music

Will the next new Beatles hit feature a cloned version of John Lennon’s voice singing a cover of a Rolling Stone song? That idea doesn’t seem farfetched as AI is practically auditioning to become a member of bands everywhere.

AI already is musically famous for its role in the release of “Now And Then,” the first new Beatles song since 1995. AI and machine learning helped clean up an ancient demo tape of the song, basically shooting the piano player who was obscuring Lennon’s voice.

It seems like only yesterday that the music industry was stunned by a fake duet generated by AI program called Ghostwriter ostensibly featuring Drake and The Weekend was submitted for a Grammy nomination but later taken down after Universal Music Group filed a copyright lawsuit. In the year since, a proliferation of AI-supported music sites like Aiva.AI, Boomy, Soundraw, and Loudly are allowing even the musically illiterate to create their own songs.

Now in what seems like a line torn from a song that might be called “If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them,” YouTube is launching an experimental AI tool called Dream Track that allows users to create 30-second songs using the voices of popular artists that have signed on for the program. The initial nine artists are Alec Benjamin, Charlie Puth, Charlie XCX, Demi Lovato, John Legend, Papoose, Sia, T-Pain and Troye Sivan. Dream Track is designed to be part of You Tube Shorts which aims to compete with TikTok.

For users, the process is very straightforward. Just put an idea into the creation prompt and choose a participating artist. Dream Track generates an original soundtrack using the voice of the artist. Dream Track was built in conjunction with Google’s Deep Mind’s music generation model, Lyria. On the B side, so to speak, YouTube also is offering artists it “Music AI Tools” that lets songwriters hear what a song or melody might sound like without having to play it themselves.

While reaction to YouTube’s experiment has been mixed and it feels like a slippery slope, the artists themselves seem grateful to have a seat at the AI table. “AI is going to transform the world and the music industry in way we do not fully understand,” says a cautious Charli XCX. “This experiment will offer a small insight into the creative opportunities that could be possible and I’m interested to see what comes out of it.”

It should come as no surprise that Google-owned YouTube wants its cake and to eat it too. YouTube says it will roll out strict guidelines next year to protect its music partners from deepfakes: Creators will be required to label their uploaded videos “realistic.” The move mirrors a new rule by Meta requiring political advertisers to label content made with AI.

YouTube promises to develop the software tools necessary to detect violators. The task will be challenging. There are already numerous YouTube channels featuring AI covers by artists living and dead so it appears these would be subject to takedown, even if the intent is satire or parody. An underlying tension is the discrepancy between special protection for the music industry and AIs in learning modes scrapping the internet for free content.

Still, if the world can be spared another AI musical misadventure like the legendary Johnny Cash singing a cover of Aqua’s 1990s song “Barbie Girl,” then perhaps some rules are in order. On the other hand, a lot of people didn’t like hip-hop when it first appeared and now it’s a dominate force. Perhaps AI will follow a similar trajectory, generating its own cover of the 1974 hit by the Kiki Dee Band “I’ve Got The Music In Me” along the way.