The Jack White bit comes near the end. Spoilers: Most of this is not actually about Jack White.
July 11th marked the release for a new studio album by music producer and composer BT. Sadly, this is not a review of BT’s new album “The Secret Language of Trees”. I say “sadly” because from 2013 to 2020 I’ve found a way to write, podcast, or overall just discuss every new BT album. Ever since I started listening to his music around 2012 he quickly found a place among one of my favorite artists to listen to, carving out a variety of albums focused on different musical purposes: Dance, meditative, or music experiments that serve as journal logs for the creator that occasionally grabs the attention of the mainstream dance music scene. I say “sadly” about this release because I don’t feel comfortable reviewing a new BT album, giving it attention and praise in the way I normally would in a world where BT seems to have aligned himself with certain cultures and conversations surrounding subject matter over the past three years that a lot of the creative industry consider anything from “the new normal” to “a blight on the industry”.
I’m, of course, talking about NFT’s and AI. BT has very firmly established himself as a part of the NFT / blockchain wave over the past couple years and despite it mostly not being central to the cultural conversation at large anymore, he hasn’t really stopped promoting anything in the blockchain marketplace if he’s involved in it. Meanwhile his new album “The Secret Language of Trees” is firmly rooted in inspirations from machine learning and uses his own coded machine learning to generate art related to the album (or maybe even music? That part is less clear).
So while I won’t be reviewing the new BT album, I’ll instead be turning my normal release discussion towards BT himself, the position he has carved himself regarding NFTs and AI over the past three years, why some of it troubles me, and how I came to the conclusions I came to. I hope you’ll find my stance is actually fairly moderate towards BT all things considered, which means you might really dislike my stance by the end of this if you’re remotely against NFTs and machine learning. Just know that at this current juncture I can’t in good conscience say “Go buy and listen to the new BT album, it’s worth your time”. Not because BT is some immoral person or something, but because AI, at this very moment in time, is being used as a prop to disenfranchise an entire workforce of writers in an industry. And a musician like BT should know (in fact, does know) the dangers of how this very tool will get used in the future. And I want to write about how right now is a really bad time to be touting the amazing possibilities of machine learning while still giving the man some credit for what he seems to actually be doing.
Let’s dig in. I promise the Jack White part will come up near the end. If you’ve read my stuff before you probably know where I’m going already.
BT —Technologist First, Artist Second
BT has always been a major proponent of some sort of a new or potentially up and coming technology. When he was new to the dance industry he was using computers to create sounds alien to the scene (or sometimes going backwards and just futzing around with acoustics or live recordings, providing his hippie-side to trance music with field recordings and dolphin samplings). In the mid-00s with This Binary Universe he was putting his methods to the test with stutter edit programming and trying to turn it into a product he could market to the world, which he did, with Stutter Edit from iZotope. His return to dance music and release of Stutter Edit in the early 10s was followed later with BreakTweaker in 2014. By the mid-00’s, computers as the instrument for making dance music was a lot more common (deadmau5 certainly served as the sign it was becoming mainstream), but by the first half of the 10’s they had clearly become the mainstay for the foreseeable future. BT’s work probably felt really realized in a wider cultural sense at that point.
BT then spent a large chunk of the mid 10’s overhauling his production methods and suites, and separately working on an analog album for a change (more on that one later). Stutter Edit 2 came out in 2020 and almost simultaneous to that release was his new album The Lost Art of Longing (aka: TLAOL), BT had an interesting conversation about AI in a podcast right at that time. I linked to the podcast in my review of TLAOL and this article will dive into some of the statements BT said then and what he seems to be doing right now. But between then and now, there’s the NFTs.
