AI will unlock creation rather than consumption

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:

  • Customise
  • Create 
  • Contribute

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

AI will transform music; the question is how?

Every new technology goes through a period of being overhyped before the dust settles, and that technology either fades or builds steadily thereafter. Think 3D printing, VR, NFTs. In my 20+ years as a media and tech analyst, only three technologies have had a level of hype that felt like it was going to live up to expectations: 1) the internet (which was already in full swing by the time I started out – I’m not that old); 2) smartphones / apps; and 3) AI. Those technologies have one big thing in common: what they could become is ungovernable by its originators. But while it was human-power that unlocked that potential of the first two, it is the technology itself that is the accelerant for AI. Of course, people will amplify it as well, but AI itself is already creating many of the new pathways. The business, societal and even humanity implications are so vast that the implications for music are small in comparison. This, however, does not mean that they will not be equally transformational and disruptive within the confines of the music business. Which brings us nicely onto ‘heart on my sleeve’.

For those of you that have been on Mars for the last few days, this AI-generated track mimics the musical style and voices of Drake and The Weeknd. As Trapital’s Dan Runcie observed “[It] isn’t that good, but it’s an improvement from 2020’s TravisBott and other generative music attempts in recent years”. UMG’s response was to encourage DSPs not to host generative-AI tracks, and Drake himself was not happy with the last time a ‘fake Drake’ track did the rounds. Drake will probably be even less happy with this latest AI addition to the Fake Drake roster, which raises the question: will Fake Drake Break Drake?! While there are valid concerns from both parties, there is a real risk of this becoming an old world versus new world conflict, and in such scenarios, the new most often comes out on top.

AI is going to change the future of music. That genie is well and truly out of its bottle. Should more have been done by the traditional music industry to work with music AI companies earlier on? Of course, but we are where we are. So the focus now should be on trying to work out how to influence and shape what the future might be, through collaboration as much as (perhaps more than) enforcement:

We have been here before: The music industry was vehemently against P2P piracy (and I am old enough to remember that). After more than a decade of trying to fight it, the music business finally built an entirely new business around piracy’s successor technology – streaming. P2P infringed copyright, it took control out of the hands of the traditional business, and it created previously impossible use cases. AI is doing the same. What is different now is that the very ecosystem that streaming created (along with social platforms) puts AI into the hands (and ears) of billions of people, whereas P2P reached just tens of millions. Consumers will experience AI at scale before the industry can shape it. And in the digital world, consumers tend to get what they want.

Guitar or tape machine?: These two old technologies both reshaped music. One was about creating, and one was about copying. AI is a mix of both, which is what makes the response so difficult. Assistive and generative AI is already a mainstay of music creation, such as iZotope’s Neutron 4 and Splice’s CoSo. AI music is a continuum, from tweaking mixes through to composition, with virtually everything else in between. There is not one single, simple answer for ‘what to do with AI?’

Enforcement will be difficult: With the best will in the world, copyright law was not designed for AI. Music rightsholders will do their best to apply existing law, but they will face challenges in doing so. Meanwhile, there will simply be too much output to effectively pursue plagiarism cases, which take time and ultimately depend on the personal interpretation of non-expert judges and juries. If you think 100,000 tracks being uploaded per day to streaming now is a problem, when generative AI goes mainstream among consumers (which it most likely will), the number of new ‘songs’ created daily could easily be a hundred times that – perhaps even a thousand. 

Focus on the input not the output: So, the most scalable solution for music rightsholders will be to fix the problem at the top, by ensuring that generative AI tools only learn from what they have permission to learn from. ‘heart on my sleeve’ can only sound like Drake and The Weeknd because the tech learned from theirmusic. A number of generative-AI companies already only learn from selective, pre-authorised datasets. If this becomes the norm then an entire new licensing opportunity emerges for music rightsholders. Artists and songwriters will likely need to consent first, similar to how sync works. The alternative (trying to license and / or collect royalties on the millions, billions or trillions of songs that will be created) would be a fool’s errand.

The reason why AI feels so frightening to much of the music business is not just because of what it is, but also because it is a catalyst for pre-existing market shifts. The last half decade was characterised by the rise of non-traditional music, in the shape of ‘fake artists’, mood music, and independent artists. All of which have eaten into the market share of traditional music companies and creators. 

