Universal Music Group, the world’s largest record company, has entered a partnership with artificial intelligence music company Endel - establishing a deal that UMG says will help artists create AI-assisted music.
Don’t expect any tracks similar to the AI-generated dupes circulating online, that see popular artists singing other peoples’ songs. Endel specializes in something called “functional music” - sounds intended for more passive listening, like elevator music, sleep tracks, and meditation music. Background music, essentially.
Endel produces these tracks by taking ‘stems’ that artists provide and turning them into perpetually-morphing songs that fit a listener's desired mood. So one stem could be used to make sleep music, or altered a little into meditation music. Grimes has used Endel in the past to make their own ambient, groovy tracks.
AI as a tool, not an artist
This is a pretty interesting move from UMG, seeing as the company's most recent public statements have centered around being cautious when it comes to embracing AI in the music industry.
According to Rolling Stone, UMG has repeatedly stated that there is potential for AI to assist artists in the song-making process, but also that music industry stakeholders should draw a hard line on practices that infringe on artists' intellectual property and draw ears away from ‘real’ human-produced music.
AI-generated music has seen multiple songs go viral in the past month, most infamously an anonymously-uploaded track called ‘Heart on My Sleeve’ featuring UMG artists Drake and The Weeknd. The song exploded on TikTok and Youtube, even making its way onto Spotify and Apple Music before being unceremoniously pulled from all platforms. On a related note, rapper Ice Cube recently went public with his views on the AI-created tunes and vowed to sue any AI creator that uses his voice.
UMG commented on the uploads when they were pulled in April, saying “These instances demonstrate why platforms have a fundamental legal and ethical responsibility to prevent the use of their services in ways that harm artists”.
As we see AI creep further into our lives, we’re going to need to agree on boundaries and regulations that protect users and their work. The explosion of interest in artificial intelligence is still very new, and without proper foresight into how it could negatively affect musicians and the wider public, we may run into more ‘Heart on My Sleeve’ problems.
This partnership between UMG and Endel may be the key to establishing some kind of guidelines for the relationship between AI and music, and hopefully keeping the technology as a helpful tool for musicians - rather than a musician itself.