In May of 2021, BT started composing music for auctioned NFTs, the big advertised one being Genesis.json, a 24-hour piece. In September he released a dance-focused album built and released exclusively on the blockchain called “Metaversal”. His twitter became enamored with posts and reposts fully supporting NFTs as a space for artists to support themselves. I’d like to talk about this, but not much. I want to overlay the NFT frezny and overlay it with the reality BT has been dealing with for a long time. If you want another one of a hundred articles or videos about NFTs being a scam and a grifting space, sorry: Dan Olson covered the “NFTs as grifter space” in a video, that’s not really needed here. Most people joke that Dan’s video single-handedly killed the space but really there were other factors at play that made the bubble burst (like laws). He’s done the work there, I think Dan breaks down the NFT problem really well and you can even see some of the things Dan talks about in that video reflected in BT’s own approach to this culture in the way he carries on today when discussing them or engaging with NFT content (mainly that only positive attitudes are allowed, critiques aren’t welcome). But I really don’t have time to get into the wider thing, partially because I didn’t give it as much attention as Dan Olsen did, and also because when BT was in the midst of this, I was unsubscribed from him on Twitter (I think his early-on mild prediction that COVID wouldn’t be that big a deal soured me on him by the time 2020 had ended). I didn’t listen to Metaversal out of principal for how unclear this marketplace seemed to be from the outset. And by the time it was on digital platforms I was turned off altogether. So I don’t have enough information to provide about BT and NFT’s other than I don’t like NFT’s and don’t care for BT’s adoration of the blockchain.
Instead: I’m interested in BT’s perspective as an artist when it comes to those early NFT days. For those not aware: One of the contributing ideas behind NFTs is personal ownership of a piece of digital content. The way that ownership is proven is through a digital cryptographic key, a token. The token, when provided to the work, will then spend hours or even days to decrypt the proof of ownership. People value ownership of these pieces of content in online cryptographic spaces because it’s not available outside those spaces. Well, it can be, pending on the type of media we’re talking about. But the execution, in essence, is that if I put up a digital scan of a painting I made up into the digital space where NFTs are bought and traded, no one else can “own” it in that space or others. Sure, someone could copy the image where it’s hosted, but I have the opportunity to sell something I made in a space where the primary idea is supposed to be about ownership being a heavily encrypted reality. And only those with the NFT (the token) own said piece of art. It’s pseudo-ownership as a marketplace for whatever you want to sell or own. Despite the way people talked up the importance of what they own, what was more important was and is what you are selling.
What does this mean for an artist like BT?
BT releasing “Metaversal” on the blockchain space meant the album wasn’t published by anyone else and it wasn’t immediately available on Spotify or YouTube or Amazon or iTunes. People had to buy it from him in the NFT space until it would inevitably make its way into pirating spaces. And it would, obviously. Music is regularly “pirated” through various means, from non-official streaming channel uploads to actual pirating across various torrent feeds. These things serve as a means of providing access to art outside of the “main channels” that directly feed revenue to the artist, in both official and unofficial capacities. It breaks copyright law, though most would agree that copyright law is both archaic and broken in the modern era. For example, there’s people out there that upload extended mixes of dance tracks to YouTube because the label that owns that music only puts up a radio edit of the song. The channel uploading that extended mix of the dance track has no rights to ad revenue of that music on YouTube because they don’t own the copyright for that music. Rarely do they get sued, the videos sometimes just get removed from YouTube or the account receives penalties if the actual publisher of the music pursues such a thing. Things like this meant that Metaversal eventually getting released on BT’s YouTube was inevitable if only to make sure the wider audiences out there would listen to the album on his channels so he can get the tiny tiny revenue involved in streaming. In today’s day even those “main channels” aren’t really doing much for the artist in terms of revenue. When discussing this, I’m drawn to a quote near the end of the podcast I referred to earlier. In the last chunk of the podcast BT starts talking about the future of artistry and has this to say about the present state (we’re back in 2020 for the “present state” conversation):
The only people that make money from something like Spotify are 1% of 1% of artists and Daniel Ek and everyone at Spotify knows that. He even speaks to it. And everybody else might make twenty-five bucks a month, sometimes for millions of listens too…(brief gap in the conversation)…I had a conversation with my publisher the other day, this will give you an idea of how well you do from these kind of things. And like I said, we are so lucky, we have other ways that we’re able to support ourselves. And so we’re very very lucky in that way. I have a lot of friends that don’t, so when in that big jump from iTunes to Spotify, they’re gone, they have regular jobs now. And these were A-list electronic music artists. So I’m not going to call out by any names but it literally destroyed the livelihoods of many many people.
