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AI’ll stand by you: how do our favourite musicians feel about artificial intelligence? 

Stories about emerging AI technology in the music industry seem to now be a weekly occurrence. But how do musicians feel about it?

By Hollie Geraghty

Nick Cave, Grimes, Liam Gallagher performing live
Nick Cave, Grimes, Liam Gallagher (Pictures: Wikimedia Commons/Raph_PH; Christian Bertrand; Wikimedia Commons/CalJam17_071017-38)

“This song is bullshit, a grotesque mockery of what it is to be human,” were the words Nick Cave responded to a fan who sent the legendary rock musician song lyrics written by ChatGPT “in the style of Nick Cave” earlier this year.

I am the sinner, I am the saint / I am the darkness, I am the light / I am the hunter, I am the prey I am the devil, I am the saviour,” the lyrics read, which, recited in a deep, gothic drawl, might not be the further stretch from a realistic Cave simulation.

But, no matter how momentarily convincing such an imitation might be, there’s one caveat – these words were not written by Nick Cave. Any fan of the Australian music icon will tell you that his music is so powerful and transcendent because of the real world darkness that lives within him – a man that has experienced such unimaginable grief and hardship that he has quite literally ventured to the furthest peripheries of what it is to be human.

While “I’ll dance with the devil, and I’ll play his game / I’ll be the one, to call his name” might resemble Cave-esque penmanship, they are entirely devoid of real, lived meaning. “ChatGPT has no inner being, it has been nowhere, it has endured nothing, it has not had the audacity to reach beyond its limitations, and hence it doesn’t have the capacity for a shared transcendent experience, as it has no limitations from which to transcend,” Cave told the fan.

The past few years we’ve seen stories about emerging AI technology become a weekly occurrence in the media, with many experts emphasising that an AI reality is happening right now, not just one day in the future. If it’s not ChatGPT writing lyrics, it’s a viral collaboration between Drake and The Weeknd that doesn’t exist, a Kanye West verse generator, or a “lost Oasis” album that Liam Gallagher said was “better than all the other snizzle out there”.

But while Cave may be one of the more openly staunch opponents of AI in the music industry, how do other music artists feel about it?

Back in March, Peter Gabriel said there should be more of a conversation around AI. “I’m probably just as scared [of AI] as everybody else, but I like to jump in the river rather than talk about it,” he told Yahoo! Music. “I do think about it quite a lot, and I think not enough people are thinking about it.”

He did add, however, that “we might as well just grab the algorithms and dance with them, rather than fight them”.

But, as ​​AI is becoming increasingly sophisticated and versatile, is it perhaps better suited to the maximalism of hyper-pop and electronic music? Last month, Grimes gave fans permission to use her voice on AI generated songs, having formed her own AI girl group called NPC back in 2021. “I’ll split 50% royalties on any successful AI generated song that uses my voice,” she wrote on Twitter. “Same deal as I would with any artist i collab with. Feel free to use my voice without penalty. I have no label and no legal bindings.”

Just yesterday (May 14), Grimes then announced that she’d collaborated with Australian-born, Los Angeles-based musician Kito, with her AI voice featuring on the track. “I couldn’t get the hook outta my head and wanted to try working on it too and then we became insanely indecisive abt everything and decided we shud just make all the version and vote.”

Musician and producer Arca has also been open to exploring AI in the past, sharing 100 different remixes of her track ‘Riquiquí’ from 2020 album KiCk i. Each song was generated using Bronze AI, music technology developed for musicians. “[Audio files] will be fluid, intelligent, and capable of responding to external input, offering the creator endless new possibilities. They won’t just play, they will perform,” the website reads.

Artist and composer Holly Herndon, who describes herself as a “computer musician”, also told Wired last year: “There’s a narrative around a lot of this stuff that it’s scary dystopian,” adding that she’s “trying to present another side: This is an opportunity”.

David Guetta appeared similarly open minded when he shared that “the future of music is in AI” after he used AI deepfake technology to add the voice of “Emin-AI-em” to a song. “Nothing is going to replace taste. What defines an artist is, you have a certain taste, you have a certain type of emotion you want to express, and you’re going to use all the modern instruments to do that,” he told the BBC on the BRITs red carpet. 

But what about when it comes to the ethics of posthumous collaborations? This month, Timbaland teased a new song on social media featuring AI-generated vocals from the late Notorious B.I.G.. “I always wanted to work with Big,” he said, “and I never got a chance to — until today. It came out right!”

AI can indeed be a powerful tool capable of conjuring up an emotional response in superfans from some of their favourite musicians who are no longer with us. How else could you hear Freddie Mercury covering The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’ or Michael Jackson giving an emotional rendition of Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’?

This in itself carries all kinds of ethical questions. Snoop Dogg, for example, was less than enthusiastic about an MJ cover of C-Murder’s ‘Down 4 My N’s’, simply responding on social media: “This s**t is outta hand!”

So, what does all this mean for artist copyright and the jobs once reserved for skilled producers and songwriters? It’s certainly a matter of growing concern for industry professionals. Back in March, Rolling Stone reported that a new coalition called the Human Artistry Campaign was launched to ensure a future in which AI doesn’t replace human music creators.

There may not be rules on creativity in music – but there’s plenty within the music industry itself. One thing’s for certain, every musician will have no choice but to reckon with AI and all its complex grey areas in the near future.