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[KOREA TIMES] Interview : Will AI replace human composers?

[INTERVIEW] Will AI replace human composers?

By Kwak Yeon-soo

In 2018, the K-pop musician and Enterarts CEO Park Chan-jae made a bold prediction. "I feel AI is going to disrupt the music industry," he said during the launch of new label A.I.M. (which stands for Arts in Mankind) that is developing an artificially intelligent (AI) music composer. "Under the slogan 'music is for all,' I want everyone to experience the joy of creating music."

Two years have passed since then, and music made by AI is starting to be taken a lot more seriously in the music industry.

In October, Hayeon, the younger sister of Girls' Generation member Taeyeon, debuted with a song called "Eyes on You," which was composed by AI. The AI first composed the song and then it underwent revision by producer NUVO, according to Park.

On Nov. 17, K-pop girl group aespa made its official debut with the release of its single "Black Mamba." The group members each have their own AI avatar counterparts. Prior to the group's debut, SM Entertainment founder Lee Soo-man explained that "members in the real world and those in the virtual world share an AI brain that will allow them to meet with each other in the digital world."

Although Park is now at the forefront of developing a system that writes music completely on its own, he wasn't initially optimistic about AI.

"I first heard about an AI music composer five years ago and, at that time, I was scared of losing my job to technology," he said during an interview with The Korea Times at his office in Seoul, Tuesday.

"I googled two startups that were making a boom in the West with AI music composition ― U.K. based Jukedeck and U.S. based Amper Music ― and sent them an e-mail to arrange a meeting. Jukedeck wrote me back and shortly after, I flew to London to meet the company officials."

Park originally planned to stick around for four days, but ended up staying for two weeks.

"The company was comprised of musicians and their idea of democratizing music forced me to think, 'In ancient times, our early ancestors smacked stones and clapped their hands to create music together. Music should belong to everyone, not just musicians," he said.

So he returned to Korea and launched A.I.M. to concentrate on AI music.

AI can create 4,000-5,000 original songs a day, according to Park. It is able to analyze pulse rhythm, mood, genre and instrumentation that results in solid musical composition.

"We use Cubase/Logic Pro X software that are commonly used by composers. We feed the software tons of source material, including MIDI files, and then it analyzes the data. It picks up on things like chords, tempo and voice from the input so it can write its own melodies," he explained.

"The rule-based AI could imitate the human creative process, but there is still much work to be done. For now, human composers still need to listen to the music created by AI and do the decision-making."

The most easily replicable music genres, according to Park, are hip-hop, trap, EDM, pop and ballad ― all of which he says fall under the category of "instant" music.

"What I mean by 'instant' music is a typical four-minute K-pop song," he said.

Park criticized K-pop saying it has become cliched and songs are too similar to one another, adding that machine-generated music can easily replace such mass-appeal compositions.

"AI is getting more and more intelligent. In 2018, AI composition was at the middle school level, but now it can be likened to a high school student who has studied songwriting for six months," he said.

The composer opined that modern K-pop songs are nowhere near the true essence of music.

"Nowadays, music professionals and producers only care about chart ranks and they don't pay much attention to the music's originality or creativity. And guess who's going to suffer the most from it? Listeners," he said.

"You'd probably think that humans won't be moved by a piece of music composed by AI, but you're wrong. It's really easy to imitate the human creative process and manipulate elements of music to avoid getting into copyright lawsuits."

Park warned artists, producers and music professionals to accept the technology as soon as they can, leave "instant" music up to AI composers and push their music into new directions.

"I'd like to say, 'be prepared to welcome a world in which AI will become accessible to everyone,'" he said.

The big concern is that a lot of people in music are intimidated or fearful that the human element of music will be stifled if AI is embraced in the wrong way. Regarding the issue, Park said: "AI can reduce the gap between musicians and non-musicians in the future, not replace human composers. AI can merely be a tool or a collaborator."

He added, "Even in ancient times, there was a conductor leading the musical crowd. Likewise, I hope talented musicians show off their talent where a high level of creativity is required. That way, using AI to create music would be beneficial to the creative ecosystem as a whole."

Besides making a profit from music downloads, the company said it is developing new profit models such as providing personalized music and building a platform for producing user's own music.

When more AI music is released, copyright battles will be inevitable. However, existing copyright laws are extremely vague about whether the right to an AI song would be owned by the AI itself or the programmer who created the AI system or the original musician whose work provided analytical data.

"In Korea, only humans can own copyright, so the company is receiving all the copyright-generated income. But we need to keep raising issues of AI copyright, so future copyright laws can be revised," he said.


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