So you can easily see how BT would’ve made this jump over to NFTs as this marketplace that was booming in the early 20’s. The pandemic was still raging in 2021, touring is still limited or dead (not that BT tours a lot but it’s probably a bigger revenue stream than streaming), streaming demands constant releases and doesn’t promise much in terms of revenue even if you maintain it. You’d need to be a signed artist with a label that promises a much better share of the money to have a remote chance at stability and success. And BT’s never been one to sit with any label permanently. He had some early signing mistakes with his first few albums and he’s lost a lot of the album rights to the music on Ima and ESCM (his first two albums). Since then he’s label-hopped regularly depending on what sort of a market his album might attract and what he can get signed. So naturally NFTs would seem like this fantastic opportunity: He can make the art, choose how many copies he wants to give out into that marketplace (naturally he’d want as many copies out there at a reasonable price), and all the revenue (aside from whatever fees in the NFT marketplace exist) goes to him. That’s a much more interesting venture than dealing with a publisher, trying to sign an album to a label, haggling over ownership elements, charting out a release date, etc. etc.
This reality still doesn’t excuse aligning with NFTs for me thanks to the way NFTs were being weaponized for grifting. For BT, the guy who has always been pushing whatever the new technology boundary is, this wasn’t a surprising move. But it certainly screamed that for once BT was making a move that spoke about a revenue and ownership-motivated technology he wants to support more than the art he was trying to show the world. Before NFTs, BT’s technology moves served the music he was making first and then he’d find ways to sell his toolsets to the public for revenue. That all changed in 2021. And while I’ve not listened to Metaversal because of this move, I have heard from critics with similar tastes as I that Metaversal as an album wasn’t…really interesting at all.
Now let’s rewind the tape just a little bit and go back to that quote. I left a little bit out for dramatic effect but also because what BT was saying was, in essence, a voice of concern for the artistic community and how new technology traditionally has been really destructive for the creative community at large. BT briefly alludes to how large corporate ownership of a platform is taking all the profits by being another middle man in the process of trying to sell your art. But then he has this to say at the end of it that I left out and now I’m ready to talk about:
And so we’re very very lucky in that way. I have a lot of friends that don’t so when in that big jump from iTunes to Spotify, they’re gone, they have regular jobs now. And these were A-list electronic music artists. So I’m not going to call out by any names but it literally destroyed the livelihoods of many many people. And artificial intelligence is going to do that ten-thousand-x if we do not curate what that means in so far as the creative community. So I’m waving a big red flag for everybody.
Back in 2020 BT was already waving a big flag around AI, but the environment he was waving it around in back then was mostly ignoring the question at the time. It wasn’t the conversation yet. The interview (which I’ll continue to quote) goes on to discuss AI as an incredible opportunity, but also an incredibly dangerous one. And now we’re here in 2023 where AI is the predominant conversation surrounding the future of how art is going to be made and sold and BT has released an album that nods towards AI repeatedly. It’s time to get nitty gritty with the album’s release and BT’s conversation around it. Doing so I think will reveal much of BT’s stance on AI that he had back in 2020, how he’s talking about it now in 2023, and why I’m taking this stance of “I’m not a fan of how BT’s doing what he’s doing” while still not necessarily condemning the guy altogether.
Talking about the new album
At first glance so much of The Secret Language of Trees spoke “AI built” in conversation. When talking about the track “Ember” on Twitter, for example, he talked about the visualizers made for the album.
