies, including music labels, recording studios, and academia, have expressed interest in pledging their support for the cause, according to McCabe. Adopting the principles is voluntary and will not be policed for enforcement, he added. Instead, the primary goal is to drive a responsible AI movement within the industry that is not owned by any one brand. "By identifying with the principles, you're then accountable to your stakeholders, employees, customers, and investors," McCabe said. 

Roland and Universal have also set up a joint R&D facility to develop "methods for confirming the origin and ownership of music", the companies said, and will look to integrate Roland's products and services in some Universal-owned music production facilities worldwide. McCabe said their research efforts will include expanding DRM (digital rights management) protection around media, including the activities around a finished piece of content, whether it is a song, a sample, or a video.

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