Music Business

What is an AI Cover Song, and why are Major Labels so afraid of them?

We learned this week that UMG is leading the major label charge against AI music with a multitude of takedown notices and a warning to Spotify and Apple Music to block AI systems from scraping music and lyrics from their services for use in future songs.

A major target of the takedown is AI cover songs. But what is an AI cover song, how do they sound, and why do the major music companies hate them so much?

WHAT is an AI cover song?

Artificial intelligence (AI) cover songs use AI to create covers of songs that sound just like famous artists without their input or consent. For example, AI created ‘Ariana Grande’ singing SZA’s “Kill Bill” and ‘Justin Bieber’ covering Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers.”

HOW do they sound?

How does an AI cover song sound?

Check out these two still up on YouTube and TikTok.

WHY do major labels hate them?

Why do major labels hate AI cover sonfs so much?

After all, you could argue that properly labeled AI cover songs aren’t all that much different than a tribute act like Beatles act The Fab Four or The Machine performs Pink Floyd posting their own cover versions on Spotify.

But the major music companies see it very differently.

Trade group the RIAA has said that the “use is unauthorized and infringes our members’ rights by making unauthorized copies of our members’ works.”

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Universal Music went a step further.

“We have a moral and commercial responsibility to our artists to work to prevent the unauthorized use of their music and to stop platforms from ingesting content that violates the rights of artists and other creators. We expect our platform partners will want to prevent their services from being used in ways that harm artists.”

Muddying the waters further is the web of inadequate copyright law and legal decisions written when music AI was only a distant possibility.

Bruce Houghton is the Founder and Editor of Hypebot and MusicThinkTank, a Senior Advisor at Bandsintown, President of the Skyline Artists Agency, and a professor for the Berklee College Of Music.

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