So he very clearly has been using machine learning to create the music videos and album artwork that are tied into the album’s release. One look at it and it seems evident. What’s interesting is it seems he has sculpted his own machine learning to make this happen in a way that he prefers. Ever the technologist, this is maybe the most focused BT has gone towards the visual aspects of his albums. But it’s not a first. This Binary Universe had several video projects created by others. These Hopeful Machines has a fantastic booklet art piece attached to it that got sold in a limited edition poster later (I own one of the last ones sold, I still need to get a nice frame built and find a place to hang it). The Underscore album in 2016 had accompanying drone footage that he hired some people to capture while listening to the music of the album. But a lot of BT’s album artwork has left much to be desired in my eyes, which is why this at least looks very dedicated on BT’s part. He’s got an opportunity to spend some time making a thing himself and instead of just doing a quick AI creation he instead went out of his way to build a complex filming rig to utilize that various stuff fed into machine learning. And apparently this work will go into the blockchain for use. I’m not crazy about how often the art in these videos does weird hands and feet stuff, AI art in general that looks like this just discomforts me a bit. And I don’t want to begin the conversation around how many of those images were paid for copyright use or scraped across the internet. That’s a whole can of worms you can consider yourself. Besides, this isn’t a review of the album.
The bigger question is if the album music is, y’know, made using machine learning. Maybe? Maybe not. When talking about the track “Deep Fake” on Twitter, we got this:
From this post I get the idea that BT is more making some of this music in the inspiration of the things that we’re afraid of that mean drastic scary change (the way sampling was a concern as he talks about), but those things turn out to not be a problem in the end. It’s more “the spirit of future changes” I suppose. But saying “not because it’s using AI compositionally…” suggests he did use AI to compose the music? Well, according to his interview with Echoes on their podcast when they asked if the album was made with artificial intelligence, no, he didn’t.
“That’s a great question. So, it’s not. And…it is not an album that is utilizing machine learning. However, parallel to writing this body of work I’ve been developing some unbelievable applications that utilize machine learning and generative artificial intelligence. And I’ve been working on those things for the past six years, starting with some what we call ‘MIR algorithms’, so things for audio feature set identification like ‘parsing out sounds into different piles’, simply. You know, saying like ‘these are snare drums and these are cellos and these are cymbals and these are vocals’. Right? But none of them are used on the record but a lot of the titles are inspired by things I’ve been working with in that space from like a technology and development perspective.”
So, that’s a plus for me in terms of responsibly listening to or consuming the album. If you buy the album it sounds like BT didn’t make the music with any sounds irresponsibly captured. Which is the norm for most of BT’s more electronic and introspective works, they’re usually more solo-made and collaborate with other artists a little less. To continue the conversation surrounding this though, I want to back track a little further. Back to that 2020 interview. That interview was hot on the release schedule for The Lost Art of Longing and so part of the conversation in that podcast was about the age of digital streaming music and how Spotify is using machine learning or artificial intelligence to try and better understand what makes people listen to music in more immediately gratifying ways.
…Secondly, now what you have is an entire generation of people creating music for, it’s really kind of a double plus (time?) Orwellian type thing, they’ll say “Well for the algorithm you gotta make sure something really interesting happens in the first 30 seconds”. And you’re like “Hang on a second here. So you’re telling me that you’re making a piece of music to appease artificial intelligence. Are you hearing yourself? You’re making music for computer.” And I would argue it’s made people feel less happy. It’s made people feel less connected. It’s made people more bored with music. It’s made the turnover rate of music higher…I would argue that it’s why people are so hungry for music experience. Because they’re experiencing-their experience of music now is exactly what you said. It’s this ephemeral, passing experience, and it’s in the background. So it’s “music to chill to”, what does that indicate? You’re chilling. You’re doing something else. It’s “music to run to” or “work out to”, what does that indicate? You’re doing something else. It’s “music to study to”, same thing. So I would say that people are dying for authentic music experiences.
The Lost Art of Longing, in my own review of it, very much so met that definition of an authentic music experience head on. As the months rolled on after release, TLAOL seemingly never became a product touting radio edits, short cuts that feed a more instantly rewarding or “algorithmically interesting” listen. BT’s music has never really been that for sure. He’s almost always veered on lengthy, experimental music that rewards repeat listens and people who sit through the entire experience thematically. But if he’s been working on something in the machine learning space for musicians, what good will come of it? Since we don’t know what it is right now, here’s more from that interview three years ago. This is a big chunk.
