AI and the Disruption of the Music Persona
Discussions on AI and music continue to grip the music industry, with fears we stand on the precipice of a post-musician world, yet in many ways we have been here before.
History dictates that shifts in music composition are influenced more by the context in which it is consumed rather than the technology that creates it. For instance, while 20th century innovations in music such as drum machines, distortion and sampling changed the way music sounded, they still have been in service of the three-minute track with a chorus and verses — a format that has mostly stood firm since it was favoured by the embryonic radio formats. To this end, platforms such as TikTok and streaming services enabling amorphous albums and playlists are changing song structure more than AI. In fact, data suggests in the streaming era that songs have become both shorter and, influenced by social media, more confessional.
AI’s capabilities in music are therefore more comparable to the synthesizer, the drum machine and the sampler; neither ultimately replacing the musician entirely but becoming another tool to create. Composers who do not play an instrument (many successful Hip-Hop artists, Morrissey, Jello Biafra) are still considered artists, and AI would mean these creators would become the norm rather than the exception. The challenge therefore to the business of music is thus predicated on whether the technology can create an engaging public persona that resonates with an audience better than an artist, A&R or marketing department. To this end, the music industry should be less concerned with what AI will do on the music front but more on the marketing side: the public facing side of an artist. This concept was first elaborated on by the composer and music theorist Edward T. Cone, who discussed in his book The Composer’s Voice, the link between the lyrics of a song and the personality conveyed by its composer.
This is not exclusive to music but also impacts the whole media ecosystem. Given the innovations in machine learning and image generation, we are potentially about to witness a dramatic shift in retail with regards to influencers. Now that Instagram’s insta-shop has not only turned influencers from an advertising vertical but effectively into the shop itself, it raises the question of whether we will see a wave of fake influencers emerge, and whether the public will care that they don’t really exist?
A popular quote among artists and entrepreneurs often attributed to the physicist Dennis Gabor is: “We cannot predict the future, but we can invent it”. The emergence of AI in music therefore begs the question of ‘who’ is inventing that future.