Streaming’s finite royalty pot makes revenue a zero sum game. Whatever may be done to try to ‘formalise’ AI music, it is almost certainly going to accelerate the fragmentation paradigm shift, by putting music creation in the hands of consumers. Radiohead once sang that “anyone can play guitar”. In practice, most people cannot, and do not. But literally anyone can ‘play’ AI.

There is growing concern among investors that this will mean market share erosion for the majors (and it probably will), but there is still a play for traditional labels and publishers, by licensing AI at the top. In doing so, they can benefit from the shift, just in the same way that major labels benefit from the rise of independent labels and artists through owning distribution platforms. That opportunity, though, requires the right approach and for it to be taken fast. The time is now.

I will leave the final words to President Biden, whose comments on AI as a whole apply just as neatly to AI in music:

“Look what’s happening with artificial intelligence right now. It poses enormous promise and enormous concern. Our world stands at an inflection point. The choices we make today are literally going to determine the future of this world.”

The Meta Trends that Will Shape 2019

MIDiA has just published its annual predictions report. Here are a few highlights.

2018 was another year of change, disruption and transformation across media and technology. Although hyped technologies – VR, blockchain, AI music – failed to meet inflated expectations, concepts such as privacy, voice, emerging markets and peak in the attention economy shaped the evolution of digital content businesses, in a year that was one to remember for subscriptions across all content types. These are some of the meta trends that we think will shape media, brands and tech in 2019 (see the rest of the report for industry specific predictions):

  • Privacy as a product: Apple has set out its stall as the defender of consumer privacy as a counter weight to Facebook and Google, whose businesses depend upon selling their consumers’ data to advertisers. The Cambridge Analytica scandal was the start rather than the end. Companies that can – i.e. those that do not depend upon ad revenue – will start to position user privacy as a product differentiator.
  • Green as a product: Alphabet could potentially position around environmental issues as it does not depend as centrally on physical distribution or hardware manufacture for its revenue. For all of Apple’s genuinely good green intentions, it fundamentally makes products that require lots of energy to produce, uses often scarce and toxic materials and consumes a lot of energy in everyday use. Meanwhile, Amazon uses excessive packaging and single delivery infrastructure, creating a large carbon footprint. So, we could see fault lines emerge with Alphabet and Facebook positioning around the environment as a counter to Apple and potentially Amazon positioning around privacy.
  • The politicisation of brands: Nike’s Colin Kaepernick advert might have been down to cold calculation of its customer base as much as ideology, but what it illustrated was that in today’s increasingly bipartisan world, not taking a position is in itself taking a position. Expect 2019 to see more brands take the step to align themselves with issues that resonate with their user bases.
  • The validation of collective experience: The second decade of the millennium has seen the growing success of mobile-centric experiences across social, music, video, games and more. But this has inherently created a world of siloed, personal experiences, of which being locked away in VR headsets was but a natural conclusion. The continued success of live music alongside the rise of esports, pop-up events and meet ups hints at the emotional vacuum that digital experiences can create. Expect 2019 to see the rise of both offline and digital events (e.g. live streaming) that explicitly look to connect people in shared experiences, and to give them the validation of the collective experience – the knowledge that what they experienced truly was something special but equally fleeting.
  • Tech major content portfolios: All of the tech majors have been building their content portfolios, each with a different focus. 2019 will be another year of content revenue growth for all four tech majors, but Apple may be the first to take the next step and start productising multi-content subscriptions, even if it starts doing so in baby steps by making Apple original TV shows available as part of an Apple Music subscription.
  • Rights disruption: Across all content genres, 2019 will see digital-first companies stretch the boundaries and challenge accepted wisdoms. Whether that be Spotify signing music artists, DAZN securing top tier sports rights, or Facebook acquiring a TV network. These are all very different moves, but they reflect a changing of the guard, with technology companies being able to bring global reach and big budgets to the negotiating table. Expect also more transparency, better reporting and more agile business terms.
  • GDPR sacrificial lamb: In 2018 companies thought they got their houses in order for GDPR compliance. Most consumers certainly thought they had, given how many opt in notifications they received in their inboxes.
    However, many companies skirted around the edges of compliance, especially US companies. In 2019 we will see European authorities start to police compliance more sternly. Expect some big sacrificial lambs in 2019 to scare the rest of the marketplace into compliance. They will also aim to educate the world that this is not a European problem, so expect some of those companies to be American. Watch your back Facebook.
  • Big data backlash: By now companies have more data, data scientists and data dashboards than they know what to do with. 2019 will see some of the smarter companies start to realise that just because you can track it does not mean that you need to track it. Many companies are beginning to experience data paralysis, confounded by the deluge of data, with management teams unable to decipher the relevance of the analysis put together by their data scientists and BI teams. A simplified, streamlined approach is needed and 2019 will see the start of this.
  • Voice, AI, machine learning (and maybe AR) all continue on their path: These otherwise disparate trends are pulled together for the simple reason that they are long-term structural trends that helped shape the digital economy in 2018 and will continue to do so in 2019. Rather than try to over simplify into some single event, we instead back each of these four trends to continue to accelerate in importance and influence. 

