AI And Music

Just read this Rolling Stone article about Suno, and wow.

I knew what I was getting into. All AI articles these days seem to follow the same template: People amazed/shocked at how real this AI generated thing is. Covering the backgrounds of the people who created the AI thing. Going over the difficulty getting AI to make this particular thing as opposed to that particular thing while in the end it’s all scraping large amounts of data to try and come up with something that could potentially be deemed original.

In short it’s just more techowanking over a recent AI breakthrough. As always, there is a lot of back patting and corporate-speak-rabble-babble about being creative and empowering the people and whatnot.

And it’s that bullshit that drives me nuts.

A few bits stood out to me in particular so I’ve pulled them out for commentary. In no particular order…

-> The fact that music listeners so vastly outnumber music-makers at the moment is “so lopsided,” he argues, seeing Suno as poised to fix that perceived imbalance.

I’m sorry, what? This argument is so very, very, very stupid simply because you can say this about literally ANYTHING.

Pilots vastly outnumber airline passengers! Software Developers vastly outnumber people who use apps! Pro sports players vastly outnumber spectators! Plumbers vastly outnumber people who clog toilets by eating Taco Bell after a night of heavy drinking!

Music makers outnumbering music listeners is not an imbalance, perceived or otherwise. It’s just how things work. Some people can create music and some can’t 1.

… We’re trying to get a billion people much more engaged with music than they are now…

First up, Mikey, please define “engaged” for me. What do you mean by “engaged with music”? Miriam Webster defines engaged as:

  1. involved in activity
  2. pledged to be married
  3. greatly interested
  4. involved especially in a hostile encounter
  5. partly embedded in a wall
  6. being in gear

While I’m sure there are a few, strange people out there who would love to find a way to be married to music, and “involved especially in a hostile encounter” could mean braving the pit at a hardcore show, I can probably guess that the definitions you’re be talking about are “involved in activity” and “greatly interested”.

I don’t know who you hang out with but everyone I know is both involved and greatly interested with music in some way. They listen to music at home. They stream music while walking or doing chores. They go to concerts both locally and out of town. There are even a few who also create music (see above about music makers).

We all know what you really mean is “we  want is a billion people paying to use our AI thingy.” It’s literally in the third paragraph of this article describing co-founder Mikey Shulman as “a boyishly charming, backpack-toting 37-year-old with a Harvard Ph.D. in physics who envisions a billion people worldwide paying 10 bucks a month to create songs with Suno.”

Please drop the hippy dippy bullshit and just fucking say it.

-> “If people are much more into music, much more focused on creating, developing much more distinct tastes, this is obviously good for artists. The vision that we have of the future of music is one where it’s artist-friendly. We’re not trying to replace artists.”

Oh, shut up. First, people develop distinct tastes all on their own. Science has been working seemingly forever to find out why some people love classical, some love hip hop, and others love grindcore. While there are theories, there are no concrete answers. That being said, I’m pretty sure sitting at a computer and typing text prompts into a song generating AI bot does not help develop musical tastes.

Second, how is an app that literally auto generates songs from a text prompt artist friendly? The article states that “Many Suno employees are musicians; there’s a piano and guitars on hand in the office, and framed images of classical composers on the walls.” So what? Are the employees musicians in the strictest sense of the term? Or are they just people who noodle around with a guitar from time to time? There’s nothing wrong with being a just a noodler but I do find something wrong with these guys saying they’re all for creativity when this AI program they’ve concocted is the farthest thing from.

Look at it this way: Cover and Tribute bands may not be “creating” anything in the strictest sense of the word but at least they’re honest in what they are: bands that play other bands music for the enjoyment of others and themselves. Their creativity comes from the time it took to learn to play the instruments, perform the material, and put together a show that’s at a level paying people will accept and enjoy.

Typing prompts into a program and waiting for a song to come out the other side is not creative.

-> Rodriguez is investing in Suno with the full knowledge that music labels and publishers could sue, which he sees as “the risk we had to underwrite when we invested in the company, because we’re the fat wallet that will get sued right behind these guys.… Honestly, if we had deals with labels when this company got started, I probably wouldn’t have invested in it. I think that they needed to make this product without the constraints.”

