Artificial intelligence invades music: Embracing the tech and staying human

An industry panel at the A3E conference discusses the future of tech and music, as some of IT's familiar problems come to the music industry.


The music industry is on the cusp of a second digital wave, said Steven Slate, CEO of Slate Digital during the opening keynote on Tuesday at the Advanced Audio and Applications Exchange conference in Boston, Massachusetts.

The panel, which was moderated by the Boston Globe's Scott Kirsner, focused on artificial intelligence in music making.

Software like iTunes, or audio editing tools like ProTools, are no longer new, which begs the question of what's next as the music industry — like many others — is now "an industry where the voice of computer science is deeply embedded..." said Doug DeAngelis, A3E conference chair.

Artificial intelligence might just be that next shift.

What exactly that means at the moment, is still solidifying. On one end of the spectrum, for example, is Landr, a technology that uses basic AI to master audio tracks. On the other end, Stefan Oertl, founder and CEO of Re-Compose GmbH talked about AI creating loop-based music that could play a role in music psychology and be used in a wellness sense.

He said his company doesn't looks at AI as automaton or assistants, but as something that could be a part of a new experiential platform in music for those making it and listening to it.

Whatever role AI ends up taking in music, the immediate challenge it faces is overcoming the perception that it will render useless human music makers.

One audience member asked a question about Landr, saying that mastering is afterall, an art, expressing a nervousness about the effect that sort of technology could have on people who have spent years becoming the elite of audio mastering.

Slate said that the answer was not to resist the new tech, but to let go of some degree of ego and learn to work with these tools instead of being threatened or intimidated.

"AI for music production is a reality, it's not going away," he said. That also means that clinging to specific skills is not a wise long term move, said Marcus Ryle, co-founder and chief strategy officer at Line 6.

"If I hung my hat on the skills I learned in the 70s, I wouldn't have a job," he said.

David Mash, senior vice president for innovation, strategy, and technology at the Berklee College of Music, as well as several other panelists, made another distinction: What humans can offer right now is that they actually have something to express creatively, and the tools that are being created — and that were created in the past — are meant to aid in that.

As luck would have it, someone from Landr was actually in the audience and went up to the microphone to share stories of resistance the company has faced, including death threats from people in the mastering industry. He asked, "is the world ready for the perceptional battle?"

"The good news in only part of the world has to be ready for it," Ryle said.

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Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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