SXSW, AI Music, & The Missing Metaverse Concerts

Navigating the AI Music Storm at SXSW

I’ve spent the past week in Austin, TX diving headfirst into the electric-whirlwind that is SXSW, and it's been an intense experience.

With a staggering amount of programming packed into this conference and festival, it's truly impressive to witness it all unfold. Throughout each day, I have sometimes had to choose from 5, 10, or even 15 different sessions on topics I am interested in every hour! It’s like trying to drink from a firehose of knowledge. As a first-time SXSW attendee, I quickly learned the art of FOMO-acceptance—it's impossible to attend every session that piques your interest.

So, regrettably, I missed Ari Herstand’s talk about “How to release an Album in 2023”, and I’ll forever wonder what went down at the nine different Soundwaves’ Metaverse Music Concerts that I somehow missed. However, I made sure to attend a substantial number of AI Music sessions, and they did not disappoint.

AI in the Music Industry at SXSW

SXSW assembled an impressive lineup of companies and speakers, featuring the best in the business. Panelists discussing AI's role in music included professionals from Sony, Dolby, Landr, Boomy, Soundcloud, Warner Music Group, Bandlab, and Billboard, along with researchers from various universities and, of course, artists from around the globe. And this list only covers the sessions I personally attended! Numerous other AI, AI art, and AI music speakers, sessions, and panel discussions took place, many of which I was unable to attend. Furthermore, even when AI was not the scheduled topic, conversations often veered in that direction.

Here are a few of the big takeaways I had covering AI in the Music Industry at SXSW, some of which I’ll expand upon in future issues of this newsletter:

1/ Nobody knows what the hell is going on.

This is not to say, that any of the speakers didn’t know what they were talking about They most certainly did. In fact, most of them were great; they were credible, seemed knowledgable and spoke with passion on the subject. But inevitably, during the Q&A portion of each session, someone would would ask what’s going to happen to all the musicians and artists when AI gets good enough to replace them. Nobody had an answer for this because nobody knows how it will unfold. I don’t know either.

2/ People are working on both Generative and Assistive AI tools for music creation

This really isn’t news on it’s own, but I noticed the “assistive camp” seemed to have a louder voice at SXSW.

  • Generative AI tools will democratize music creation. “Non-musical” people will be can already generate music using AI.

  • Assistive AI tools will empower music artists to create new sounds, new genres, and ultimately break new ground just like synthesizers did when they first came around.

3/ This video of Herbie Hancock and Quincy Jones exists.

This video of Herbie Hancock talking about synthesizers exists, and I can’t believe I had to go to SXSW to learn about it. More than one presenter mentioned it this week.

Herbie’s words at 3:30 about synthesizers couldn’t be any more perfect for talking about how to look at AI in music today.

4/ Defining Art will continue to be a big part of the discussion around Generative AI

Shutterstock’s Chief Product Officer took a stab at defining art in one of the panel discussions. I don’t remember what she said but I remember thinking it was a pretty good. I’ve seen a lot of people try to define art in the a discussion on AI and it has resulted in some bad takes. I gave this some thought a while back and I think art is simply creative human expression. An example I’ve used before is this: a sidewalk can be art but most sidewalks aren’t. That’s because the concrete guy… cement mason… concrete worker… uh… the person pouring concrete probably wasn’t making a statement, or expressing anything with the sidewalk he made. Therefore it isn’t art. But if a person pouring concrete made the sidewalk curve left and right

5/ The Human Artistry Campaign launches at SXSW and a announces 7 Core Principals they urge AI Applications to adopt

A coalition of more than 40 groups representing artists, performers, writers, athletes, and more launched the Human Artistry Campaign on Thursday to ensure that artificial intelligence technologies are developed and used in ways that support human culture and artistry, rather than replacing or eroding it. The group outlined principles advocating AI best practices, emphasizing respect for artists, their work, and their personas, transparency, and adherence to existing law, including copyright and intellectual property. The campaign urges supporters to sign a petition to advance these fundamental principles.

6/ Copyright Copyright ©

On Wednesday, The US Copyright Office published new copyright registration guidance for works containing material generated by AI.

From the new guidance:

"For example, when an AI technology receives solely a prompt from a human and produces complex written, visual, or musical works in response, the 'traditional elements of authorship' are determined and executed by the technology – not the human user.

"Instead, these prompts function more like instructions to a commissioned artist – they identify what the prompter wishes to have depicted, but the machine determines how those instructions are implemented in its output."

However, the Copyright Office recognizes there are a lot of grey areas and things they probably just don’t understand about AI. So they are holding “listening sessions” to allow for public comments.

The listening session for Music and Sound Recordings is on Wednesday, May 31, from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. eastern time.

Full schedule for the US Copyright Office Listening Sessions here: LINK.

Today’s newsletter is starting to resemble a Tolstoy novel, so I’ll stop there. But don’t worry, we’ll go deeper into some of these topics next time. I’ll also share a few other insights from my exhausting week here in Austin.

As for SXSW, if you’re interested in music, tech, art, film, or any of the gazillion other subjects they cover, I highly recommend coming next year.

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