What AI pop will sound like: As Google and Universal negotiate a ‘deepfake’ music tie-up, how the cloned voices of Harry Styles, Rihanna and Kanye offer a blueprint for the songs of the future

Streaming may have killed off MP3s in the same way the iPod put paid to CDs and cassettes ended the dominance of vinyls. 

Each time the music industry has adapted and evolved.

But what do record labels have up their sleeves to ward off the threat of artificial intelligence (AI)?

Well, after the emergence of a string of ‘deepfake’ songs where the likes of Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra and Drake have had their voices convincingly mimicked, the world’s largest record label is taking action.

Universal Music is now in talks with Google to license artists’ voices and melodies so they can be used for songs generated by AI. So how will this new-age music be produced and what does it sound like? MailOnline takes a look.

Shake up: Universal Music is now in talks with Google to license artists' voices and melodies so they can be used for songs generated by AI. It follows the emergence of a string of 'deepfake' songs where the likes of Drake and Rihanna have had their voices convincingly mimicked

Shake up: Universal Music is now in talks with Google to license artists’ voices and melodies so they can be used for songs generated by AI. It follows the emergence of a string of ‘deepfake’ songs where the likes of Drake and Rihanna have had their voices convincingly mimicked

Harry Styles

Lizzy McAlpine

Convincing: Harry Styles’ voice has also been imitated to create a duet with American singer-songwriter Lizzy McAlpine (right), whose song ‘Ceilings’ went viral on TikTok

What do AI songs sound like?

There are a few examples, namely a cloned Frank Sinatra singing Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise, ‘Johnny Cash’ covering Aqua’s Barbie Girl and Harry Styles’ voice being mimicked to create a duet with American singer-songwriter Lizzy McAlpine, whose song Ceilings went viral on TikTok.

In fact, some YouTube channels are even dedicated to creating AI-generated music.

Kanye West’s voice has been taken to make it sound like he’s singing the 2006 acoustic ballad Hey There, Delilah, while a ‘deepfake’ has been produced of Rihanna supposedly performing Beyoncé’s Cuff It.

Drake and The Weeknd have also fallen foul of the growing trend, while the technology has helped ‘bring back to life’ the voices of dead musicians such as Elvis Presley, David Bowie and Michael Jackson, as well as Cash and Sinatra.

A YouTube user named PluggingAI also promotes songs imitating the voices of dead rappers Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac.

Fake: A 'deepfake' has been produced of Rihanna supposedly performing Beyoncé's Cuff It

Fake: A ‘deepfake’ has been produced of Rihanna supposedly performing Beyoncé’s Cuff It

Mimicked: Kanye West's voice has been taken to make it sound like he's singing the acoustic ballad Hey There, Delilah

Mimicked: Kanye West’s voice has been taken to make it sound like he’s singing the acoustic ballad Hey There, Delilah

How is AI generated music created?

Essentially, anyone can do it if they know how.

Several websites already offer fans the ability to create new songs using soundalike voices belonging to some of the biggest stars in the world of pop.

One, created by the California-based company OpenAI – which is responsible for the hugely popular AI bot ChatGPT – is called Jukebox.

It is a neural network which generates eerie approximates of pop songs in the style of multiple artists.

Some experts believe the technology could shake up the music industry by creating new hits, but controversy surrounds it because of copyright concerns.

Deepfake music blurs the line between using a song protected by copyright and using a cheaper or copyright-free approximation.

OpenAI Privacy Policy

Elvis back from the dead? The online library Jukebox has the potential to create copyright-free imitations or even new tunes that could be released as singles under a deceased artist

Elvis back from the dead? The online library Jukebox has the potential to create copyright-free imitations or even new tunes that could be released as singles under a deceased artist

‘If someone hasn’t used the actual recording you’d have no legal action against them in terms of copyright with regards to the sound recording,’ said Rupert Skellett, head of legal for British record company Beggars Group.

Another free-to-access AI tool is MidJourney, which generates videos, while uberduck.ai has been used by French DJ David Guetta to mimic the voice of Eminem so it could be added to one of his instrumentals.

‘I’m sure the future of music is in AI,’ Guetta later told the BBC.

Are Universal and Google close to producing music?

No, discussions are at a very early stage and no product launch is imminent.

However, the aim is to come to an agreement whereby more software can be developed that allows fans to create songs and pay the owners of the copyright.

Artists would be given the choice of opting in or out to the venture.

It is a similar situation to the one the music business found itself in with the rise of YouTube, where people began using hit songs as soundtracks to videos they had created.

This led to years of legal wrangling over copyright infringement until an agreement was reached that sees the music industry paid about $2 billion (£1.5 billion) a year for user-generated clips.

What do the artists think?

Some artists have complained about the trend. Drake responded that one AI-generated song featuring his voice was the ‘final straw’.

His record label also recently fought to wipe the internet clear of one viral AI song that was using his likeness.

Star power: Beyonce's song Cuff It was 'covered' with the help of an AI version of Rihanna's voice

Star power: Beyonce’s song Cuff It was ‘covered’ with the help of an AI version of Rihanna’s voice

The Plain White T's had a hit with Hey There, Delilah in 2006. A cloned voice of Kanye West was used to create an AI generated version of the song

The Plain White T’s had a hit with Hey There, Delilah in 2006. A cloned voice of Kanye West was used to create an AI generated version of the song

In April, an AI-generated song featuring the simulated voices of Drake and The Weeknd was pulled from streaming services by Universal Music Group for ‘infringing content created with generative AI’.

The track went viral and by the time it was removed it had been streamed 600,000 times on Spotify and received 15 million views on TikTok and 275,000 on YouTube.

The song, Heart On My Sleeve, is believed to have been created using AI programming trained with artists’ music, something which UMG said ‘represents both a breach of our agreements and a violation of copyright law’.

Not all musicians are against AI, however.

Canadian singer Grimes told artists they can use her voice in AI-generated songs for a fair 50 per cent split of the royalties.

The 35-year-old, whose real name is Claire Boucher, said that nothing was off-limits and her ‘ultimate goal has always been to push boundaries rather than have a nice song’.

How the music business make money out of it?

It remains to be seen, experts say. A lot of it will depend on how popular AI music proves to be.

But if an agreement can be struck then it would allow royalties to be paid to record labels, meaning the music industry would not miss out on significant profits if the niche market does take off.

The Weeknd

Drake

The Weeknd has also had his voice cloned by AI and Drake said a song which mimicked his voice was the ‘final straw’

Universal certainly thinks an agreement with Google is the best way to thwart one of the music business’s biggest threats.

Michael Nash, Universal Music’s executive vice president and chief digital officer, wrote earlier this year that the rise of AI could be a ‘calamity’ for the industry.

He added: ‘These developments have led to profound concerns in our industry, with similarities being drawn between AI’s rise and the rise of Napster and unlicensed music-sharing over 20 years ago.’

Universal Music’s general counsel, Jeffrey Harleston, also highlighted the industry’s concerns about the technology when he told US lawmakers last month: ‘An artist’s voice is often the most valuable part of their livelihood and public persona, and to steal it, no matter the means, is wrong.’

Google, which owns YouTube, has also been in talks with Warner Music about a product, the Financial Times reported.

For its part, the search engine giant would benefit from creating a music product because this would enable it to compete with rivals such as Microsoft.

The software company founded by Bill Gates secured a £10 billion deal with OpenAI which has given it an initial leg-up in the AI technology stakes.

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