We’ve Heard the Future of Music. So Far, It Sounds Terrible

robot-AI-music-RS-1800 - Credit: Hou Yu/China News Service/Visual China Group via Getty Images via Getty Images
robot-AI-music-RS-1800 - Credit: Hou Yu/China News Service/Visual China Group via Getty Images via Getty Images

Google just rolled out one of the most anticipated artificial intelligence music generators in the industry, a powerful tool that can let anyone who uses it describe music they want to hear and have a track generated seconds later. It’s a potential game-changer in the buzzy AI music sphere, but at least for now, much of the music itself just doesn’t sound very good.

Google first previewed MusicLM in a report in January, impressing the music and tech world as it showed off samples of tunes the software generated from text descriptions (similar to what ChatGPT does with text responses or DALL-E and Midjourney with images). While Google noted at the time that it had “no plans” to immediately release MusicLM citing potential complications like copyright infringement, the company put out the software on Wednesday, opening a waitlist for participants. To combat the copyright concern, MusicLM won’t generate any music when asked to create something similar to actual recording artists.

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MusicLM instructs testers to be “very descriptive” with the prompts, from what genre and instruments to use to the vibe or feel to convey. Some of MusicLM’s own suggestions include prompts such as “sad, moody, traditional Japanese flute music, simple,” or “psychedelic music, slow, and buttery.” At its heights, MusicLM is astounding and offers spot on tracks like when we asked for a “funky, happy hip hop beat with horns” or an “upbeat electronic jingle at an arcade.” Other asks, like a classical string quartet playing romantic music to walk down the aisle at a wedding, or upbeat Christmas music with bells, felt off. As for the sounds themselves, they ranged from muddled and low quality to decent, but seldom very good.

Overall, the results do show promise. MusicLM is just a demo, and imperfections should be expected and its technology will certainly improve. The launch marks just the latest in a watershed year for AI and music. AI musicmakers like Soundful and Boomy can make melodies or backing tracks at the push of a button. In the past few months, several tracks using voice clones for superstars like Drake and Kanye West have gone viral as listeners have been astounded by how close the AI modulators can get to the actual artists. The results have caught the cautious attention of the music industry, which sees significant potential to assist artists in creating their music, but is also weary of the major risks to gum up the already murky world of music copyright.

“Heart On My Sleeve,” a song featuring AI-generated vocals mimicking Drake and the Weeknd, garnered significant attention last month and quickly went viral before it was pulled off all the major streaming services just days later. Tracks like that present thorny legal questions about what is or isn’t allowed. Universal Music Group, which oversees the music for both artists, has been vocal in asking partnering music companies to draw a line on AI music when it infringes artists’ copyright.

“The training of generative AI using our artists’ music (which represents both a breach of our agreements and a violation of copyright law) as well as the availability of infringing content created with generative AI on DSPs, begs the question as to which side of history all stakeholders in the music ecosystem want to be on: the side of artists, fans and human creative expression, or on the side of deep fakes, fraud and denying artists their due compensation,” UMG said. “These instances demonstrate why platforms have a fundamental legal and ethical responsibility to prevent the use of their services in ways that harm artists.”

In March, many of the music business’s largest institutions and trade groups formed the Human Artistry Coalition, which looks to advocate for artists and ensure that AI development will bolster human artists, not replace them.

“There is so much potential with AI. But it also presents risks to our creative community,” Harvey Mason Jr., CEO of the Recording Academy, said in a statement when the Coalition formed. “It’s crucial that we get this right early on so we don’t risk losing the artistic magic that only humans can create.”

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