An AI-generated song featuring an imagined collaboration between Drake and The Weeknd stirred controversy last month as it surfaced on streaming services and TikTok, quickly amassing millions of listens. Universal Music Group, representing the artists, responded by launching a legal campaign to remove the AI-generated track from various platforms, spurring heated debates over whether this kind of song should be merely classified as a remix or is a harbinger of a dangerous new paradigm in the arts.

However, the musician Grimes took a completely different and significantly more supportive approach to the rise of AI-generated or assisted music, announcing her own experiment called “Elf.Tech,” which allows artists to create Grimes-style music by using an AI-generated version of her voice. Grimes requests a 50 percent cut on any master recording royalties in exchange for open-source access to her talent.

The cost of producing high-quality music has significantly decreased due to AI advancements, prompting a need for a new distribution model. Currently, platforms must obtain permissions from publishers and labels, but Grimes’s experiment highlights the potential for artists to own both the performance and sound recording. The first prompt on Elf.Tech connects to email or cryptocurrency wallets, hinting at the use of blockchain and crypto to enforce royalty splits.

While smart contracts in the NFT space have the potential to create more efficient royalty systems, challenges remain. However, as Tezos co-founder Kathleen Breitman recently noted in an op-ed, there is hope for cultural or technical innovation, likely tied to crypto, to emerge and provide fairer compensation for artists.

As Breitman points out, the parallels between generative AI in music and open-source software are striking. Open-source projects began as a reaction to tighter controls over software, promoting collaboration and sharing of ideas. Similarly, pseudonymous creators, including those using AI, are disrupting the balance of power in the music industry. Traditional music publishers and labels thrived with tightly controlled IP and counterparties, but as experimentation and AI commoditize creative work, artists must find new ways to engage.

Bitcoin’s success as an open-source cryptocurrency relied on transparency and trust, with a queryable codebase that fostered early enthusiasts’ confidence. The music industry should take note of the importance of transparency and explore innovative solutions, potentially tied to cryptocurrency, to ensure fair compensation.

The future of music production will likely involve a clearer separation between designing and controlling. Grimes’s “Elf.Tech” experiment pushes the boundaries of a multibillion-dollar industry and embraces open-sourced talent. By challenging traditional models, Grimes embodies innovation and adaptation, encouraging artists to navigate the evolving dynamics of music creation and distribution.

As the race to design a new distribution model continues, the industry must grapple with the challenges posed by AI-generated music and embrace the opportunities presented by open-source approaches. The landscape of music creation and distribution is evolving, and artists must find new ways to engage with their audience while ensuring fair compensation for their work.


NFTs & Digital Art Projects