Google and Universal negotiating deal over AI-generated music tool

A deal could see artists approve their voices and melodies for AI-generated songs in return for a cut of sales
1 month before August 9, 2023 at 14:05 Author: Editors Desk Source: Evening Standard:
Electronic musicians Daft Punk adopted robotic personas / Doug Peters / PA
Electronic musicians Daft Punk adopted robotic personas / Doug Peters / PA

Google is in talks with major record labels to create an AI tool that allows anyone to make fake songs by popular artists.

The tech giant is thrashing out a deal with Universal Music to officially license artists’ voices and melodies for AI-generated tracks, the Financial Times reports. Warner Music has also reportedly discussed a product with Google.

The parties are apparently haggling out a way for artists and copyright holders to make bank from legitimate fan-made AI songs.

While an AI Pro Tools endorsed by Taylor Swift and Harry Styles is probably still a ways off, we already have an inkling of what the new platform could look like. Google recently released an experimental tool called MusicLM that can turn text descriptions into songs.

Like ChatGPT for tracks, you can tell the AI to make “soulful jazz for a dinner party” or “a disco jam for the Barbie movie”. You can sign up to preview the tool using Google’s AI Test Kitchen app. The company recently used MusicLM to create songs from people’s brain activity.

In addition, so-called deepfake technology that can simulate the voices of famous people, such as Taylor Swift, is also readily available.

Talk of the deals comes amid a surge in fan-made AI tracks that mimic the music and voices of pop superstars like Drake and The Weeknd.

The negotiations between Google and the record labels indicate a change in tone towards AI from the music business. Universal initially tried to fend off the rise in fake tracks by issuing takedown notices to streaming services like Spotify.

Musicians, meanwhile, are split on the issue. Drake referred to the viral popularity of a fake AI song featuring his voice as “the last straw”. Zara Larsson has also raised concerns about the lack of consent associated with AI-produced songs.

On the other hand, musician Grimes recently allowed fans to use an AI system trained on her voice to create their own music. Paul McCartney is also poised to release the “last” Beatles song featuring an AI-enhanced version of late bandmate John Lennon’s voice.

This isn’t the first time the music business has been disrupted. The emergence of AI tracks echoes the seismic shift from physical music to streaming over the past 15 years. More recently, the rise of TikTok has led to a boom in user-generated lip-sync and dance videos. In both cases, the music industry initially responded to the sea change with hostility, throwing copyright lawsuits at emerging platforms.

Google is well-positioned to broker a settlement over AI music. It already has deals in place with major record labels for its YouTube Music streaming service, while YouTube proper is a hub for music videos and user-generated content.

Nevertheless, a deal with a music industry titan would mark a major coup for the tech firm, and could usher in a creative renaissance in fan-made music. Universal Music Group alone controls about a third of the global music market. Its roster includes some of the biggest names in pop and classic rock including Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny, Harry Styles, Billie Eilish, Adele, Coldplay, U2, and Bob Dylan, to name a few.


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