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Grimes and Bitcoin: Exploring Possibilities of AI in Music Production


According to a tweet by Grimes, she is willing to let her voice be utilized for creating AI-generated music in exchange for 50% of the earnings. The statement was made by the artist on Twitter. Frazer Harrison—Getty Images reported the news.

Last month, a song generated by artificial intelligence and supposedly featuring a “collaboration” between Drake and The Weeknd was uploaded to streaming services and TikTok. The song quickly gained millions of listens, prompting Universal Music Group, the representative agency for the two musicians, to release a statement expressing their agitation. As the song continued to surface on various other platforms, the agency embarked on a legal campaign, akin to a game of whack-a-mole, in an effort to prevent the spread of the A.I.-generated track.

Despite the unclear legal status of the song, there were differing opinions among music industry veterans. Some argued that the song was essentially a remix, while others expressed concern about it setting a dangerous precedent. It’s not often that a video made by an unknown user generates such a strong reaction.

Grimes, a Canadian musician who is highly regarded by critics, may not have the same level of fame as her compatriot Drake. Nevertheless, she has made a name for herself in the industry. Grimes is not associated with any record labels and has announced an innovative project called “Elf.Tech,” which takes advantage of her freedom to experiment. This project utilizes artificial intelligence to allow users to create a work in Grimes’ unique style using their own inputs. In exchange for access to her now open-source talent, Grimes simply requests that users use it tastefully and share 50% of any master recording royalties.

With the advancements in artificial intelligence (A.I.), the cost of producing high-quality music has significantly reduced, leading to a race to create a new distribution model. Currently, platforms have to acquire permissions from both publishers and labels before playing a song. In most cases, the label owns the sound recording, while the publisher has control over the underlying music and lyrics. However, Grimes could act as both the performer and the owner of the sound recording in her case.

The initial prompt on Elf.Tech prompts users to link either an email account or a cryptocurrency wallet, which indicates the platform’s potential use of blockchain and crypto to facilitate the proposed royalty distribution.

As experienced members of the NFT community are aware, smart contracts have the potential to establish a more streamlined royalties system. However, in practice, the process remains disorderly due to NFT marketplaces disregarding regulations. Despite this, there is optimism that a cultural or technological breakthrough, likely related to cryptocurrency, will arise to provide artists with a more equitable compensation system.

Although the technology to enforce it doesn’t currently exist, I believe that Grimes’s approach will ultimately prevail over Universal’s. This is because the challenges presented by generative AI bear striking similarities to those of another disruptive technology: open-source software.

Initially, all software was “open-source,” with vendors providing their clients with the source code, the human-readable version of the software that is transformed into machine code before execution. Tinkerers and computer scientists would modify software, learn from it, and share ideas. However, as the software industry became commercialized, source code became heavily guarded, like a trade secret. While companies profited greatly from copyright protection over their code, it created a less cooperative environment.

In response to ever-tighter controls over software, the open-source movement emerged, promoting the release of source code under permissive licenses to encourage tinkering, idea-sharing, and collaboration, much like in the industry’s early days. Today, open-source projects range from small hobbyist efforts to large-scale projects such as the Linux kernel, which is deployed in billions of devices worldwide.

Much like with software, traditional music publishers and labels prospered in a world where counterparties and intellectual property were tightly controlled. They relied on legal agreements to thwart pirates and, in unfortunate cases, even the artists themselves. However, as experimentation by anonymous creators – including those utilizing AI – upends the balance of power in this model, artists must find new ways to navigate the increasing commoditization of their work.

Bitcoin, the first successful cryptocurrency, achieved success largely due to its open-source nature. Alternatives to centralized institutions that issue credit require a radically transparent, queryable code base to distinguish themselves. Early enthusiasts trusted the Bitcoin ledger because they trusted the process and could verify it themselves. Today’s music pioneers would be wise to take note.

Over the next few years, we will see a more distinct separation between designing and controlling music production. Grimes’s experiment is a valuable exercise that pushes the boundaries of a multibillion-dollar industry and our growing world of open-sourced talent.


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