The question of “real music” has plagued and disrupted principled musical discourse for years. I have always seen it as both a defensive posture and a gatekeeping strategy deployed by older musicians. As such, I generally side step the question by appealing to our common goal, that is, “if it sounds good, it is good”.
However, the notion of “real” is being challenged along a different axis, as in, “If a song is generated by AI is it a ‘real’ song”. In a more direct challenge it appears that songs created by AI tools might be disqualified from Grammy consideration, the Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr, said the following:
“It’s all complicated, and it’s moving, really, really quickly. I’m sure things are going to continue to have to evolve and change…The Academy is here to support and advocate and protect and represent human artists, and human creators period.”
The distinction here appears to be that only human creators produce “real music” and further that this is the only kind of music that is worthy of recognition by our institutions, but that does in turn beg the question what is the function of the “other” music? Is it really less entertaining? Or less memorable?
I am once again going to side step the notion of “real” and focus on the part that is the ultimate source of my consternation, it is just too easy appropriate and clone a voice:
There’s Drake covering singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat, Michael Jackson covering The Weeknd, and Pop Smoke covering Ice Spice’s “In Ha Mood.” The artists don’t actually perform the songs — they’re all generated using artificial intelligence tools. And the resulting videos have racked up tens of millions of views.
What is more disturbing here is that while the underlying songs are protected, cloning specific voices in this way is not explicitly protected by any law on the books today. An artist could create a new song and create a veritable choir of cloned voices from both the present and antiquity, and there does not appear to be a thing anyone could do about it.
A person’s right of publicity (privacy) is the closest statute but it’s, at best, generally enacted by state common or statutory law. If a person can establish an aspect of his or her identity as a trademark, Federal law my provide protection. Trademark protection ensures no one would dream of using the Nike or Adidas symbols, it is a seal that most people on the planet immediately recognize. I would then argue some voices have such specific tone and timbre that they are immediately recognizable and worthy of protection.
The age of AI disruption then is not so much about threatening the parameters of real music, but it could, without guard rails, help threaten the notion of authentic voices.