Generative AI poses a challenge to the idea that creativity is uniquely human. Music is an art form where experiments testing this edge are multiplying, and raising tensions. AI can make the music production process easier and more accessible, but it’s also beginning to threaten many artists, songwriters, and producers, diluting the market and raising legal copyright issues.
Despite the unknowns, The Chainsmokers, the popular DJ duo consisting of Drew Taggart and Alex Pall, are AI optimists. “As an artist, I want every possible tool to make my art better,” said Taggart at this week’s CNBC Work Summit. “The only answer is to embrace [AI] and figure out a way to harness it.”
Figuring it out has taken the artists to a financial model in addition to their artistic one — The Chainsmokers have their own venture capital business, Mantis VC, including a series of funds nearing $1 billion in assets that have made AI, among other, investments.
AI can replicate every stage of song production, leading to situations in which Spotify has already had to remove thousands of AI generated songs. It can write song lyrics, create a melody, add a beat, and sing the song using AI-generated vocals. There are some upsides — it’s increasing the democratization of music, allowing anyone to create a track from their own bedrooms. And with today’s social media algorithms, any song has the potential to explode overnight. In April, AI-generated music made headlines when ghostwriter, a previously unknown artist, used AI-generated vocals of Drake and The Weeknd to produce viral hit “heart on my sleeve.”
Now, AI-generated music is dominating social media, with AI covers of famous songs made by other artists taking over TikTok For You pages and YouTube Recommended feeds. The covers are even competing with the original songs: An Ariana Grande AI cover of Korean song Everytime, for example, received over 7.6 million views and became the top-liked search result for the song on TikTok.
STATELINE, NEVADA – JULY 08: Alex Pall (L) and Drew Taggart of The Chainsmokers perform in support of the duo’s “So Far So Good” release at Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena At Harveys on July 08, 2022 in Stateline, Nevada. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)
Tim Mosenfelder | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images
Given the tensions, corporations are trying to include artists. YouTube recently announced its Dream Track experiment, which will allow users to use AI-generated versions of select artists as soundtracks for their creator videos. The star-studded lineup of available artists include Alec Benjamin, Charlie Puth, Charli XCX, Demi Lovato, John Legend, Sia, T-Pain, Troye Sivan and Papoose.
For The Chainsmokers, using AI-generated vocals in their own music is appealing. “I want to be able to write a song and be able to design my own voice that’s not mine. I want five voices that are mine, but generated off of mine, in a track,” Taggart said. “I see it as a huge tool that’s going to be enabling Chainsmokers music to reach a level it hadn’t been.”
But anyone can type “make me a song that sounds like The Chainsmokers produced it” in an AI tool and receive a song in minutes. Or, artists can write a song from start to finish, but replace their own vocals with those of more recognizable artists and generate more clicks.
Copyright law allows artists to protect their creative works and grants them with exclusive rights. And the Copyright Office issued a formal guidance on AI in March, affirming that only the human aspects of AI-produced work could be copyrighted. In the case of “heart on my sleeve,” Universal Music Group was able to use a copyright claim to take the song down from streaming platforms. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act allows a rights-holder to request for a violation to be removed.
The Chainsmokers said they are not opposed to hearing AI-generated music in their style, as long as it was protected. “It would be cool if someone could make Chainsmokers music and couldn’t upload it without the permission of us,” Pall said. “Now we have the option to reach out to the person, collaborate with them on the idea, or say ‘this is fine, release it.’ But there’s a framework set up so we’re all doing this fairly and legally at the end of the day.”
And the music duo says there is no way to stop the generation of AI music. “You’re definitely going to see a huge influx of content … but I do think the cream always rises to the top,” Pall said.
AI isn’t just limited to producing songs — it also has the potential to take on an identity and become an entirely new artist. In September, Warner Music Group signed its first social media virtual influencer to make music — Noonoouri, a digital character who uses AI for her voice and has over 425,000 followers on Instagram, more than some artists could ever dream of amassing.
The Chainsmokers aren’t phased by the AI competition. “I think what people are favoring right now are feeling like they have a connection to somebody over something that sounds like it should be a hit,” Taggart said. “The internet is allergic to inauthenticity. So as AI comes in, people will sniff out what’s real and what’s not. They want to be fans of true artists telling their story. They want something to believe in.”