AI needs fine-tuning to hit right notes with music industry, panel says

The next chart topper might not be composed by a human musician.

The potential impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on musicians and listeners was discussed last week at Business Matters Songs in the Key of ChatGPT. The event, which took place on Wednesday, March 27, was the ninth instalment in a series of annual community forums hosted by Brock’s Goodman School of Business and supported by the Willmot Foundation as part of the D. G. Willmot Leaders’ Series.

If panelist Noah Mintz’s prediction proves true, it’s only a matter of time before people are tapping their toes to a generational anthem created entirely by artificial intelligence (AI).

“In the next couple of years, there’s going to be a massive hit that’s all done by AI,” said Mintz, a Chief Mastering Engineer at Lacquer Channel Mastering in Toronto. “And then, for a while, everyone’s going to be over it. It’s like Gangnam Style. Nobody wants to hear anything like that for a long while.”

Mintz was joined by music publicist Eric Alper, Chelsea Masse, Market Research and Data Specialist with the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) and Kirsten Robertson, Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour and Human Resources at University of the Fraser Valley.

Goodman Associate Professor of Marketing Todd Green hosted the panel.

Together they discussed everything from whether AI-created music will be labelled for consumers to fine-tuning copyright laws to protect artists whose creations get repurposed by algorithms and machine learning.

A screenshot of five people participating in a video call.

Panelists Eric Alper, Noah Mintz, Kirsten Robertson and Chelsea Masse joined Todd Green during the 2024 Business Matters event on Wednesday, March 27.

All panelists agreed that AI is already prevalent in the music industry – something the public heard loud and clear last year when Paul McCartney made headlines about using the technology to sing with the late John Lennon in the 2021 documentary Get Back.

Alper pointed to a 2023 Billboard Magazine study that determined nearly 35 per cent of all songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart incorporated some form of AI to help musicians complete lyrics or create new music.

Venture capitalists and third-party companies are also buying artists’ catalogues – everyone from Michael Jackson to Neil Young – “to exploit their master recordings and their likeness” using AI, including to resurrect late artists in virtual reality settings or on-stage productions, Alper noted.

“It’s here to stay,” he said. “Now, how do we deal with it?”

There are benefits to the technology, however. Mintz uses ChatGPT to do the intricate mathematics of calculating harmonics when mastering a piece of music, making the process more efficient.

AI can also make music creation more accessible, Robertson said.

“Maybe you’re somebody who wasn’t born with a beautiful voice but you’ve always had this urge to be creative and to get your ideas out there and heard,” she said. “You could now, potentially, use AI to compensate for that. Or if you didn’t have the chance to learn music or a musical instrument as a child, you could still create music and reach some fans.”

But that can come with its own issues, most notably a glut of musicians of varying talents competing to be heard, Masse said.

“My problem with democratizing music-making, it devalues musical training for folks who have spent tens of thousands of hours training at their craft,” Masse said. “For someone to be able to pump in a couple of prompts and then put out a song, I don’t know if it could ever be equal.”

Mintz isn’t so sure, either. There are certain elements of making music the technology will never master, no matter how sophisticated it becomes, he said.

He pointed the resurging interest in analog and rising sales of vinyl records. The more AI persists, the more people want the authenticity that comes with a physical item like a record, he said.

“The core of my argument against AI is it’s going to lack the empathy to fully understand music,” Mintz said. “Empathy is one thing that’s never going to be able to be programmed. And empathy is how we really connect with music. Nothing can replicate it.”

A recording of Business Matters is available on YouTube for those who weren’t able to join the discussion.

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