How artificial intelligence is transforming the royalty-free music industry

With content sharing platforms like TikTok and YouTube growing at an almost frenzied pace, the need for royalty-free music is too...

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With content sharing platforms such as YouTube and TikTok cracking down on the use of copyrighted music, the need for royalty-free music is now greater than ever.

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TikTok will auto-detect copyrighted music and mute the audio, while YouTube will simply disable the video altogether. The process for publishers and content creators to source the appropriate rights for music usage can be so laborious and expensive that most don’t bother – instead relying on royalty-free music.

Composer Kevin MacLeod made over 2000 pieces of royalty-free music available to consumers via Creative Commons, a network which shares free-to-use resources with creators. As long as he is credited as the composer, the tracks can be used freely by users and, as a result, his music has been featured widely across films, video games and TikToks. He makes his income through his donation-based Patreon account.

‘The system that’s been built up over the last 50 years of copyright is not helping creators,’ MacLeod told New Statesman earlier this year. ‘This is the way to do music distribution. You just give it away. Getting heard is the hardest thing.’

However, these individual composers alone can’t provide enough music for the growing demand. During the pandemic, social media usage soared. TikTok went from 3 million users in September 2019 to 14 million in March 2021, with no signs of slowing. With the growth of these new and already established content sharing platforms, new industries and opportunities are cropping up for creators. Meanwhile, royalty-free music remains limited and must increase its offerings in order to meet this fast-growing demand.

We spoke to Rory Kenny, chief executive of Loudly – a catalogue of AI-produced royalty-free music, about why artificial intelligence might be the answer.

‘AI is able to generate royalty-free tracks in minutes,’ he says. ‘We will see this need for royalty-free music accelerate, with a potential need for millions of tracks day. I see AI music becoming as much of a valued commodity as traditional music is, which has seen famous artists sell their catalogues for hundreds of millions of dollars.’

Artificial intelligence is already being used for audio mastering, streaming and other aspects of music production, so is AI composition considered such a big step?

Much of the criticism of AI-created music is the lack of originality, because it takes its lead from basic musical structures. But that supposed lack of originality suits the concept of royalty-free music perfectly. By its very nature, ‘stock music’ is not designed for exclusive use: it needs to be generic, designed to set a mood but not be too invasive for the listener. It also can’t be too complex, segueing from one style to another, because it needs to fit into easily assignable categories.

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We’re still a long way off the prospect of computers being able to craft a symphony to the same standard of Beethoven, but perhaps royalty-free music might be something we should turn to AI for.