AI can help our favourite musicians live forever
In April my band, Breezer, a relatively unknown quintet from the south coast of England, was unexpectedly thrust into the heart of the global debate surrounding the future of artificial intelligence (AI) and the potentially disruptive influence it could have on the music and broader creative industries.
After a flurry of AI-generated music started to appear online, including a track called Heart on My Sleeve, a convincing simulation of a Drake and The Weeknd collaboration (eventually removed from social media platforms for copyright violation at the behest of Universal Music Group), our lead singer, Bobby Geraghty, had the idea to train an AI model of Liam Gallagher to sing on an album we’d made of Oasis-y sounding songs.
We uploaded the finished product to YouTube under the playful ruse of a “lost” Oasis album from their heyday in the 90s. AIsis – The Lost Tapes Volume One was born and, within a few days, it was seemingly everywhere.
There’s no reason why the AI revolution can’t benefit artists as well as consumers
We were interviewed for The Guardian, The Times, and on national radio. Piers Morgan was talking about it, Fiona Bruce played it to an unimpressed-looking audience on Question Time, and the YouTube video garnered hundreds of thousands of views.
What started as a joke between mates was now, depending on which way you looked at it, either an omen of an impending dystopia where rapacious music execs – now able to bypass the troublesome egos and diva-ish temperaments of real-life artists with their irksome demands for fair recompense in exchange for their artistic output – need only boot up “edsheeran.exe” every time they want to enrich themselves with another number-one album; or the beginning of a technological revolution where everyone’s favourite artists would be immortalised in algorithms capable of churning out an eternal stream of new hits by long-dead singers.
Opinion is divided, not least between the two notoriously adversarial Gallagher brothers who, to be fair, never agree on anything. Liam described it as “mad as f**k”, while his less sanguine brother, Noel, complained that “these f**ing idiots have clearly got too much time on their hands and too much money that they can afford the technology to f**ing p*ss around doing that for a laugh”.
Point taken. However, the perception that The Lost Tapes is merely the product of an expensive supercomputer capable of churning out sonically satisfying yet ultimately pale imitations of genuine human creativity is not only completely wrong, but it also misses the opportunity that the AI revolution presents for music.
The success of The Lost Tapes wasn’t just because the technology allowed an almost religiously devoted fanbase – starved of new musical output from their favourite band – to experience Liam Gallagher’s iconic vocals on songs they had never heard before, but also because the music felt contemporary and somehow not like Oasis at the same time.
Unlike the generative AI that created Heart on My Sleeve, The Lost Tapes was entirely written, produced and performed by humans. The AI element was woven into an original composition, resulting in something that felt far more collaborative than generative – more analogous to the way sampling records became popular in the 80s as a way to reinterpret, pay homage to, or simply explore new artistic possibilities with existing music.
As long as the music industry can adjust to the new technological reality, as it had to when file sharing and online streaming shattered the pre-existing model, there’s no reason why the AI revolution can’t benefit artists as well as consumers.
The musician Grimes has created her own AI platform that allows anyone to use her vocals in return for 50 per cent royalties on anything commercially successful.
So while AI will no doubt change the music industry, we should be optimistic about a future where the artistic integrity of AI-enhanced music is possible, and where a financial model can be developed that will fairly reward artists for their work.
Chris Woodgates, Breezer guitarist and co-creator of AI-assisted Oasis-esque album
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