There’s not a ton of industries with a more fraught relationship with technology than the music industry. Sure, heavy manufacturing, newspapers and other industries have been equally impacted by (and ticked off at) technology, but that list isn’t huge.
The record industry is pockmarked by technological upheaval — vinyl gave way to cassettes, gave way to CDs, gave way to .mp3s, gave way to sharing sites like Napster, gave way to the iTunes store, gave way to Spotify, and onward. Each step along the ladder made your tunes more available and portable, but it wasn’t until Napster, Limewire and Kazaa came around that the industry writ large faced imminent collapse.
Technology has ruined the music industry before, and it saved it through streaming services (depending on who you believe). Oh, and people got hip to vinyl again, and now it’s making a roaring comeback, but few see the other formats enjoying a similar resurrection any time soon (and the vinyl sales increase is nothing compared to the loss in CD sales).
One of the most obvious ways you can think about technology invading the music industry comes with tools used by artists. From the first use feedback on the electric guitar:
…to creating completely new sounds (or essentially changing the instrument, really):
…to the introduction of tools to help… not great singers sound better (or just produce a specific, stylized sound, whichever)…
…technology has been a crucial part of artists’ repertoires through the years. By injecting new sounds and techniques into popular music, visionary artists have created truly new types of music by employing technology in ways never before seen. I think one of the best explained examples of this comes from Justin Bieber, Diplo and Skrillex. The video really breaks down their process for writing, recording and mixing the mega-smash hit ‘Where Are U Now’:
But as with all things, as technology gets woven further and further into the fabric of this medium we have to ask ourselves… is disruption coming again for this industry? And will it eventually remove the human element entirely?
Whether you know it or not, AI is actually already a tool artists and producers are using today to help craft music. From a great The Verge piece, “there’s an entire industry built around AI services for creating music, including the aforementioned Flow Machines, IBM Watson Beat, Google Magenta’s NSynth Super, Jukedeck, Melodrive, Spotify’s Creator Technology Research Lab, and Amper Music.”
But, as with any industry, practitioners are understandably worried about whether or not this tool could eventually replace them outright. There’s always an undercurrent of worry when new technologies enter an industry, but with creative industries especially, that worry borders on panic. If creative pursuits aren’t the exclusive purview of humans, then — the thinking goes — no job or industry is safe from the machines. So might music be the first creative domino to fall?
Not so fast, says Dani Deahl: “Sure, an algorithm making music sounds scary because it mirrors human capabilities that we already find mysterious, but it’s also a compelling tool that can enhance said human capabilities. AI as a collaborator increases access to music-making, it can streamline workflows, and it provides the spark of inspiration needed to craft your next hit single.”
There will almost certainly be music created solely by AI, but the concept of it replacing human artists is a long, long way off. It might be able to deduce what types of melodies or tempos or arrangements are most likely to produce a hit, but it also can’t predict or iterate where music will go to next. What instruments will be invented, or sounds discovered…
I don’t think music makers are going extinct any time soon, but AI might just be the tool that helps them take their art to another level yet again.