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AI-generated music is fast becoming a reality. Thanks to tools like Meta’s MusicGen, it’s now possible to create fairly decent songs in a variety of styles without ever having to play an instrument, read sheet music, or learn how to use a DAW.
But while the creative potential of generative AI music tools is nothing short of extraordinary, the tools also threaten to upend the status quo of the music industry. That’s because, in order to “learn” how to create new songs, the tools must be “trained” on huge databases of existing songs – not always with the blessing of the artists.
It pits musicians against labels. Universal Music Group has labeled all AI-generated music featuring the voices of existing artists as ‘fraud’. On the other hand, art pop musician Grimes vowed to let her voice be used in AI music without penalty.
The rules around AI-generated music are currently murky. Several lawsuits moving through the courts are likely to involve music-generating AI, including one involving the rights of artists whose work is being used to train AI systems without their knowledge or consent. But it will be months before the first decisions are made public and possibly months more if an appeal is lodged.
In the meantime, some startups, trying to get ahead of regulators, are setting their own standards around generative music IP. One of these is Itoka, which was recently accepted into the Allen Institute for AI’s startup incubation program.
Co-founded by Malcolm Yang and Yihao Chen, Itoka seeks to “tokenize” music content, especially AI-generated content, on the blockchain so that creators can independently license that content and receive compensation each time it is used. Itoka plans to temporarily retain ownership of songs and fully license creators for commercial use, while preventing plagiarism and “illegal monetization” on its platform.
“Itoka is a decentralized music platform that we developed to enable data self-sovereignty, the sustainability of music storage, digital rights management, global music accessibility, and creator management,” Yang and Chen told TechCrunch in an email interview . “We are establishing a new copyright protection paradigm that does not rely on the physical copyright office to enforce legal status, but rather on code-driven smart contracts.”
If the idea of linking licenses to the blockchain — a shared, immutable ledger to track assets — sounds familiar, it’s because Itoka isn’t the first startup to try.
Just a few months ago, web3 project Dequency launched a decentralized portal for music rights holders and creators that seemingly allows easier licensing and payments for content. Around the same time, music producer Justin Blau, also known as 3LAU, launched a song licensing service called Royal, which partnered with popular rapper Nas to allow fans to acquire nonfungible tokens (NFTs) that gave them ownership rights to some of the artist’s songs .
But in addition to its blockchain-based licensing scheme, Itoka offers music-making tools powered by music-generating AI models. And it plans to partner with musicians who contribute their work for AI training purposes based on a compensation plan.
“In the future, everyone will have the opportunity to produce music, and a huge amount of quality music will be produced every day for different purposes,” said Yang and Chen. “As music production becomes democratized, the establishment of the current music industry and its monopoly will be significantly undermined. This will push people to rethink creativity and artistry in content creation.
Itoka’s music generation tools, at least as they exist today, are simpler than those lofty words suggest.
After creating an account, users can choose from a variety of genres and sentiments — including “EDM,” “Hip Hop,” “Lofi,” and “Emotional” — to have Itoka’s engine automatically generate a five-song song in the background. After choosing cover art for the new song, Itoka throws users into a block-based composition interface, where they can edit aspects such as the song’s tempo, bass, and chords.
The AI isn’t nearly as robust or capable as text-to-music systems like the aforementioned MusicGen. But Itoka emphasizes ease of use over customizability.
Once a song is created, it can be listed on the Itoka marketplace for licensing. Yang and Chen claim that more than 1,900 songs have been generated through the platform to date, and more than 3 million minutes of those songs have been listened to together.
That’s a respectable start. But my question is, who is going to license a library of AI-generated songs, especially songs that sound relatively generic compared to the average royalty-free music library?
Yang and Chen say they go after game developers as one of their most important customer segments – developers who would normally be licensed from one of the larger content libraries. To that end, Itoka has partnered with Canva and “multiple game studios” — Yang and Chen wouldn’t say which — for content licensing.
“In the future, we look forward to expanding into other customer sectors and offering the most appropriate features and solutions,” said Yang and Chen. “There are some AI-friendly musicians out there who want to help us push the boundaries of technology and music creativity, and we sincerely hope we can make it big with them.”
Time will tell.