As certain artists continue to embrace artificial intelligence (AI), Sting is warning that the approaching years will bring with them “a battle” over “the building blocks of music.”
The 71-year-old singer-songwriter disclosed his less-than-optimistic view of AI’s long-term industry role – as well as the technology’s ability to produce emotionally impactful tracks – during a recent BBC sit down. Of course, the former Police frontman’s comments arrive as the likes of Grimes, The Pocket Gods, and David Guetta are attempting to capitalize on artificial intelligence to varying degrees; with the namesake artist’s blessing, “Grimes AI” tracks are arriving on YouTube in droves.
Meanwhile, more than a few soundalike releases are making waves – “AI Drake” has put out several albums and singles, which have racked up a substantial number of cumulative plays – and AI is also being used to generate millions upon millions of ostensibly original works. (Many of the latter, listeners have noted, sound extremely similar.)
On the regulatory and takedown sides, the European Union is prepping a voluminous “AI Act,” U.S. lawmakers have expressed interest in rolling out similar legislation, and the major labels are reportedly developing a system that would quickly remove unauthorized soundalike tracks from streaming platforms.
Now, as he prepares to accept an Ivor Novello fellowship award at an Amazon Music-sponsored ceremony tonight, the “Every Breath You Take” songwriter Sting has made clear his belief that there’s “going to be a battle we all have to fight in the next couple of years” to defend “our human capital against AI.”
“The building blocks of music belong to us, to human beings,” the One Fine Day headliner Sting told the BBC – albeit while proceeding to acknowledge that AI, if carefully utilized and regulated, could potentially deliver creative benefits.
“The tools are useful, but we have to be driving them,” elaborated the 17-time Grammy winner, who sold his song rights to Universal Music Publishing Group back in early 2022. “I don’t think we can allow the machines to just take over. We have to be wary.”
And as initially mentioned, Sting likewise indicated that he’s not convinced of AI’s ability to convey complex emotions in music.
“I get immediately bored when I see a computer-generated image,” Sting communicated during the BBC discussion. “I imagine I will feel the same way about AI making music. Maybe for electronic dance music it works. But for songs, you know, expressing emotions, I don’t think I will be moved by it.”
Beyond this debate as to whether AI (which is of course still in its infancy) can produce works that resonate with listeners, however, the songs are pulling in no shortage of streaming plays and, according to critics, drawing attention away from proper artists with tours to plan and bills to pay.
Though the quantity of AI songs (and the number of associated streams) is rapidly increasing, it’s worth mentioning in conclusion that non-music audio has for some time been prominent on platforms including Spotify. According to one study, for instance, a Swedish indie label between 2017 and October of 2022 secured an astonishing 2.1 billion streams on Spotify with “white noise” uploads.