'We're not here to replace humans': Musiio co-founder Hazel Savage on AI and the music business

'We're not here to replace humans': Musiio co-founder Hazel Savage on AI and the music business

AI has become a key issue for the music industry in the past year.

The question of whether it’s an opportunity or threat was addressed by Warner Music CEO Robert Kyncl on his first earnings call. He welcomed the possibilities to aid creativity, but stressed that platforms needed to protect copyrighted content that might be modified. 

David Guetta also hit the headlines with his AI version of Eminem, while stressing it would not be commercially released.

Interviewed in the latest issue of Music Week, Hazel Savage has been a pioneer in the AI space with catalogue curator and playlisting tool Musiio.

Musiio’s technology focuses on B2B audio reference search (an AI that can effectively “listen” to music), automated tagging and playlisting tools. Its Segment Select API tool, meanwhile, finds the best 30, 45 or 60 seconds of any track for uploading to TikTok, Instagram Stories and YouTube Shorts.

The start-up has been rechristened Musiio By SoundCloud, following the acquisition by the streaming company last year. Savage has joined SoundCloud as VP, music intelligence.

“Musiio By SoundCloud is an artificial intelligence looking to add metadata to the industry,” said Savage. “If you have a large catalogue, if you need to search, sort, tag or playlist any of your audio, then Musiio is the data technology that can help you do that. There is so much music, you don’t know what you have – and the alternative to Musiio is that you just have nothing.” 

At a time of intense scrutiny of the disruptive potential of artificial intelligence, Savage has been a consistent, informed voice on the subject.

“We’re not here to replace humans,” Savage told Music Week. “We got that argument at Musiio when we started and it all came from a place of fear and misunderstanding. But there has been progress – I come across very few people now who say ‘all AI is terrible’. Those people are starting to sound like those who used to say ‘all synthesisers are terrible, they’re not real music,’ so it’s definitely heading in the right direction.”

Hazel Savage won the Entrepreneur award at the Women In Music Awards last year. Here, she shares insights on the technology, addresses fears about the future of songwriting and reveals the one thing everyone should know about AI…

When it comes to AI, what sets Musiio apart from the rest of the sector? 

“We have the yin and the yang. My background before I started Musiio was 12 years in the music industry, so I knew what we could do legally. I knew the people in the business and I knew what was going to add value. And my co-founder [Swedish AI expert Aron Pettersson] had 12 years of experience building AI for various tech firms and gaming and online companies. Musiio is the perfect Venn diagram of our skills. Where some of the competition has not succeeded – or not succeeded as quickly – is if they are lacking in one of those two departments. We were able to move that much quicker and have that much more trust from both the tech and industry sides.”

Do you feel threatened by any of the new companies in the space? 

“Well, luckily, I’ve sold the business so I don’t have to feel threatened by anyone! But I never felt threatened by them anyway because I am a big believer that a rising tide lifts all boats. When a company would come out with a similar sounding offering, even when we were independent, I saw it as a positive. You should be more worried if you’re running a company and nobody else is doing what you’re doing, because that means nobody else thinks it’s worth doing. I’m also a big believer in trying to work with other companies. If we all work together, we’ll get a better outcome than if we’re antagonistic. Collaboration is the way to go, 100%.”

Does the rest of the music industry take AI seriously enough? 

“When we started Musiio in 2018, people were much more sceptical, and then in the last two years of building the business there was a definite shift. You need to have enough time for things to grow and for people to become comfortable. It’s a journey and I feel like it will adjust more over the next two years.”

At Musiio, our technology has the appearance of magic, because it’s so quick and clever

Hazel Savage

Is there one thing you want everyone in the business to know about AI?

“That it’s not sentient, it’s not some all-encompassing power. I find it a bit easier to talk about the limitations of AI because when people understand what it can’t do, it seems a lot less threatening. And the reality is that AI, in its current state, can’t really do anything you haven’t taught it. At Musiio, our technology has the appearance of magic, because it’s so quick and clever. But there’s nothing magic going on, it’s very simple, high performance computing and pattern recognition that gives the appearance of intelligence. I think that’s something that people need to understand.”

What will be the next big things to come out of this sector?

“I always feel like the ‘next big thing’ will be something we haven’t anticipated, but I’m super fascinated with source separation that uses AI. People have been familiar with source separation – the ability to remove a vocal from a track or separate the guitar, the bass and the drums – for a while, but it’s never been good enough to have anything usable at the end of it. But now, there is a company in the US, AudioShake, which has genuinely solved something that no one else has been able to. They’re helping big music companies get syncs by being able to remove vocals from tracks and create instrumental versions, so the next frontier for me is source separation. I’m still a little bit sceptical of AI-generated music – one thing I noticed at Musiio when I was going in to meet with labels or publishers was that there was very little demand for it. So I still see a disconnect between the demand for AI-generated music and the amount of AI-generated music there is.”

You previously told us that you thought AI-generated music was “impressive academically” but that we weren’t “always considering the ethical impact on songwriters, although, who knows, in 10 years I’ll either be seen as a prophet or a dunce for that statement!” What’s the verdict so far? 

“Erm, more of a prophet I think. If it carries on like it is, AI music will go nowhere and people will not really want it. Human beings love to create music, so it doesn’t need to be disrupted [by AI]. However, there could be an unknown leap in technology. And if we suddenly see that huge leap in the way we did from a regular mobile phone to a smartphone, or from music downloads to music streaming, I’ll probably be seen as a dunce. But so far, I’m more on the prophet side!”

Subscribers can click here to read the full interview with Hazel Savage.

PHOTO: Alison Emerick Photography


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