Blog Post

12 March 2024

Thoughts on AI and music


As of this writing, AI has captured the public’s imagination with highly-publicized tools like ChatGPT. There have been numerous discussions in the entertainment community (some tinged with panic) about how AI might impact or even displace creative professionals. While human-created music isn’t on the chopping block at the moment, the prospect looms in the imagination of many composers and songwriters. Recently I’ve participated in a number of discussions how music-makers might be impacted by these emerging technologies.

When trying to predict the future I like to look for analogies from the past. In these discussions I point out that musical creativity — and in particular its use in commercial media — has been undergoing automation for decades. A prime example is today’s abundance of music creation software. The state of the art allows a composer with Logic (or the free Garage Band) to create a professional grade album or film score, without the need for the professional service providers that would have traditionally been involved. No live musicians, no mixing or mastering engineer, no recording studio assistants, and so on. The professional music industry has had to evolve as work thinned out or vanished for people in those professions.

On the other hand, composers (especially young ones) are now vastly more enabled to create and produce music than they used to be. Career opportunities exist worldwide that used to be the province of a lucky few who had access to musicians and recording facilities. Plus, new kinds of businesses have arisen as a result, e.g. those creating virtual instruments and or audio plugins. These are substantial industries employing millions of people worldwide.

Do I wish that virtual instruments didn’t exist, and larger numbers of orchestral recording musicians could still find bountiful employment in L.A. like the good old days? It’s a trap of a question, because my heart wants the musicians to be happy and make money, but not at the cost of disabling the far greater number who have thriving creative lives (and sometimes careers) because of new technology.

The technologies I’ve described above aren’t AI-related per se, but examples of how software automation has been changing professional music-making for decades. (Although AI is indeed sometimes involved. For example, Logic Pro comes with a “drummer” plugin that will attempt to mimic the improvisations of human drum players.) AI is simply the evolution of a long-existing progression.

Turning from music production to composition, I doubt that AI-generated music will replace the John Williamses of the present or future. What it may start to do is supplant stock music in generic styles, for predictable musical genres. (Note that this isn’t a veiled insult to those styles; Bach’s music was very rule-based and relatively easy for computers to mimic today.) Stock music libraries will face real competition – and likely, will themselves adopt AI composition tools to service reality TV and other productions that don’t need originally composed music.

But complex art and craft will always need human judgment. That’s true for media music, and I’d like to think that the same will hold true of other creative fields.

Speaking more generally about the entertainment industry as a whole, I can’t predict how things will play out. Some transitions will probably be painful, as human jobs go away and the new automated tools can’t match the quality of what they’re replacing. (That’s why model-based ships in old Star Wars still look better than the early CG of the prequels.) But technology will move forward, and people will embrace it, for both better and worse.


2 Responses

  1. Doug Mayfield

    I generally agree with your post on AI. AI is technology and is therefore morally neutral and only as good or as bad as whoever uses it I think one problem with AI right now is that some people see it as a panacea to replace the hard work of creating art (including composing and rendering music of course). And yes, it has ‘invaded’ the film business and made many aspects of film making significantly cheaper including the animation which my associate, Christopher, and I need for our current project, an animated sci fi action film. But it cannot come up with good stories which are the heart and soul of film making.

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