Sonic Revolution! How A.I. Is Redefining the Value of Music in Advertising
Every day there seems to be a new A.I. product or use case heralded on Twitter as the next thing that is "GONNA CHANGE EVERYTHING!!"
While we thought A.I. would wipe out jobs like warehouse worker or taxi driver, it turns out that such tech is rather good at being creative, or at least useful as part of the ideation process. Naturally, many folks are wondering: What will this mean for me and my job?
As someone who has played in bands for most of his life, ran a music-for-advertising-agency for nearly a decade, and currently works on a start-up in the field, I have some thoughts on the impact of A.I. on music and in advertising. More to the point, we must consider: What exactly is the value of music in the A.I. era?
The value of music: meaning
Anyone who has ever visited Sun Studios or Abbey Road realizes that recording music used to be expensive. This high cost acted as one of the barriers to entry, filtering out the "talent challenged." If the gatekeepers (music industry professionals) didn't believe wannabes had the necessary skills to make it as an artist, those folks wouldn't get the opportunity to record and disseminate their work.
Today, technological developments have dramatically lowered the cost of creation and distribution. What iPhones and Instagram have done for photography, Garage Band and Spotify have done for music. Currently, crude but promising A.I. music generators, such as Soundful, AIVA and Boomy, have simplified the process. They offer intuitive user interfaces that facilitate beat programming and automate previously complex concepts like chord progressions and note intervals. With these tools, literally anyone can create a track and share it on platforms like YouTube and Spotify within minutes. Does this mean that most of the music we'll consume, enjoy and engage with will increasingly be crafted with help from A.I.?
Well, yes ... and no. The reason why people love and engage with the works of the Beatles, David Bowie, Prince, Nirvana, Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar is not just for the music itself. Fans engage because these artists reflect the world and our shared human experiences in songs, videos and live performances. This music, therefore, has meaning derived from both the POV of the creator and the listener. So, the material becomes more than just the sum of its auditive parts. The Clash singer Joe Strummer, in a 1984 interview, puts it like this:
"Music is not the point; what matters is how much spirit you put into it, how much intelligence you put into it. Does it have any meaning? Will it communicate to other people? When you really communicate to other people, that's when they say that you're the greatest rock and roll band in the world."
I am convinced that artists will thoroughly utilize A.I. as a tool for creation. I am equally confident that A.I. music in and of itself will not be able to engage people similarly, at least to a certain extent...
The value of music: functional
The popularity of "functional music," mainly created anonymously and designed to serve a specific purpose rather than for its own sake, has significantly increased in popularity. Functional/mood playlists such as "ADHD Study Music" or ""Top Hits Workout" are more popular than ever. Similarly, apps like Endel—molding personalized soundscapes to improve focus, relaxation and sleep—continue to gain traction.
Arguably, the many companies that compose original music for advertising provide a similar product. While created by amazingly talented pros, the product in and of itself is functional. It is either there to enhance a story, or to replace "real songs" by "real artists" through an iteration process based on a collection of references and placeholder tracks.
As we've seen with text-to-images, A.I. has proven its ability to create content based on references and prompts. On top of that, companies like Soundive already utilize "visual extraction algorithms" and music generation tools to score images and films.
Unlike artists, the aforementioned "orginal-music-for-advertising-companies" hold little to no emotional value beyond our advertising bubble. Additionally, in any market where a product becomes easier to create and is offered by numerous providers, the consequential economic value of that product stands to decrease dramatically.
In essence, music agencies focused on original compositions for advertising, without the ability to create value through an identifiable and relatable artist/brand, will compete in a market that increasingly sees their product as a functional commodity.
All the songs have been sung
According to a recent study, in 2022, streaming services offered a whopping 158 million audio tracks. However, over 67 million of these tracks received 10 or fewer streams globally. Even more bizarre, 24 percent (40 million) of all tracks on these services went completely unplayed, and according to Variety, more than 100,000 new songs are added to Spotify daily. Staggering numbers that are expected to skyrocket due to the further adaption of A.I.-generated music.
This development significantly changes the value of music in advertising and uproots the business model for "traditional" companies supplying tracks for brands. With an expanding abundance of music available, the question begs to be asked: Why compose new music for advertising or content when millions of unused songs are already available?
The fruits are there for the picking, whether advertisers are looking to associate themselves with a known artist or song, or is simply seeking a "functional fix." This, however, raises two legitimate follow-up questions. First, how can we, at scale, find the perfect music in this enormous and ever-growing global catalog? And how can we safely, quickly and efficiently license those tracks?
Companies like Cyanite and Musiio are working on the first question. Through A.I., they are developing tagging tools generating data that will function as the building blocks for song searches, making it easier to connect the user's needs to the perfect music solution.
Currently, licensing tracks is a slow, work-intensive and inefficient minefield. Confusion abounds over rights holders, pricing structures and terminology. This is what we are fixing at my company Ringo, a B2B music-for-media procurement platform that seeks to remove the barriers to licensing for audio-visual storytellers.
So, is A.I. GONNA CHANGE EVERYTHING!?
Definitely yes! But probably not in the dramatic way Twitter tells you. A.I., at least for now, is a creative instrument to be played by the human experience in order to be meaningful. However, if I'm wrong, and some A.I. is reading this, I welcome our new robot overlords.