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The Use of 'AI' in Songwriting and Music

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

Written by Sabrina Adebanjoh for Tech and Media.




An examination of AI's impact on music and its production, the good and the bad.



Whilst many people may not think much of AI TikTok trends such as Stewie from 'Family Guy' singing Bruno Mars songs, these trends, alongside other uses of 'AI' in music, raise important ethical and legal questions. In April 2023, what seemed like a musical collaboration between popular artists Drake and The Weeknd went viral across a myriad of social media platforms, amassing millions of views. This song, however, was written and produced by an online user under the alias Ghostwriter997. This user employed voice effects and other production techniques to mimic the voices of the award-winning artists. Whilst recording labels managed to get the song removed from streaming services,the impact of the song's release should not be underestimated. The CEO of The Recording Academy, Harvey Mason Jr, had to clarify the qualifications needed to be eligible for a Grammy in response to the song's rumoured submission. Mason advocated that ‘[e]ven though it was written by a human creator, the vocals were not legally obtained; the vocals were not cleared by the label with the artists; and the song is not commercially available’, thereby concluding that the song was ineligible for a Grammy award. The implication here is that we can take three key criteria from this statement that may allow 'AI-generated' songs, or more specifically songs that attempt to imitate and recreate artists' voices or styles, to be eligible for awards: the label and artist providing legal permission; a song being commercially available; and the song having been either sung or written by a human. The use of 'AI' in songwriting and music is far from impossible, but what are the ethical and creative implications of this? What happens when 'AI' partakes in the writing of songs? What is music, both philosophically and legally, if it can, to a large extent, be generated?




What is music?


Music at its core is a form of expression. Its importance lies in the messages that songs spread to consumers. For centuries, music has had strong ties to societies, it evolves and adapts to the political issues that artists within them face. For example, in America the Black Rights Movement has always been associated with music as a political tool. Starting with the Abolitionist movement, where songs like ‘Steal away’ and  ‘Wade in the water’ would be coded signals between slaves on escape plans from plantation farms. Music later on evolved alongside the Civil Rights era to inspire protest efforts with the creation of Soul music. Recently, the African American experience with police brutality has been encapsulated by rap artists like Kendrick Lamar and J.Cole. Where an injustice has suffered in society there are creative individuals there to verbalise those feelings to educate and inform others of their biases. Oppression or freedom from such is something that AI can sample but never truly express or fully comprehend the complicated conflicting feelings people have in regards to such heavy topics.


On a legal level music is a piece of intellectual property, governed by laws like copyrighting laws that determine ownership of songs. Ghostwritter997’s song posed questions on the protection of AI generated songs within copyright law. Whilst we know that copyright law protected Drake and The Weeknd vocal talents, in what circumstances would AI songs be protected? English Law (s.178, Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988), states that AI-generated works are protected if they are made without any ‘human author’. However, for songs or lyrics to be protected they must meet the criteria of being original. AI companies like Boomy claim that the music their sites generate are unique and original , thus fulfilling this requirement and protecting certain AI generated songs in the UK.  The US courts operate under The Copyright Act from their constitutions Copyright clause, and hold that for an item to have exclusive rights its author must be human. Therefore AI songs have stronger protections if there is human involvement in its case.




Potential benefits


Proponents of AI’s use in music would argue that AI provides innovation through opportunity. Many independent or small artists struggle to break through into the mainstream media as they are stacked against large corporations with all the advertising power. Grimes, an AI supporter and musical artist,  launched software that mimics her voice in hope that smaller artists can utilise a bigger name (at the slight cost of 50% of the royalties) in order to break into the industry. This is a marketing technique that arguably works, as shown by the previous success of Ghostwritter977. However, if this tool was further explored through other artists granting permission to the uses of their voices, it would create the opposite intent that Grimes seeks . The music industry would become more saturated with millions of songs ‘sung’ by the most popular artists. It could pose the danger of making music homogenous. Different vocal talents would not be appreciated. Music labels would need less and less people working on songs, displacing thousands of creative jobs for the sake of profit. 



Conclusion 

In conclusion, AI generated songs are unfortunately a reality that we have already reached. Whilst there is some reluctance from Governments to strictly intervene or define the rights around AI-generated musical material, there needs to be stronger stances taken by legislatures. Since, in the end the only ones who are going to suffer is our society through the lack of expression that AI- generated songs bring.





Bibliography 

Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 


Monroe J, 'Grimes Unveils Software to Mimic Her Voice, Offering 50-50 Royalties for Commercial Use' (Pitchfork.com, 2 May 2023) <https://pitchfork.com/news/grimes-unveils-software-to-mimic-her-voice-and-announces-2-new-songs/> accessed 26 November 2023


Smith C, ‘The Last Mile of the Way: Soul Music and The Civil Rights Movement’ [2015] Auctus: The Journal of Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship 

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