You said something that is one of the most important things that we need to be thinking about and it’s what the musical community needs to rally around. I privately talk to people about this all the time, I’ve never talked about this publicly, I’m going to seed this idea here. And I’ve never heard anyone else ever talk about this. I would argue that an artist is the sum total of their life experience expressed creatively in decisions. So, our preferences are expressed creatively as decisions, right? And it would seem really really complex. “Well this person wrote this really sad piece of music when their father passed away”, right? Like how is that a hierarchical tree of decision making? It is. And I can tell you from looking at the way that particularly convolution-based neural networks analyze these massive data sets of material, they don’t need names for variables like we do, they’re not thinking like “attack transient, or timbre, or aperiodic or periodic signal”. They’re just thinking “I see similarities in this data set” across tens of thousands if not thirty, fifty thousand variables. So an artist is this sum total hierarchical tree of decision making. So what is that actually in the artificial intelligence space? I would call that a training set. I believe that an artist should legally have the right to patent their training set. So when we make this quantum jump, and it’s going to happen, not inside fifteen years, not inside fifty years, inside ten. More like inside five. When we make this quantum jump from non-generative music and humans making music to generative music, if an artist is not legally protected as a training set that artist will be cloned in this space and music like their works will be enjoyed for people and people in silicon valley will decide what that’s worth. And I guarantee you like Daniel Ek paid himself more than the sum total of all royalties in Spotify for almost the entire duration of Spotify, those kind of decisions will be made and they will not benefit the artistic community. So I would say that artists need to rally around this idea, that their preference has value. (gap reiterating the training set value idea) Eventually these two things will collide and if artists are not protected as a training set, um, there won’t be artists anymore.
BT hasn’t seemed to have changed his stance from 2020 to now in 2023. Here’s that Twitter bit again:
So if you’re trying to be fair to the man, and I am for sure: BT’s pro-AI but also pro-artistic rights around AI. So why don’t I buy it? Why don’t I hop onto Medium and give this album a review and say “yeah, here’s what I think about this music and why I do and don’t like it?” Is it not enough that BT is pro-artistic rights around AI? Well, it has to do with three points.
Point one: My experience with The Lost Art of Longing.
In my review of TLAOL, I made a point near the end of the review that despite BT expressing the album being about people appreciating the sense of longing and an attachment to antiquated things in a digital era, he also was hyping up his own album in a manner that suggested I don’t wait for the antiquated thing. He kinda broke his own messaging. Basically the CD was taking a while to get to me in the pandemic and BT said I shouldn’t wait for the CD and listen to it online and enjoy. That felt so in contrast to the very theme central to his conversation about the album. Here’s an excerpt from my review:
But it’s not gonna topple the machine and make people enjoy it ONLY in ways that are better for us. The mechanism of TLAOL’s release and delivery don’t adhere to the means that focus for longing in the eyes of this millennial who so often stands on that dividing line between the physical and the digital.
Reason number one behind why I can’t stand behind a release like The Secret Language of Trees and publicly say “go out and buy it” is because I have my doubts at BT’s ability to approach the AI problem and not becoming the very thing he fears. His previous albums didn’t change the world in people craving more thorough and lengthy experiences or in people seeing the benefit of NFTs industry-wide. Maybe it wasn’t meant to though, after all it’s an album. It maybe changed some people in that aspect, but not the industry at large. That leads right into point two.
Point two: The AI Plans
AI though, is going to impact many industries at large. BT has been working on something and I’m guessing it’s an AI that can (or tries to) replicate artist data sets to create music for them. BT’s technology has always enabled artists with toolsets, rarely has it ever been about any sort of a licensing system. But who needs licensing and legislation when you’ve got the blockchain?
I imagine BT’s new AI technology he’s been developing has been trained to try and build an artist’s dataset out of whatever back catalog you decide to feed it, then that dataset can only be used with the blockchain securely. You can then keep it for yourself but use it or sell it at your own will on the blockchain so you can create new music or have your sound or style memorialized in the interesting dystopia this sort of technology envisions.
