AI could help with writer's block in songwriting, says Pet Shop Boys' lead vocalist

Not everyone from the music industry is up in arms over the effects of artificial intelligence.
Sejal Sharma
Pet Shop Boys performing in Berlin Festival 2013
Pet Shop Boys performing in Berlin Festival 2013

Wikimedia Commons 

From the arrival of MP3 players in the 90s to the birth of iTunes in the early 21st century, we all hoped for another music revolution, but this isn’t quite what we expected.

Things have been moving in the world of AI music. 

With AI replicating the music of some of the planet’s most popular artists to streaming services being plagued by bots that ‘fake listen’ to boost streams, the music industry is rattled.

But not everybody is feeling the trembles of the fear brought on by AI.

In an interview with British publication Radio Time, Pet Shop Boys’ vocalist Neil Tennant suggested that AI might not be such a bad thing after all. The 68-year-old said that the technology could come in handy to an artist as they write their songs.

"There’s a song that we wrote a chorus for in 2003 and we never finished because I couldn’t think of anything for the verses," Tennant told Radio TImes. "But now with AI you could give it the bits you’ve written, press the button and have it fill in the blanks. You might then rewrite it, but it could nonetheless be a tool."

But Tennant is not a lone voice in the industry. In February, chart-topping disc jockey David Guetta said that "the future of music is in AI." This after he took the help of two AI websites to replicate Eminem’s voice for a rap in one of his live shows.

Industry fears human artists will be left behind

Songwriting is sacrosanct to most artists. The use of copyrighted songs requires permission from the artist and the copyright owner, without which the artists’ identity and likeability are on the line. Emphasizing the same, Universal Music Group (UMG) recently emailed a strongly worded statement to streaming services: “The training of generative AI using our artists’ music (which represents both a breach of our agreements and a violation of copyright law) as well as the availability of infringing content created with generative AI on DSPs, begs the question as to which side of history all stakeholders in the music ecosystem want to be on: the side of artists, fans and human creative expression, or on the side of deep fakes, fraud and denying artists their due compensation.”

This came after an AI-generated song called ‘Heart On My Sleeve’ went viral. A TikTok user posted the song using cloned voices of Drake and The Weeknd, both represented by UMG, on his profile, which went viral overnight.

This was followed by Spotify pulling down thousands of AI-generated songs from its platform after an AI company, ‘Boomy,’ was accused of artificially boosting AI songs using bots on the platform.

Another ‘scammer’ posted half a dozen AI-generated songs using Frank Ocean’s voice on a Discord forum and made $13,000 (CAD) from selling the fake music.

Up in arms, a broad coalition of artists and musician representatives announced an initiative called the ‘Human Artistry Campaign’ in March to ensure that AI doesn’t replace or erode human culture and artistry. 

The campaign website says: “Developments in artificial intelligence are exciting and could advance the world farther than we ever thought possible. But AI can never replace human expression and artistry. As new technologies emerge and enter such central aspects of our existence, it must be done responsibly and with respect for the irreplaceable artists, performers, and creatives who have shaped our history and will chart the next chapters of human experience.”

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