Brian May Shares His Concerns On AI Take Over In Music
Brian May as a speaker at the Oxford Union - OxfordUnion / Youtube
The buzz surrounding artificial intelligence this year has reached critical levels. The world was introduced to ChatGPT and other incarnations of AI, and the world was never the same.
In the realm of music, this fervor and apprehension have taken root in equal measure. This is largely due to the emergence of AI-generated soundalikes that have the potential to revolutionize not only artistic expression but also the very nature of fandom.
Simultaneously, music companies are strategizing ways to safeguard their artists, copyrights, and revenue streams from this burgeoning threat. Some musicians have taken the change in stride, despite the growing wariness of people about the technology.
For instance, when Paul McCartney mentioned to BBC Radio 4 his intention to employ artificial intelligence in crafting the final Beatles song, complete with vocals from the late John Lennon, it triggered widespread bewilderment.
— The Verge (@verge) June 13, 2023
Some fans inferred that McCartney was employing AI to resurrect Lennon’s voice and create entirely new recordings from thin air. Swiftly, McCartney took to Twitter to clarify that “nothing has been artificially or synthetically created.”
While Macca welcomed AI and sought ways to make use of it, other music icons were quick to voice out their dislike of it.
Brian May, the legendary guitarist of another iconic band Queen, says that by 2024 AI will make everything “very blurred and very confusing”, and that this year might be the last year when humans dictate the music scene.
“I think the whole thing is massively scary. It’s much more far-reaching than anybody realized – well, certainly than I realized,” the Queen co-founder said.
Brian May’s apprehensions
In a recent interview with Guitar Player, May revealed his misgivings about artificial intelligence. He pondered, “I think by this time next year the landscape will be completely different. We won’t know which way is up. We won’t know what’s been created by AI and what’s been created by humans.”
Although AI can help humanity increase its problem-solving capacity, May says that the potential for AI to be used for evil is “obviously, incredibly huge”.
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“Not just in music, ’cause nobody dies in music, but people can die if AI gets involved in politics and world domination for various nations,” May commented.
And when Guitar Player asked May if this scares him off or pushes him to do more, Queen’s guitar maestro said that, although he has always been doing “bits and pieces” and enjoys guesting on other tracks, he still finds himself lost in a strange universe.
“It’s like the universe is a different place now, and there are echoes of us in that place. But where we actually stand as artists, I’m not sure. We still have something to say, but methods and media are so different now. It’s kind of a struggle for us to stay on top of that, I think.”
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May was still thankful that today’s young breed of musicians is helpful, and he believed that combining the old and new methods can still produce “powerful stuff”.
“So there is that value in the combination of the old and the new that gives you great power, and I value that. But I have to swim quite fast to keep it up. Even being able to turn my TV on!” May said amused.
AI’s growing influence in music and beyond
While this may sound like the musings of a fear-mongering man who hated new technology, the iconic guitarist’s apprehensions were not unfounded.
Humans are prone to abusing any technology they get their hands on, and AI isn’t an exception. For example, since last year, complaints have already surfaced about cyber-douchebags using AI deepfakes to graft someone’s likeness onto pornographic videos.
Hackers have also been using AI to make their work nearly effortless. Phishing, human impersonation, and other cybercrimes have become easier, as well.
And, of course, music did not escape the cold hands of artificial intelligence. Some YouTubers have already started “recreating classic rock”, a somewhat sacrilegious use of the technology if you ask me.
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There was a project back in 2021 called ‘Lost Tapes of the 27 Club’ that used the voices of, you guessed it right, the prominent members of the tragic club of deceased young musicians.
Over The Bridge, the organization behind the ‘lost tapes’, wanted to bring attention to musicians and crews who have struggled with mental health through this bizarre way. It might indeed form an answer to one of rock’s biggest “what ifs”, it still makes people crease their foreheads.
If you are purely curious or just want to give yourself some unwanted goosebumps, check out one of them below:
Expect more and more of these in the coming months and years. It won’t be much of a surprise later when these bots climb up the Billboard ranks, seeing that someone ballsy even submitted that Drake/The Weeknd song to the Grammys, though it won’t ultimately be considered.
Other rock stars speaking out
It wasn’t just Brian May who saw something ominous with AI spreading its unfeeling tentacles toward music. Other rockstars spoke out as well.
Earlier this year, punk rock icon and Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon thought that AI would eventually make decisions for people and that they ought to be kicked out of the house. He warned, “My advice is to make small steps against this – and get that fucking Siri or whatever out of your house.”
— John Lydon Official (@lydonofficial) June 3, 2022
Similarly, even the eccentric rock singer and songwriter Nick Cave looks down on AI, specifically ChatGPT songwriting. When he received AI-made lyrics from a fan, he responded, “With all the love and respect in the world, this song is bullshit, a grotesque mockery of what it is to be human, and, well, I don’t much like it.”
The Bad Seeds frontman wrote about ChatGPT: “Since its launch in November last year many people, most buzzing with a kind of algorithmic awe, have sent me songs ‘in the style of Nick Cave’ created by ChatGPT. There have been dozens of them. Suffice to say, I do not feel the same enthusiasm around this technology.”
Nick Cave has reacted furiously to an attempt to emulate his songs with AI, labeling it a “grotesque mockery of what it is to be human” https://t.co/gEzj7osPlG
— CNN International (@cnni) January 18, 2023
Dolly Parton, the courteous country icon, also didn’t like AI-powered songs created in her style, likening it to having her soul “grounded” on earth forever even after her death.
Parton jokingly continued, “I think I’ve left a great body of work behind… I don’t want AI. The only intelligence I have is artificial. Everything I have is artificial.”
Dolly Parton Doesn’t Want to Become an AI Hologram After She Dies: ‘I’ve Left a Great Body of Work Behind’ https://t.co/Fspebi4fQr
— People (@people) July 3, 2023
Is AI classic rock’s nightmare?
Most classic rock fans would have their stomachs turn at the sound of their deceased idols singing “new” songs. It’s just blatant disrespect. And many, many people out there agree.
The world probably isn’t ready for it just yet. Because honestly, with its current trajectory, AI will have more uses and it will evolve into much more. Copying the voices of idols isn’t the limit.
It’s inevitable. It is not a question of whether listeners want it or not. It’s more like can you listen to it now or later?
A lot of “classic rock” song created by AI is already out there. Re-done songs, songs created in the style of this band, and whatnot, “new classic rock songs”. At this point in time, one can’t help but agree with Nick Cave. It’s grotesque, it’s creepy.
Now there are some really great uses of AI in music, like that time when researchers at the University of California in Berkeley recreated a version of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall (Part 1)” using the brain waves of volunteers who listened to the song.
That’s an amazing breakthrough in the study of how music affects people’s brains.
There may come a day when humanity finally embraces AI Kurt Cobain or AI Freddie Mercury singing new songs. But not now.
The classic rock of the old days can probably never be recreated. It existed in its own time and the songs we enjoy today are residues of glory that rock music once had. It can probably be revived but the people are still debating about it.
It can continue and be reborn in some other way, but reviving it is still a mission yet to be accomplished. No one can churn out a new Mercury out of nowhere. And the reason is simple. The eras that gave birth to rock witnessed magic.
Classic rock is classic rock. You can’t AI the shizz out of it. You can create rock songs using AI, but that’s just rock. Not classic rock. And certainly not the magical classic rock we fell in love with.