Universal Music Group, the world’s largest music company, has partnered with AI start-up SoundLabs to create “official ultra-high fidelity vocal models for artists using their own voice data for training but still have control over ownership and full artistic approval and control of the output.”

The partnership is introducing a software called MicDrop that uses machine learning to mimic an artist’s voice. Theoretically, this technology which has been in development for several years can be used in many ways such as allowing artists to sing languages they have never learned or continue making music even when an artist’s vocal cords are affected by sickness. It may also enable posthumous production of songs by musicians.

The voice model developed by MicDrop can be used much like synthesizer voices providing numerous new creative options. Whether it could be leveraged as a live performance tool still remains unknown, but for artists unable to tour again due to health limitations, it could be a way to keep them in front of their fans despite physical challenges.

In the press release, Universal Music emphasizes that this technology “empowers artists and producers to explore bleeding-edge vocal transformations, including voice-to-voice, voice-to-instrument, speech-to-singing, language transposition, and a myriad of previously impossible vocal transformations. Together, UMG and SoundLabs are collaborating to allow UMG artists to create custom vocal models that will be available for their exclusive creative use cases, and not available to the general public.”

SoundLabs founder BT, known for 1986 hit “Blue Skies” featuring Tori Amos, expressed his excitement about the collaboration. “It’s a tremendous honor to be working with the forward-thinking and creatively aligned Universal Music Group,” he said. “We believe the future of music creation is decidedly human. Artificial intelligence, when used ethically and trained consensually, has the Promethean ability to unlock unimaginable new creative insights, diminish friction in the creative process, and democratize creativity for artists, fans, and creators of all stripes. We are designing tools not to replace human artists, but to amplify human creativity.”

However, the use of this technology can also raise certain very worrisome ethical implications and have a huge impact on the music industry in general. The ability to replicate an artist’s voice so precisely could blur the lines between original and synthetic performances, challenging the very notion of authenticity in music. Moreover, the chance of creating music after an artist passes away can lead to convoluted legal and ethical issues involving post-mortem consent and the integrity of artistry.

It might also broaden the gap between major-label artists and independent musicians. With MicDrop available only to UMG artists, there is an openly announced disadvantage for accessing the most innovative creation tools that could exist, eventually killing diversity and innovation for songwriting in the greater music business. Said another way, these are uncharted waters, and they must be navigated with an enthusiasm for innovation, balanced carefully with respect for artistic credibility.

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