Curious what independent artists think about artificial intelligence? Music distributor TuneCore just published findings from its global AI music survey, conducted in July 2023. And there are a few interesting findings — but also an important caveat to note.
In a statement preceding the results, TuneCore CEO Andreea Gleeson says, "As always, when we want to learn about what artists want, we ask them directly. Through this report, TuneCore’s researchers shed light on the perspectives and experiences of independent, self-releasing music creators in the age of AI, engaging with artists from diverse backgrounds, genres, and career stages, in order to capture a holistic grouping of views."
Gleeson also acknowledges that the rise of AI "poses both opportunities and challenges" for artists. While the concept of machine learning and AI has been present in content creation for many years, the type of AI most on everyone's mind seems to be generative AI — programs that can automatically generate text, images, video, and sounds based on "learning" from previously input content.
What Independent Artists Generally Think About AI
According to the study of more than 1,500 artists, about 50 percent of independent artists have a positive perception of generative AI. Meanwhile, 39 percent say they have concerns with the technology. Anecdotally, this seems generally in line with the pulse of various online music communities, where the polarizing subject often leads to passionate comment threads.
Interestingly enough, only 27 percent of the respondents in the TuneCore survey said they've already used some type o f "AI music tools." From that group, 57 percent say they've used it to generate artwork, 37 percent say they've used it to create promotional materials, and 20 percent say they've used it engage with fans.
It's interesting that these were some of the options presented to musicians, since these three categories are also the ones that music distributors seem most interested in utilizing AI for. In fact, several distributors already employ tools that allow artists to use generative AI for artwork, promotional material, and fan engagement. (Whether or not any of them do it particularly well is a different conversation).
Oh, and a plurality of 35 percent of independent artists say they are interested in using AI in their creative process, while 31 percent say they would want to use it to help with marketing, promotion, and release planning.
The Money Matters
One thing is clear: the money matters. Only 33 percent of respondents said they would be comfortable granting consent for their music, voice recognition, and artwork to be used in generative AI. Of those who said they were comfortable lending their art to voice recognition, 78 percent said they would do so only if they were compensated for it, while 70 percent said they would need to be paid for their artwork to be used.
Only 4 percent of respondents said there are no conditions for their voices to be used in generative AI. Of course, one of the main ethical concerns with generative AI right now is that so much of it was trained on material from creators who were unable to give consent. And, you know, haven't been paid for it.
Given generative AI has quickly become a very lucrative business, there are serious questions around fairly compensating the creators whose work was used to make these models relevant. This is also a big part of why writers and performers are striking against movie studios.
TuneCore is also the distributor that famously partnered with Grimes to release music that used an AI replication of her voice — provided she get paid for it.
Independent Artists Have Major Fears Around Generative AI
The TuneCore study found that the biggest fears around generative AI use in music revolve around universal themes. A whopping 77 percent of respondents said they worry about AI replacing human creation in music, while 61 percent fear plagiarism and 58 percent fear a lack of creative attribution.
Again, these concerns echo other creators in different fields. There are significant quality concerns with generative AI output — but even in a world where AI could create a genuinely good piece of content, creators of all kinds are concerned it's being done at their expense.
Part of the reason this is such a big deal? The United States is falling behind when it comes to regulating AI. While the European Union and other countries are years ahead on creating safe and equitable laws around AI, the United States only recently compelled seven leading companies to "voluntarily" agree to guardrails around the technology.
A Note About The Study
Overall, TuneCore's study is definitely thought-provoking. Obviously there's a bit of cognitive dissonance in some of the responses from independent artists. This isn't terribly surprising, though — that happens in a lot of studies.
For instance, only one-third of artists are willing to grant consent for their content to be used in generative AI — yet 50 percent of them are optimistic about its use and 27 percent have already used generative AI (which, again, did not garner consent from the creators whose content it used).
It's also important to note that TuneCore's study used some very specific wording, likely to lead to findings that support its overall brand mission. The wording they used to reach a 50 percent number in the study was, "Aware and engaged in AI have a positive perception of its benefits and opportunities." The other option? "Unaware and apathetic toward AI, have fears and concerns with the technology."
Obviously, there are a lot of independent artists who are aware of AI and have fears and concerns with the technology, or users who are apathetic toward AI but have a positive perception of its benefits. But there's a decent chance TuneCore wants to bolster its own standing with creators as it integrates more generative AI features in its platform.
Does that render the study completely useless? No, of course not. But it's certainly important to be aware of. Generative AI is a massive topic that contains all kinds of legal and ethical intricacies. But for right now, companies are treating the use of AI as "full steam ahead" until there are adequate rules in place.
TuneCore has, after all, stated that its primary mission is to adopt AI in a way that "adds value to their work but also safeguards against any potential issues related to plagiarism and replacement." Whether this is truly feasible with generative AI as it exists now remains to be seen.