So… you respect artists and intellectual property, but if they’d had deals with labels you wouldn’t have invested because… constraints? What? This Rodriguez guy trying to sound hip; The Cool Investor Guy, Shades And All. However he comes across as just confused because that statement makes no fucking sense at all because…

-> Suno says it’s in communication with the major labels, and professes respect for artists and intellectual property — its tool won’t allow you to request any specific artists’ styles in your prompts, and doesn’t use real artists’ voices.

… here they are talking to the labels anyway. I mean, sure. Don’t use other people’s voices or styles. Or images. Or words. Or paintings. Or writings. Or photographs. Or… oh wait, that’s essentially what AI is: a large format data scraper.

I mean, whatever, if Suno spit out songs with Bob Dylan’s voice, yes, the lawsuits they would be a flyin’. Guess they better talk to the labels then. I’m sure they’ll be happy to take a cut “for the poor artists”.

-> Rodriguez sees Suno as a radically capable and easy-to-use musical instrument…

Yo Rodriguez, I’m really happy you see it this way and Imma let you finish but let’s get one thing straight: an app that you type “write me a pop song about my girlfriend dumping me” into a text field and then waiting for a completed song to be shit out is not a musical instrument. A musical instrument is something that you manipulate to get a sound out of in order to write/play songs 2.

You can’t even argue that “well, people use samples and computers all the time, this is no different”. It is different. When using samples, you still have to manipulate/edit said samples and arrange them, along with other samples (and whatever other elements you want such as your voice or some guitar) into an original song and it’s a lot more difficult than anyone thinks it is; there is still a (rather large) learning curve with samplers and computer music software.

So while you can give EDM knob tweakers shit any time you want remember that they still have to manually tweak the fucking knobs to create their music.

-> …and believes it could bring music making to everyone much the way camera phones and Instagram democratized photography.

By “democratized” you mean allowing anyone with a camera to upload pictures to the Internet? Whatever dude. Not like anyone in the past had a Nikon Coolpix and a Flickr account.

Let’s be honest, what camera phones offer is not democracy, what they offer is convenience. As it happened, by the end of 2010, everyone had a decent camera with them 24/7. This camera also had the internet attached to it and allowed people to easily take and upload more pictures to Internet faster than they could have with a Nikon Coolpix and a Flickr account. This didn’t mean the unwashed masses were uploading professional level pictures. There wasn’t a sudden influx of a billion Ansel Adams’ appearing all at once. There was simply more pictures of peoples breakfasts, babies, pets, and shaky portrait mode videos of concerts 3 to every social media site seemingly all at once.

As for Instagram, well… considering it’s now nothing more than an Influencer/meme-lord platform I wouldn’t prop is up as a bastion of democratic photography. While it was once innocent and fun, it’s now nothing more than a dystopian hellscape that’s done nothing more than shoehorn the main features of four other apps into it in an effort to stay cool or something.

This entire article is these Suno guys really trying to explain the benefit of their app where there is none other than they want to leverage AI to make money. And listen, that’s fine. Seriously. Everyone wants to make money. I just wish these tech bros would drop the woo-woo bullshit and just say it.  The problem is they most likely believe what they’re saying and that Suno needs to exist for the greater good of society or some such shit.

Underneath it all though, there is no creativity, there is no democratization, there is no developing more distinct tastes that will help artists, and there is no leveling of the playing field. It’s all word salad slathered with a feel good dressing that’s sweet yet tangy.

But when you dig in and take a bit, it tastes off so you look at the salad dressing bottle and realize it’s well past it’s date.

1: And a small number of those who can create music may actually make a living off of it. This, however, is because of how the business works (see Music Labels) right now. Artists being shafted by Labels will not be solved by an AI that makes songs based on text prompts.

2: Yes, at one point they say this: “Eventually, Suno wants to find alternatives to the text-to-music interface, adding more advanced and intuitive inputs — generating songs based on users’ own singing is one idea”. Humming a tune and having a program add some music is a neat idea but, to me, it still takes away from creativity. 

3: When at the MCR concert in Montreal in 2022, everyone was taking picks and video with their phones and security didn’t care at all – except for this one guy in front of us who had his phone hooked up to a third party lens contraption and microphone. Security shut his shit down right quick. You know why? Because for all the bragging by Apple or Samsung at how great their phone cameras are, the pictures and videos most people take suck.

The worst kept secret is that capital P Professionals that shoot with iPhones use them with lens attachments and lighting rigs and then run their shots through pro apps like Lightroom.