As artificial intelligence technology moves into the world of music, we imagine a dystopian world of the future, as industry experts warn of the danger posed by AI if not handled with sufficient care.
The year is 2031 and Fake Drake has just registered his fourteenth number-one single. It surpasses the tally set by Real Drake back in 2024 when he released his final album, From Ghosting to Ghosted.
Despite that album’s success – with many considering its subliminal anti-AI message to be one of the greatest protest albums in history – Real Drake’s warnings were not heeded. The music industry is now dominated by artificial intelligence. As most of the world fooled around with the new technology in the early 2020s, record executive Scooter Braun was developing a machine learning programme to clone every major artist’s voice. He soon became the richest man in the world, creating singers from scratch and cloning existing ones. Braun is now planning a bid for the White House after a successful two years as the mayor of Los Angeles.
Fake Drake is just one of the artificial intelligence-generated musicians topping the charts these days. Next Weeknd, Florence The Machine and USB40 are among the other voices dominating music. Kanye West, meanwhile, has seen his career resurrected, rebranding as ‘K’. Separated from his politics by a draconian songwriting team, West is one of the few musicians who remains an outspoken supporter of AI technology.
There’s much debate over when exactly the AI takeover began. Some say the day Scooter Braun was given the green light to develop his programme in a landmark ruling by America’s Supreme Court. Others say it was when YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify ended their boycott of AI-generated music in response to Elon Musk and Twitter trying to move into the streaming space.
Others trace the fateful moment back to a weekend in April 2023, when an AI song called ‘Heart On My Sleeve’ – sounding like the artists then known simply as Drake and The Weeknd – went viral. Despite Universal Music Group’s successful attempts to have the song taken down over copyright, it demonstrated the general public’s enthusiasm to hear AI versions of their favourite artist – a practice now commonplace. Some conspiracy theorists believe that the anonymous artist who released the song, known only as ‘ghostwriter’, was in fact Scooter Braun himself. It was released alongside the message, “This is only the beginning”.
It’s all rather dystopian, I admit. The Scooter Braun for President is a leap, but otherwise, it’s not wholly far-fetched. The comments from industry experts in response to the success of ‘Heart On My Sleeve’ shows how fearful they are of artificial intelligence technology.
Universal Music Group’s Vice President, Michael Nash, said the rise of AI could be a “calamity”, continuing: “In all of AI’s various utilisations, promoting artists’ interests is paramount. Central to that overriding philosophy is our belief that unless creators are respected and fairly compensated when their works are exploited to train AI, the world’s creators will suffer widespread and lasting harm.”
In a statement to Music Business Weekly after the release of ‘Heart On My Sleeve’, UMG – who represent both Drake and The Weeknd – went further. They said the situation “begs the question as to which side of history all stakeholders in the music ecosystem want to be on: the side of artists, fans and human creative expression, or on the side of deep fakes, fraud and denying artists their due compensation.
“We’re encouraged by the engagement of our platform partners on these issues–as they recognize they need to be part of the solution.”
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Young Guru, the longtime engineer of Jay-Z, said “we have to add the voice to law” in response to Jay’s voice featuring on a number of AI-generated tracks.
“On one hand I’m well aware that you can’t stop technology,” he explained. “Once the genie is out of the box you can put him back in. On the other hand we have to protect the rights of the artist. Not only artists but everyone in society. … People (are not) able to take your name, image and likeness without permission. We have to add the voice to this law.”
Interestingly, not all critics are in agreement on how to deal with the AI issue, particularly regarding copyright claims. A “Human Artistry Campaign” has been launched with the aim of ensuring AI does not “erode” human creativity. The initiative is backed by a number of artists and musicians, as well as by the Recording Industry Association of America, the Association for Independent Music and the BPI.
The group has outlined seven principles for best practice regarding and “stress that copyright protection should only be afforded to music created by humans.”
“It’s crucial that we get this right early on so we don’t risk losing the artistic magic that only humans can create,” said Harvey Mason Jr., CEO of the Recording Academy.
The fear is not just around artistry and originality but also with piracy. Speaking to The Telegraph, Nick Stewart, chief executive of TCAT, a tech company that deals with music piracy, said: “AI is clearly one of the most serious threats to hit the music business in terms of piracy for a very long time.”
UMG’s Nash also warned of “similarities being drawn between AI’s rise and the rise of Napster and unlicensed music-sharing over 20 years ago.”
Rolling Stone magazine echoed this, predicting AI could be the “largest disruptor to the music industry since digital downloads.”