it’s AI-Drake’s world now – we are all just trying to survive in it

UMG recently asked Spotify and Apple Music to take steps to stop music from their rights holdings being used to train AI. 


First off – I’m pretty sure that these two services aren’t the only way that AI programmers obtain music to train the program(s) with, so I’m not sure how much they are going to impact that…


Second – UMG claims that their rights are being violated by this programming practice, which calls into question just what rights UMG thinks they have. 


Since the dawn of recorded music, someone somewhere has been claiming that their rights are being violated, so this statement by them is nothing new. What is new is the concept of the right to a general sound. 


Not withstanding chord progressions (Creep/The Air That I Breathe) or even feels (Blurred Lines/Got to Get It Up) this claim by UMG that they have the right to the general sound of Drake’s voice is what is at question here. 


If the AI were generating new songs by chopping up existing snippets of Drake material and reworking it as a new song, that would be one thing – that would just be sampling and anyone with any knowledge of the music industry knows what the results of that would be. But that isn’t the case here – the music in question here is being used to train a computer to sound LIKE Drake – his tone, delivery style, etc. – which is a whole different set of theoretical concepts. 


This isn’t a case of mistaken identity or the AI programmers trying to pull a fast one and claim that a song they created is Drake – this is a corporation claiming they own the general sound of someone’s voice. Not specific recordings – not written words – not written music – just the approximate sound. 


This topic is buoyed by Drake’s own personal reaction to hearing AI Drake cover an Ice Spice song. I don’t know what his beef with Ice Spice is, nor do I care to expend the energy required to Google it, but apparently he is livid about it. From his perspective – I get it. That is a pretty good approximation of his voice being used to cover an artist whose work he doesn’t like or something he thinks isn’t appropriate for his image (like Munch). I understand Drake’s perspective. For him – it is 100% personal. 


UMG’s stance – not so much. I’m pretty sure that UMG is acting at the behest of Drake (and other artists) here, but couching it in terms of “protecting our rights” is a bit ludicrous. The results of the AI’s song creation are just that – the AI’s song creation, technically the work of the coder that created the AI to create the songs.


UMG’s stance is like Def Jam telling Jay Pharaoh that he can’t listen to Jay-Z any more because he does an impression of Jay-Z. Or saying that Kevin Pollock can’t watch Christopher Walken films because he does Walken impressions as part of his comedy acts. 


If I were to launch an artist called “Wheelchair Jimmy” that only did close approximations of Drake’s sound and voice as a parody of the man’s career, and was sold and packaged as a parody, no one would likely bat an eye. Well, okay, some people would bat eyes, but parody is protected by the first amendment so there isn’t much legally that anyone could do about it. If I told the person what to do, how to talk, wrote the songs, and recorded the music – have I not created a parody artist? 


Where does the line get drawn if I then do that same exact thing, but with AI instead of a human? A human wrote the code for the AI, so how is that different than being a producer or a songwriter or a director? How is what the AI programs are creating any different than parody if, like the human artist in the above, it is only doing what it is told to do? Is it the fact that AI has been trained to sound like whoever or whatever artist and the human hasn’t?


Except that the human has been trained – by themselves. Anybody that does impressions (musical or non), even on a non-professional level, has spent time training themselves to sound like someone else. Even the guy at your job that randomly does a Bill Lumbergh voice has likely spent time practicing the voice at home or at random in their car – training themselves.


I think at the heart of the issue with AI music is the human relationship with music. I’ll talk about this more in depth next week, but music has always had the power to move, to create emotions, and to make people feel like, even if for a brief moment, you are connected with something larger. And I think much in that “uncanny valley” android way the fact that machines are learning to create that scares a primal part of our lizard brain. Like what we will connect with when we listen to music will be unnatural – a cold machine operating in a matrix instead of the universe around us.     


In the end, though, no one takes AI Drake seriously other than Drake and UMG. 



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