For music, video, media, brands and games specific predictions, MIDiA clients can check out our report here. If you are not a client and would like to get access to the report please email

The Three Eras Of Paid Streaming

Streaming has driven such a revenue renaissance within the major record labels that the financial markets are now falling over themselves to work out where they can invest in the market, and indeed whether they should. For large financial institutions, there are not many companies that are big enough to be worth investing in. Vivendi is pretty much it. Some have positions in Sony, but as the music division is a smaller part of Sony’s overall business than it is for Vivendi, a position in Sony is only an indirect position in the music business.

The other bet of course is Spotify. With demand exceeding supply these look like good times to be on the sell side of music stocks, though it is worth noting that some hedge funds are also exploring betting against both Vivendi and Spotify. Nonetheless, the likely outcome is that there will be a flurry of activity around big music company stocks, with streaming as the fuel in the engine. With this in mind it is worth contextualizing where streaming is right now and where it fits within the longer term evolution of the market.

the 3 eras of streaming

The evolution of paid streaming can be segmented into three key phases:

  1. Market Entry: This is when streaming was getting going and desktop is still a big part of the streaming experience. Only a small minority of users paid and those that did were tech savvy, music aficionados. As such they skewed young-ish male and very much towards music super fans. These were people who liked to dive deep into music discovery, investing time and effort to search out cool new music, and whose tastes typically skewed towards indie artists. It meant that both indie artists and back catalogue over indexed in the early days of streaming. Because so many of these early adopters had previously been high spending music buyers, streaming revenue growth being smaller than the decline of legacy formats emerged as the dominant trend. $40 a month consumers were becoming $9.99 a month consumers.
  2. Surge: This is the ongoing and present phase. This is the inflection point on the s-curve, where more numerous early followers adopt. The rapid revenue and subscriber growth will continue for the remainder of 2017 and much of 2018. The demographics are shifting, with gender distribution roughly even, but there is a very strong focus on 25-35 year olds who value paid streaming for the ability to listen to music on their phone whenever and wherever they are. Curation and playlists have become more important in order to help serve the needs of these more mainstream users—still strong music fans— but not quite the train spotter obsessives that drive phase one. A growing number of these users are increasing their monthly spend up to $9.99, helping ensure streaming drives market level growth.
  3. Maturation: As with all technology trends, the phases overlap. We are already part way into phase three: the maturing of the market. With saturation among the 25-35 year-old music super fans on the horizon in many western markets, the next wave of adoption will be driven by widening out the base either side of the 25-35 year-old heartland. This means converting the fast growing adoption among Gen Z with new products such as unbundled playlists. At the other end of the age equation, it means converting older consumers— audiences for whom listening to music on the go on smartphones is only part (or even none) of their music listening behaviour. Car technologies such as interactive dashboards and home technologies such as Amazon’s echo will be key to unlocking these consumers. Lean back experiences will become even more important than they are now with voice and AI (personalizing with context of time, place and personal habits) becoming key.

It has been a great 18 months for streaming and strong growth lies ahead in the near term that will require little more effort than ‘more of the same’. But beyond that, for western markets, new, more nuanced approaches will be required. In some markets such as Sweden, where more than 90% of the paid opportunity has already been tapped, we need this phase three approach right now. Alongside all this, many emerging markets are only just edging towards phase 2. What is crucial for rights holders and streaming services alike is not to slacken on the necessary western market innovation if growth from emerging markets starts delivering major scale. Simplicity of product offering got us to where we are but a more sophisticated approach is needed for the next era of paid streaming.

NOTE: I’m going on summer vacation so this will be the last post from me for a couple of weeks.