Image Source: Grootin Music Entertainment

Those of a certain age might remember the 1974 ad tagline, “Is it live or is it Memorex?” featuring jazz artist Ella Fitzgerald singing at such a high octave that she breaks a glass. It was a campaign meant to be a fun guessing game of sorts. Were viewers listening to Ms. Fitzgerald singing live or were they listening to a recording of her singing on a Memorex audio cassette?

In the ad, “Count Basie, Fitzgerald’s old bandmate, sits with his back to a recording booth, listening for the difference between Fitzgerald’s live voice amplified through speakers and a Memorex tape recording of it. “You gotta be kidding, I can’t tell!” he says, as if in on an elaborate joke. Fitzgerald or cassette recording?”
Fast forward nearly fifty years, Artificial Intelligence – A.I. – has taken the music platform guessing game to a new level. Last month, Universal Music Group was compelled to issue a statement condemning a fake Drake/Weeknd track that it said was “infringing content created with generative AI.” The fake “Heart On My Sleeve” track was pulled from most-streaming platforms, but not before it racked up millions of views and listens.

Although that fake Drake/Weeknd song died a quick death, the worry among music labels and artists was just beginning. About a week later, another A.I. creation was uploaded directly to SoundCloud, YouTube and TikTok. In this one, an artificial collaboration between Bad Bunny and Rihanna spit out the song “Por Qué.” Bad Bunny’s authentic sounding vocals were mashed up with the fake Rihanna’s reggae beat and singing.

It might seem harmless right now, but legal and creative questions are being raised. Unfortunately, the new technology that A.I. represents entered mainstream before the protective guardrails were set up. With these A.I. generated songs sounding so authentic that consumers cannot tell the difference, alarms are being sounded. In addition, there is a real fear that artists could become obsolete in favor of machines that can imitate them. Are we heading towards royalty-free music generators composing movie scores, advertising jingles, or first dance wedding songs? What can be done to protect the livelihood – the art – of artists from the artificial creator that has the music industry singing the blues? Can we rewind to the music industry days when all we had to do was guess whether we were listening to a real person singing live or listening to an audio recording of a real person singing? Oh, how I miss those days.

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