The subject of AI-generated famous singing voices has been big news over the last few months, but now YouTube is involved, it's going to reach a conclusion, one way or the other. But who knows which way?
Artificial intelligence modelling famous singers has been the big talking point this year. It kicked off properly when the anonymous producer Ghostwriter uploaded a song, Heart On My Sleeve, featuring AI voice models of Drake and The Weeknd. The track ended up being taken down from all major platforms after the artists' record companies got involved.
Liam Gallagher acted with some bemusement on hearing an Oasis-like song created by a British band Breezer using a model of his voice. He described one of the songs – in typical fashion – as “mad as fuck,” but “I sound mega”.
Then we had Grimes stepping in and saying she was happy with AI modelling her vocals, as long as there is a 50/50 split in royalties. Holly Herndon, too, has been ahead of the pack on AI, even offering a model of her own voice, Holly+, and tasking it with covering Dolly Parton's Jolene.
So there are various opinions on all sides, but no-one really seems to know what the future holds and whether it will end up as a free-for-all, where famous voices can get modelled anywhere and everywhere. It feels as if we're waiting for one big event (or court case) to decide it all, and that could well be just about to happen, as YouTube has stepped into the ring.
According to Billboard, YouTube is developing an AI-powered tool to help its users sound like famous singers. And as one of the world's largest media platforms, we can only assume that YouTube has record companies everywhere thinking they might finally have to do something about AI. Or at least that there might be some cash to be made.
And that latter point – isn't it always the case – looks likely to be the sticking point with record companies and YouTube slow to reach a deal.
YouTube seems to have been quite open to both artists and record companies with its plans, welcoming artist involvement in its AI strategy, but has yet to reach a licensing deal with any of the majors including Sony and Universal Music. Meanwhile new platforms left, right and centre are offering AI-created famous voices for voiceovers and singing, with very few mentioning how they will split any income they earn – or even if such a deal is on the cards – with the people being modelled.
So this YouTube deal with the majors – if and when it happens – could well set something of a template for how the rest of the internet can and should be dealing with AI vocals. And how whatever deal they put in place can be implemented in practice will surely also require some thought and effort. Mind you, we suppose AI could do it all…
You can read more in the original Billboard article here, or keep an eye out for a forthcoming feature in the next issue of Computer Music, where we discuss AI vocals and even try and create a Beatles track using AI voice models of both Lennon and McCartney.
(And as I wrote it, I can reveal that the feature is a lot better than the AI 'Beatle-like' results.)