‘It’s terrifying’: songwriter behind Robbie Williams hits out at AI in the music industry – The Guardian

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The songwriter behind hits for Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue has described the acceleration in use of artificial intelligence in the music industry as “terrifying” because of its potential to replace songwriters.

Guy Chambers, who has collaborated with Williams over more than two decades, said: “I think we may get to a stage in the future where an album will need to have a badge saying ‘this is an all-human record’.

“From what I’ve seen of AI, the acceleration is pretty terrifying, in terms of what it can do and how it could replace songwriters.”

Chambers, whose co-writing credits include the multi-platinum hit Angels, said: “Any person could put into an AI programme something like ‘I want a song 100 BPM that sounds like a cross between Abba and Arctic Monkeys’. And some music will be created and it will be pretty good.

“Or someone might say: ‘Can you also write me a lyric that’s a funny take on fast food’ and a pretty good lyric will come out. This is just going to get better and better as AI gets more and more intelligent.”

Chambers is one of the UK’s bestselling pop songwriters and has written for and with Mark Ronson, Anastasia and Katie Melua.

His comments come as YouTube experiments with an AI system called DreamTrack whose users can type in wishes for a song – for example, “a ballad about how opposites attract – upbeat acoustic” – and it provides a unique song. Charli XCX, Demi Lovato and John Legend are among the artists that have allowed their voices to be used and YouTube is awash with AI covers of other artists’ songs “by” these singers.

At its launch in November, Lyor Cohen, the platform’s head of music, said: “Artificial intelligence is meant to amplify human creativity, not replace it.”

Chambers this week addressed music and entertainment industry apprentices at the Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies in Nottingham, an organisation that seeks to help underprivileged people into the sector with vocationally focused further and higher education courses and encourages them to use its studios and live music facilities.

Chambers said: “We now use so much software that’s probably being helped by AI, it would be quite hard to do a completely organic analogue record these days. Of course, there are also benefits to this, and I think there will be incredible tie-ins with AI that we can’t even imagine now. But also I think there are lots of potential dangers and I’m worried that young musicians might get lazy, and in this business you’re not going to get anywhere if you’re lazy.”

Asked for his advice to young musicians, he said: “Be flexible. Have as many skills as possible because you’re going to need them. That’s my main message. My other advice to young musicians is to have as many strings to their bow as possible. They need to have very personal skills, like charm and hustle.”

Craig Chettle, the founder of the Confetti Institute, said AI “can be used as a force for good to enhance music”, including automating repetitive processes, allowing artists and engineers to spend more time on the creative process.

But he said “there is no substitute to doing it for real” and that students who wanted to become songwriters, performers and producers wanted to use the colleges’ recording studios and the live events venues in a conventional way.

As in the film and television industry, the potential for AI to replace or weaken the role of artists is becoming a source of increasing conflict. Last year an AI-produced song faking a collaboration between Drake and the Weeknd earned hundreds of thousands of streams before being scrubbed from streaming services.

The Recording Industry Association of America has launched a “human artistry campaign” to limit AI. In a list of core principles, it says: “People relate most deeply to works that embody the lived experience, perceptions and attitudes of others. Only humans can create and fully realise works … with such specific meaning.”

The US musicians’ union last year reached a deal with Hollywood studios to create guardrails about the use of their work to enable AI to create soundtracks.

In the UK, the Musicians’ Union has been urging its members to tell their record labels and publishers that they need to request permission for their music to be used to train AI models to generate new pieces.

Musicians and tech companies are increasingly experimenting with AI. In 2021, Beethoven’s unfinished 10th symphony was “completed” using an AI model that had been fed the 19th-century composer’s entire body of work.

Chambers is about to release a second album with the Lemon Trees, 30 years after their first. Last month he sang in public for the first time in 30 years.

“I just wanted to see if I could do it,” he said. “My kids thought I could do it. Three of my kids were there and I think they were quietly impressed.”

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