Unlike most new technology hype cycles, the impact of AI on the world is already surpassing expectations. The current hype around AI far exceeds that of more recent tech, such as VR, NFTs, and 3D printing. This is in part because AI represents a crucial part of the architecture of tomorrow’s internet, along with various web 3.0 technologies, rather than being just another new tech product. AI continues to shape the music industry’s contemporary narrative. News sites regularly reference new statements from industry execs and announcements from new companies, while AI dominates discussions both on and off stage at industry events. Of course, AI is a catch-all term that refers to a massive variety of applications even within music. Even with this caveat, it is clear that it is going to reshape the future of music, culture, business and, ultimately, society. However, as impactful as this change might be, it will help turn back the clock for music to how music was before the recorded music business came to the fore.
Prior to the establishment of the recorded music business, music was a participatory experience. Whether that be a 19th century family gathering around a piano on a Sunday, mediaeval peasants singing along with a travelling bard, or the majority of 16th–18th century European populations singing hymns in church. Recorded music used quality to build walls between listeners and performers. The vast majority of people could never expect to sound as good as a piece of recorded music. However, the trend started to reverse with the introduction of music production software and sample culture, re-democratising the means of production, while streaming and social media combined to democratise the means of digital distribution.
In the 2020s, these technologies have accelerated scale and capability, supported by the proliferation of online learning (e.g., Masterclass) and skills sharing platforms (e.g., Fiverr), making it easier than ever for aspiring music creators to release good quality music. In 2022, the number of artists direct (i.e., self-releasing artists) reached 6.4 million, a 16.8% increase from 2021. While the music creator economy continues to grow; the even more transformative potential lies in the consumerisation of these technologies – much like Teflon making its way from NASA spaceships to kitchen pans.
Assistive AI is already well established in music creation (e.g., iZotope’s Neutron 4, Splice’s CoSo). It is a relatively small step to further simplify user interfaces, making them ready for consumer primetime. When combined with generative AI, anyone with a smartphone has the ability to create convincing-sounding music as easily as they would take a photo – a process that was far more difficult to do to a high standard before the consumerisation of digital photography by smartphones and Instagram.
The crossover between music creation and social media is still in its early days, largely confined to TikTok duets and Snapchat’s Sounds lens, but it is approaching a tipping point and AI is about to push it over the edge.
In 2011, I wrote a report entitled Agile Music in which I suggested that music’s creative full stop was going to be erased, with songs evolving beyond the static full stop. Endel’s UMG deal shows us that this future is coming to pass. The report laid out the ‘3 Cs’ framework:
AI is the technology that will unlock this new paradigm. Music will not only become better adapted to our behaviour, but it will also make music participative again. While record labels are focused on the copyright and volume / stream dilution threats AI poses (and they are very real threats), the truly exciting potential is making music something that all consumers can use as an expressive medium, rather than simply consuming. Is that the same as ‘real’ music? No, but just as TikTok is not the same as Netflix, the marketplace will inevitably delineate between places to create versus consume. Then, maybe, just maybe, the whole volume risk will become moot.
If you liked the themes in this blog post, check our latest report: AI and the future of music – The future is already here