Music Business

The inevitable revival of analog [Hanna Kahlert, MIDiA]

When AI can create credible content in seconds, the future for musicians and creators can seem bleak. But two other “A’s” – analog and authentic – could provide a path forward.

by Hanna Kahlert of MIDiA

The jury is very much still out on generative AI and its copyright obligations. Yet the Pandora’s box of AI-generated content has already been opened, and there is no going back.

For a world which has become almost entirely reliant on digital content– be it song mp3s or job applications – the implications are widespread and the challenge is simply one of volume. Independent book publishers have shut down due to an overabundance of submissions. Teachers are trying to loophole essay prompts to catch ChatGPT-written assignments. Recruiters are increasingly looking to analogue solutions for the overwhelming number of AI-generated CVs that are not accurate reflections of applicants. 

“YouTube has found that artists’ rough, authentic ‘behind the scenes’ content drives nearly three times the views as a high-production quality video”

For digital entertainment, which has been pressured to produce increasing volumes of content anyway – from TV shows to marketing content to songs – this is both a blessing and a curse. The production of content has become easier than ever; AI makes this cheaper and faster to do. However, it is just as easy for amateurs as it is for professionals, and high quality does not reliably drive higher views than haphazard meme generation. Indeed, YouTube has found that artists’ rough, authentic ‘behind the scenes’ content drives nearly three times the views as a high-production quality video. The creative market has become so leveled that hobbyists can compete for attention side-by-side with those trying to make a living. This is an issue for creative pursuits as a career and as an industry. 

Music artists have been facing this extreme competition, coupled with low rates of streaming remuneration, for years now and AI pushes this dynamic to a breaking point. While the industry as a whole can look to benefit from creating its own AI tools and licensing, the growing number of individual artists cannot necessarily hope to make meaningful revenue themselves. As a result, many have already started looking beyond streaming and social media. 

The digital entertainment space is more saturated than ever, with content spread and duplicated across dozens of platforms, from social to streaming. Advertising and marketing teams face incredible competition…Find out more…

For many artists, releasing songs on streaming is now part of the journey, but akin to having a portfolio rather than relying on it as a meaningful revenue stream. Social is now ‘free exposure’, at the cost of their time and energy (and as platforms fragment – MIDiA report on this topic out soon! – this will deliver less return). Merchandise may be small change, but it can fund live tours; brand partnerships and sync deals are the bigger moneymakers. Analogue does not hold all the solutions, but it certainly holds some of them.

On the consumer side, digital fatigue is growing as well. According to MIDiA’s Q1 2024 consumer survey, roughly 70% of consumers have made an effort to reduce their screentime in the last month, rising to over 80% of under-35s. A growing trend of ‘dumb phones’ is taking Gen Z by storm, as they look for ways to avoid the overwhelming demands of an always-on digital world.

As generative AI use becomes increasingly popular (over half of 16-19-year-olds use ChatGPT, according to MIDiA’s Q1 2024 consumer survey) going analogue will not just be a novelty on the sidelines. It will become an increasingly necessary point of differentiation, simply to cut through the clutter and determine genuine works and submissions. It is also better able to build on the values of scarcity and authenticity, which is increasingly prized in an entertainment environment characterised by overwhelming amounts of content designed for clicks rather than communication. From schoolteachers relying on handwritten submissions, to audiences valuing live gigs over streaming (even if they still engage with both), the flood of AI content will necessitate a return to non-digital means. Pandora’s box is open – but the box we live in is not purely digital. 

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