How AI tools are reshaping indie musicians’ industry success

October 24, 2023


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Guest Author: Patrick Hill, Founder of Disctopia.

A recent survey revealed that only 17% of music producers negatively regard artificial intelligence (AI) tools for production. However, 39% believe they could lead to less originality. As AI begins permeating every corner of the planet, artists have to grapple with the idea that AI is also seeping into the music industry.

In fact, every day, there’s a new AI fad in the music space. Never in our wildest dreams did we think Rihanna could collaborate with reggaeton artist Bad Bunny, and yet, someone used their likeness to AI-generate the song “Por Qué.” The creator is the same one behind the creepily accurate Drake and The Weeknd collaboration, “Heart On My Sleeve,” who has since taken all the generated content down from their music platforms and social media.

Those who got the chance to listen to both songs when they came out will agree that it felt like listening to these artists speaking in Simlish (the gibberish coming from The Sims world). You couldn’t make out any of the words, but the voice was undeniably theirs. Of course, the artists’ record labels jumped on the matter straight away and even got platforms like Spotify to remove the content and ban AI—although the streaming service has walked back this decision ever since.

Situations like these clearly call for regulations that stop producers from using artists’ likenesses in their songs, but this isn’t all AI is being used for. Like in many other industries, AI tools can help artists brainstorm and draw inspiration to improve the creative process and even streamline aspects like mastering.

So, while we’ve seen how AI affects big artists and their record labels, we must also focus on how smaller independent creators are impacted by this technology. The good news is, when used correctly, AI can become an indie artist’s right hand by making costly processes more accessible and affordable. Likewise, it can enhance their creativity in the studio and quicken the pace of creation.

Let’s dive into how AI tools impact indie artists and how a lack of regulations can also affect them.

Technology Can Uplift the Creation Process

Technological advancements haven’t always been embraced in the music industry. When they first appear, many are deemed as lazy or a turn in the wrong direction. For example, Kraftwerk’s early electronic sound wasn’t well received by critics when it first appeared. The German band boldly stated that electronic music was the next step for pop music, and today, we can confirm they were right.

AI tools are headed down the same road as electronic music. Those who disagree assert that the human touch in art is irreplaceable—and this is totally true. However, AI tools aren’t here to fully replace us; instead, they will assist us in enhancing our creative approaches and elevating music quality. And eventually, they will become a commonplace item in the studio.

Ditto Music reported that 60% of musicians already use AI for production and songwriting, among other tasks. This doesn’t mean they’re letting technology do all the work. Rather, they use it as an idea source that nurtures their ingenuity. For independent artists who don’t usually have big teams to bounce ideas off, AI is the perfect companion for brainstorming.

Just like Cher reinvented her career after using auto-tune on her acclaimed dance hit “Believe,” AI tools can push artists to become more innovative and break the mold to captivate new audiences. 

One example of a tool allowing indie artists to explore new sounds is OpenAI’s MuseNet. The platform generates songs with a wide variety of instruments and styles, but you can only listen to them, as it doesn’t let users generate and download proprietary songs just yet. Much like the company’s more popular counterpart, ChatGPT, MuseNet feeds from a large database of MIDI files and predicts the next sequence of sounds to create 4-minute songs.

Another tool musicians can use to draw inspiration from is WavTool. The program was the first text-to-music generator that supported artists in creating MIDI compositions and sound effects. It has a free version that allows for a limited number of prompts, like eight generated tracks per project and five prompts every eight hours.

Image courtesy of Ars Electronica via Flickr.

Tools That Streamline Production Duties

Mixing and mastering one song can cost $50 to $1500, depending on where you get it done. Both are essential in music-making, as mixing ensures all instruments in a song are balanced, and mastering improves the overall sound quality of a song.

An indie musician releasing a 10-track album might have to pay at least $500 for these vital finishing touches. Not everyone has this money lying around, let alone an unsigned artist doing their best to get noticed by a record label or thrive on their own. 

Ditto Music’s report also showed that 30% of musicians use AI to mix and master their tracks. This is no surprise, as AI tools have become highly reliable and affordable, with some starting for as low as $29 and up to $99 monthly. These programs also offer speedier mixing and mastering at professional grade in far less time.

One such program is iZotope Neutron 4, a complete suite for compressing, equalizing, and applying eight other plugins to refine a tune’s sound with AI. Native Instruments recently integrated it, allowing users to improve tracks based on specific genre and style suggestions. Additionally, Cryo Mix is an instant mixing and mastering assistant that includes advanced vocal processing and other finetuning features—for those who prefer a faster pace without sacrificing quality.

Governance and Regulations

Nirvana’s bassist, Krist Novoselic, recently told NME that it’s a good idea to use AI to finish unreleased tracks with Kurt Cobain’s voice, just like The Beatles are doing. This use of likeness plays on the nostalgic side of music, giving fans and artists alike one last shot at listening to beloved legends who are no longer with us.

In a perfect world, musicians’ voices are used in a positive light. However, recent events like Drake’s AI song show that creators don’t always employ likeness fairly. Moreover, current laws don’t protect artists’ voices, so record labels and estates can’t copyright them to prevent misuse and illegal profit. 

Indie artists could even be more prone to likeness theft since producers can take advantage of their lack of popularity and use their talent without facing major legal retaliation. Unlike popular musicians, independent artists don’t have the means and support to fight these infringements.

But while giants like Universal are fighting the good fight for their music stars, who’s advocating for indie artists’ rights? The Human Artistry Campaign is one of the latest efforts from several organizations, including the Recording Academy, the National Music Publishers Association, and the Recording Industry of America, looking to protect creatives from indiscriminate AI use. 

The campaign calls for responsibly using AI without harming original creations and artistic integrity. So, these initiatives can set a positive precedent for the music industry and represent a safe haven for indie artists to make music without worrying about AI stealing their identity.

Technology has helped humans evolve and achieve their full potential when used correctly. AI is just another stepping stone on this evolutionary road, pushing artists to be their most creative and productive selves—only if we ensure proper regulation and governance. So, as the music industry stands its ground to protect musicians of all sizes, AI can continue to assist their processes to take music-making to another level.

By Patrick Hill is the founder of Disctopia, a streaming platform company dedicated to curated artists, podcasters, and content creators, providing enterprise content delivery and over 50 integrations.

Disclosure: This article mentions a client of an Espacio portfolio company.


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