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A.I. Just Changed Music...

May 04, 2024
 
One reader of this newsletter, recently sent me this:
"What is the point in even trying to make music, if an AI is capable of creating in a few minutes a flawless Violin Concerto like one I just stumbled upon? It is 10 times better than anything I could dream to write."
"The questions after that seem endless: what's the point of it all? How do we react to that? How do we use it without the feelings of doom and gloom?"
Wow. This is absolutely loaded and I think it's something that's been on our minds as musicians for the last several months.
Thank you, Pascal, for such an impactful message.
Let's see if we can address the very real issues this presents without excessive fear mongering, because God knows you're already getting plenty of that elsewhere.
We do have to acknowledge the problems that this technology brings with it. So we'll start with some light doom and gloom and work our way to something more hopeful, because I do believe we have reason to be hopeful.
Maybe like a lot of you, I've been aware of the remarkable advances A.I. has been making in almost every creative field. Visual arts and writing have already been disrupted, and it was just a matter of time before we musicians would have to face some difficult realities as well.
With the launch of Udio and other music A.I. apps, I sat up a bit more attentively than I had before.
For the first time, my gut reaction was one of real concern for us middle class musicians.
Because it doesn't seem like the tools we're seeing developed are designed to help us like we had hoped, but instead to replace us while helping giant corporations improve their bottom lines.
 
The "Democratization" Myth
 
Unlike the advent of DAWs this isn't "democratization" of the artform.
I think it's actually going to re-open the divide between the highly skilled musician and those who have made a living essentially programming music in their DAW (which by the way, is a totally legitimate skillset that I have a lot of respect for).
People who can play instruments live will have a clear advantage.
Composers who are excellent at their craft will continue to be sought after.
After all, master chefs weren't phased out after the fast food takeover. It only raised the standard for them and pushed out people who were good chefs, but maybe not GREAT chefs.
So where tech initially gave millions of people opportunity for jobs in music, I think this new tech will take a lot of those same jobs away.
Just like in every other aspect of society today, the middle class is seemingly being squeezed out.
 
The Affect on Streaming
 
There is already an insane amount of music being uploaded to Spotify every day. I imagine that's about to increase exponentially.
Imagine all the ambient playlists flooded with A.I. prompts.
It's already difficult to make any real income from streaming royalties alone.
There's a reason I started putting more and more effort into my YouTube channel. It's definitely not because I enjoy hearing myself stumble over my words for hours while editing videos.
It's because I realized that the time for the "mysterious artist" who can operate in the shadows and simply release music is over.
Putting more of yourself out there isn't easy for us introverts, but it does foster a more human connection with the audience.
Human connection will soon be in high demand as it becomes more and more rare.
 
The Ethical Dilemma
 
There's a massive issue that has already been discussed by a lot of people.
How is this A.I. being trained? Where is it getting all this data?
I think the logical answer to that would be: our music. Copyrighted music that composers and artists have spent lifetimes crafting. That's why artists are so upset. It feels like a violation...because it is.
Visual artists have already been dealing with this problem.
The problem is, A.I. isn't really all that artificial. It's not really creating anything, it's combining existing things.
Now, this is where it gets complicated, because we humans do that too.
Creatively speaking, humans are replicators. A.I. is a replicator.
The difference is that we replicate a unique blend of our favorite things (our inspirations) imperfectly - adding our own nuances and taste.
A.I. will replicate what it’s trained on 'perfectly.' It will eventually train to the point that it even replicates many of our imperfections...perfectly.
Ethics aside, I can’t think of anything less interesting.
It's really about creative choice and agency. A.I. has no agency to make creative decisions based on taste. It can only regurgitate an amalgam of data based on prompts. Our data.
 
The PROCESS is the Point
 
As an aging millennial, I do remember a time before the internet. My parents had a set of these things called encyclopedias. Basically the Google of its day, except it took up an entire book shelf.
When you type a question into Google, you get an immediate response that, once you wade through the ads will answer your question directly. That's great because you can learn more information much more quickly.
But you also lose something really important.
When I would go to that book shelf and start looking up something that interested me, I would have to do some digging. That digging led to me uncovering not only answers, but new questions I didn't even know to ask.
The SEARCH was actually integral to expanding my curiosity.
In music the PROCESS of making it leads to discovery. Discovery is one of the most exciting things about creation.
So the question is, why would we want to outsource discovery?
The only benefit that could serve is if we view music only as a product.
If we love music simply for its own sake, then we love the craft of it. And getting better at the craft of making music is the only thing we can control.
The more you can hone your skills and focus on whatever makes you unique as an artist, the better chance you have is this changing landscape. It's why I talk about the craft of composition and timeless concepts so much here instead of which synth to buy next. (learn more about that here)
This discussion is not about blind tests and picking A.I. vs. human-made music out of a lineup. It's about the process of creating. It's about the genuine expression of emotion. It's about our imperfect translation of our emotions into this mysterious artform we all love so much.
The BUSINESS of music may be changing, but music itself and how it affects us will not.
As long as humans are listening to music, they will appreciate humans who are making music. And as A.I. becomes more and more capable and prevalent in all areas of life, people are going to be starving for human creators and creations.
So don't stop making music out of fear. Make music because you love music.
There will be disruption, especially as we figure out how to navigate these early days of A.I. But there will also always be a place for human artists who are creating human art.
Whenever you're ready, here's how I can help you:

1. Composition Concepts for Artists - an in-depth look at the process of composition with step-by-step examples SHOWING how and WHY I make decisions. You'll learn to take an initial idea and DEVELOP it into a finished project.

2. Understanding Synthesis - learn to design your own sounds starting with the basics of subtractive synthesis and progressing to more advanced sound design  with semi-modular and various forms of digital synthesis.

3. YouTube Membership - monthly livestreams featuring music making and sound design in real time. Q&As and exclusive videos only available to channel members.

4. One to One Coaching (coming soon) - work with me on YOUR own music. I'll help you take your track from idea to finished product, so you'll come out with a polished track or EP and any knowledge gained from walking through the process with me.