American YouTube personality and digital strategist, Taryn Southern, has made headlines after releasing a song that was created with the assistance of artificial intelligence software, called ‘Al’. The song is titled ‘Break Free’ and was formed in collaboration with an algorithm that helped produce the backing track and video art. The 31-year-old programmed the settings for the song’s tempo, instrumentation and mood on her laptop and the result was a moody ballad filled with a triumphant chorus and dark tones. The artist has reportedly been playing with open-source programmes since last year and Break Free was the culmination of this effort.

She defends herself against the criticism that the song has received by stating that she is an instinctively curious person, who wanted to test the limits of the available technology that was at her disposal. Countless artists use synthesizers and drum machines to ‘make’ their music, so some have argued that the Al is simply the next step. The practice also requires a lot of human input, so Southern was not completely reliant on the software as many would believe. Her album ‘I Am Al’ is expected to be released next year and there are rumours that she will be using more virtual equipment to aid her in the creative process. Southern’s song received mostly positive responses from coders and technology enthusiasts at ‘WebSummit’ in Lisbon, Portugal, earlier on in the month.

As expected, there has been a huge backlash from other musicians in the industry who argue that the way in which Southern made Break Free took no skill or talent and that the use of such tools will eventually make human composers irrelevant. Just like in other industries like retail, farming and auto- production, the very real fear of mechanization is starting to penetrate its way into the music scene. Some may say that this panic is alarmist and that we are a long way away from that scenario. But we cannot be certain and a conversation is never too early to be had. There is also a legal issue. As Southern had help with the composition of her track, she is giving a proportion of the back-end royalties to Amber- the company that made the Al. There may be technical problems in terms of rights to sales and streaming profits if programmes like the Al start becoming more popular. The argument about the utilisation of technology for the production of music is one that has been bubbling for decades and it will only intensify as we look forward.

Article by Yohannes Lowe.

George Millington