What do I think about this? Do I think it would make it so artists en masse can make music that sounds like their own stuff but not have to do the same type of work involved? Sure. Do I think it’ll actually work and change the industry as we know it? No. Whatever tools BT builds have to be mass adopted and the blockchain space just isn’t what it was a couple years ago. I think if BT wants to accomplish the thing he’s talking about, he’d have to already be using this technology and taking it to labels that can help their signed artists generate data sets out of their legally copyrighted tracks (record label copyrights can go down to the sample level) and then maybe preserving that dataset on the blockchain. I think speed and mass adoption of a technology is a great way to make fast progress, but it never really comes without silicon valley and big corporate interests also gobbling up those toolsets for their own short sighted gain. What happens when an artist parts ways with that label? Or, imagine when Spotify will release their own in-house version of these tools that people jump on and have briefly lived “careers” making AI-generated music and it only floods the market more, taking away attention to people actually spending time trying to learn about how to make music. This already happened in the video game spaces on Steam with asset flip games and that never really went away. Valve just kind of ignored the problem for the most part. Never mind how many artists will make decisions that ultimately make them lose rights to their music or their own curated and crafted sound over the past decade.
Point three: That Jack White thing
Watch from 6:49 to 14:56
I’ve gone back to this interview so many times over the years. I only included a seven minute snippet but the whole interview covers the range of topics about pursuing authenticity, the temptations of settling for certain comforts in the process of creating art while being an artist. And now, ten years later, the breadth of this interview answers the questions in my mind about AI and how it could be used vs. how it will be used, even when not directly talking about it. Because it’s an interview that primarily deals with creativity and being an artist.
AI is one of the biggest temptations that is building and showing itself out of creating art, it’s the reason I think AI won’t do something good and different and preserve the existence of artists but instead it’ll give people shortcuts to try and make something good without knowing enough about how to make something in the first place. We consider the same things when it comes to food, our hopes for a career or four, our passions, so why not the art someone makes? To put it in a more succinct way Mat Zo has made several critiques on AI and how it’ll impact art. Here’s one and a follow-up response about a conversation he and Kill the Noise had:
That’s how it starts.
Electronic music is one of the industries regularly at odds with itself over scandals and arguments about authenticity. It happens with any industry that’s booming, which meant in the early 10’s there was a lot of talk about ghost producers and fake DJs. Those conversations still happen today but less often. The reason people make a big deal about it is two-fold. 1: People looking around seeing others achieve success for doing less than what they themselves are doing (not necessarily a healthy behavior, but that’s what it is). And 2: People dedicating a lot of their time being passionate about an artist only to realize that artist wasn’t who they thought in terms of their honesty about what they say they’ve made. “That’s how it starts”.
Mat Zo has also made the fair point that others have, which is that AI still can’t make something new. No matter how much data you feed AI, it’s only going to base all of its construction off of things it has experienced or been shown in the past. It’s only finding unique combinations that weren’t around before. So when you decide to make something off the rails as an electronic artist and say go make an entire album dedicated to the new wave music of the 80s in the vein of Depeche Mode after ten years making trance and electronica, what will your AI do then? If you’ve been nothing but an electronica producer for ten years and want to make an acoustic album, where do you start? What will your AI generate for you based off your own dataset?
