The Time is Now
The music industry is finally paying attention to AI. These last few days we have all witnessed the rise and fall of “Heart on My Sleeve”. Created by anonymous producer Ghostwriter the track went viral, with many fans loving the song despite it not actually being by Drake and the Weeknd - even though that’s what got them to listen to it in the first place. The excitement from the track's virality quickly quelled after UMG, the copyrights holder, stepped in and got the song removed from Spotify, Youtube, and other platforms. Of the decision, UMG states:
“We have a moral and commercial responsibility to our artists to work to prevent the unauthorized use of their music and to stop platforms from ingesting content that violates the rights of artists and other creators. We expect our platform partners will want to prevent their services from being used in ways that harm artists.”
I interpret this statement as UMG refusing to allow unauthorized use of an artist's name and likeness (the core IP in which a label invests) as by doing so they gain no additional financial upside and expose their artists to the downsides of this technology being abused. While a fair point - the music industry has been known to embrace tech innovation slowly initially, and then try to fight for their piece of the pie eventually. Right now the music industry has a unique opportunity to precedent the commercial use of artists' names and likenesses in a way that has never been done before. While there are a lot of unknowns ahead, the industry choosing to just react by exercising their copyright ownership is a missed opportunity for deeper collaboration and adding to the value chain of music overall.
A New Era of Collaboration is Required to Maintain the Pace of Fan Expectation
Every day the competition for consumer attention becomes more difficult. The increase in attention deficit has directly correlated with an increase in fan expectations. Fans expect artists to work harder across multiple mediums, while exercising multiple disciplines to gain and maintain their attention. People expect artists to be prolific content creators, engage with the internet in a “digitally native way”, give fans access to their personal life, show behind the scenes of their content creation, and share their thoughts and perspectives on numerous topics. This workload is overwhelming for anyone, especially for those who are also expected to consistently produce creative works. To stay competitive as an artist today, artists should consider creating a framework, an artist API, to license and leverage the most valuable part of their artist IP - their unique likeness. An artist API can systematically allow artists to capitalize on rapid shifts in technology (i.e AI) and consumer adoption while meeting fan demands more efficiently.
What should a framework for an artist API take into consideration?
An artist should prioritize defining three things. Who will have access? What will they have access to? What is the purpose of their access? Although an artist is optimizing for collaboration they must be thoughtful about starting small and then increasing access if things go well versus trying to pull access back if things don't. There are many ways an artist can think through this, namely segmenting access to a core set of individuals that meet certain parameters based on goals for their music. For example, if Drake is thinking about doing a song in Ghana he can open access to vetted or verified Ghanaian producers so that they can submit reference tracks that illustrate the role he can play in a song in more totality. Once artists pilot with narrow use cases, they can widen the scope allowing them to vet submissions more broadly. This could also be an interesting role for an A&R who is aware of what an artist may like or in tune with what may work well in combination with the artist's likeness. Reference tracks are just one example of a way that artists can keep the mystery through adoption. By embracing creation in this way they are acknowledging the technology while still being able to keep some mystique about how much was organically done by the artist. While everyone is most fixated on the voice capabilities AI is empowering, there are so many additional use cases for artists (i.e merch) that they can slap a stamp of authenticity on.
Fans Are Already Embracing This
Fans are not naive to the rapidly changing landscape of AI and deep fakes. Many fans knew the Drake and the Weeknd track was not actually Drake and Weeknd but embraced it because of how close to reality it was, the only thing it was missing was them. The music industry has long had ghostwriters and credited songwriters that contribute to artists' work. In recent years songwriting even in a field like rap (that was based on the wordplay of an artist) has been widely embraced by fans. Carrie Battan writes for the New Yorker “The freedom with which ghostwriters can now be celebrated marks a somewhat shocking shift. It’s a sign not just of loosening attitudes but of rap’s newfound place at the core of pop mainstream. If rap is now pop, it's only fitting that its songwriting resembles that of conventional pop hits.” Fans expect artists to be all-around entertainers and they are okay with artists embracing this technology if it allows them to do it better and at a bigger scale.
The future belongs to artists who recognize the time is now to write the next blueprint of how to navigate their artistry.