The temptation to rely on AI to streamline your workflow or overwrite the hard parts of the process removes all the growth you go through in learning anything. I know I sound ancient when I say this, but “hard work” does matter even in art. You don’t need to suffer to make your art, but good things rarely come easily. Getting outside your comfort zone and trying the new stuff or dealing with the parts of the creative process that you struggle with is part of what makes your work unique. My first season of my DJ mix show Typer Tyme was awful, riddled with design and approach mistakes. I was manually building continuous mixes in REAPER by forcing immediate tempo adjustments on the master mix and then calculating how I should adjust those tempo changes on the individual track playback rates. I was using envelope points to change 4-band EQs on every track during the transition, applied in linear pathways instead of the more dynamic approach you get when you actually DJ. It was really bad. But I learned so much from the process and it helped me immensely when I started actually DJ-ing for the show. It also made that first season what it was. Searching and working towards your art is important because when you’re cheesing it, when you’re making the quick bang for your buck, it comes out as boring a lot of the time. In my review of Daggers by All Hail the Silence (a new wave revivalist duo composing BT and Christian Burns) I spend a fair amount of time harping on how tired I am of 80’s ripoff EDM in the industry. And then I have this to say about this album BT and Christian made entirely out of analog equipment from start to finish:
I don’t know that anyone has asked that question (should we stop trying to love the 80s so much because we’re eating it to death?), but I’ve got a feeling that if BT & Christian Burns keep trying, their All Hail the Silence project could wind up answering that question in the minds of a lot of people (creators and otherwise), and get everyone finally tired of using the 80s as an easy-mode tool for sounding cool. Because make no mistake, All Hail the Silence’s debut album “Daggers” is a phenomenal example of two passionate people working their tail feathers off to replicate (not tap into) the new wave genre and the musical experiences that so richly filled their childhood. It’s still got some pieces missing that would become the “White Stripes” of new wave music. And I’m not exactly sure BT & Christian Burns are interested in being the stalwarts of the genre so much as “living it out a bit”, but Daggers is a debut album to celebrate for some fans of the genre and definitely worth a look at for anyone new to it.
Whatever your opinion is regarding machine learning and what kind of a role it’s going to play in the future, there’s a role it’s playing right now that should not be ignored, and that’s the writer’s strike going on right now. From what it sounds like, AI is only part of the whole conversation. But AI is definitely being looked at as a potential tool to try and keep revenue flowing for the corporations as is while the people who write the shows and movies you love aren’t being paid fair wages. If music labels at large were trying this right now for music, pushing for AI-generated music by producers to churn out creations faster than before or try to use AI to create music to sell while its producers go on strike, where would you sit on this? Where would BT sit on it? How would the labels and publishing groups respond? Spotify already has an interest in this but they don’t really publish music so much as provide it to you through their platform. Most electronic music labels don’t seem too interested in pushing this element at all, they mostly seem to want to continue to support artists. But what if your favorite artist stopped getting tracks signed to a label because they only make one EP a year that’s really good while another artist signed to the label used AI to make four EPs with two hits each year, generating more money for the label and more reason for the label to not sign a diversity of creators?
I can’t in good conscience tout or review the efforts BT has put forth on this new album while he talks up the incredible opportunities of machine learning and AI in the music and creative industry while livelihoods in other creative industries are threatened by this subject matter. If he wants to make a bigger difference, and fast, I think he might want to involve himself in a space where others benefit more than he does.
Despite his intentions seeming good, time will only tell if whatever BT has coming in the future is geared to benefit creators or not, whether it’s short sighted in a world where corporations have the revenue to get ahead of these issues or if somehow it’s a magic bullet that’ll fix everything. I must be jaded because I don’t see it happening. BT knows how to make some good art, he even clearly knows how to use technology to support his art in ways he can sell to the world, but he’s not the person I look towards when I want someone to address or have an answer to a problem plaguing the industry, at least not an answer that I think will work at large. It might work for BT, but not everyone.
I’ll leave you with another Jack White quote from that interview, this time from a few minutes past the last bit. Again, from 2013:
And it’s going to get worse because the technology that’s available now is all about, as technology has always been, making things less labor intensive and removing the labor from the ‘whatever the thing’ is, whatever idea [it] is. So as technology gets more and more down the line of “you don’t need to sing in tune, we can sing in tune for you, press this button and it will tune you”, I mean, it’s going to get worse and worse. And it’s up to every- I have a big chip on my shoulder about “responsibility for technology”…And I think for a long time technology, even victrolas, you know, how that was done, there was a manners and politeness attached to it. Responsibility for the new technology. But I think nowadays I think the new technology is “here gimme the toy” and you know “I don’t give a damn anything to do with anything rules. No rules about the toy at all. Just gimme the toy”.