BRIT Trust Diaries: How the Liam Colgan Music Fund is supporting young people entering the industry

The latest edition of the BRIT Trust Diaries focuses on the Liam Colgan Music Fund (LCMF), a youth music charity based in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland (H&I). It was set up to provide support to young people keen ...

Rough Trade's Lawrence Montgomery weighs up the impact of AI: 'It's important to protect artists'

Artificial Intelligence has been a hot topic in 2023 with the launch of tools like ChatGPT and a wave of ‘fake’ tracks. Artists such as Sting and the Pet Shop Boys have joined the debate about the use of AI in music. Here, in a perspective from the music retail sector, Lawrence Montgomery, managing director at Rough Trade record stores, discusses the legality and ethics of AI-generated music, and its future role in the music industry… Is AI-generated music legal? Questions about the legality of AI-generated music remain complicated, as very little legislation exists that can guide the music sector on the matter. Ultimately, the content poses a major copyright concern, and the ongoing issue is that AI is developing at a faster rate than legislation to manage it. There is an ongoing battle in the UK, as the government’s response to concerns about AI-generated content proved unsatisfactory for the UK music industry. Last year the government launched a consultation which revealed plans to allow creative works to be copied for data mining, without the need for permission or licensing but still protect the intellectual property of the artist. Meanwhile, the US Copyright Review Board refuses to grant copyright to AI-created music on the basis that human authorship is required to make a viable claim. The legal challenge for AI music is that software must analyse a monumental amount of data about a specific artist by relying on music training sets to generate the content that has been requested. Essentially, AI ‘trains’ using an artist’s discography without licensing or paying royalties, which can be considered a theft of intellectual property from an artist. Preventing this music from being streamed is also a challenge, as major streaming platforms have made it possible for anyone to upload and share their music, making the production and sharing of artificial music incredibly difficult to be monitored. Whilst the use of AI itself is not illegal, its use in conjunction with unlicensed music is. What are the ethical challenges of AI in the music industry? The development of more advanced AI has failed to factor in the ethical implications of such technology, as they have been consistently overlooked in the music domain. AI risks removing artists from music-producing altogether and could ultimately eradicate essential cultural and artistic influences that curate the music we know and love. AI risks removing artists from music producing altogether Lawrence Montgomery Due to a lack of specific legislation about the use of AI, dozens of organisations, including the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in the US, have announced a campaign which aims to ensure that AI technology is used positively, specifically in ways that “support human culture and artistry – and not ways that replace or erode it”. Streaming platforms also have a legal and ethical responsibility to prevent AI music from being streamed, as this can be harmful to the simulated artist and their reputation. Research from New Zealand even suggests that AI-generated music is beginning to be exploited for private interests and gains due to its dependence on artists’ music training sets. AI will only grow in influence in the music industry, but establishing a code of ethics for its use in the music sector is essential. Does AI have a future in the music industry? There is no denying that AI has the power to transform the music industry. Similar technology like augmented reality is now being used to build an entire performance without the need for a live artist, most recently seen with the ABBA: Voyage concert performances. Whilst the band’s music has never seen a decline in popularity due to its multi-generational appeal, this has allowed a new generation to see the iconic Swedish pop group perform for the first time since 1982. AI has even received a positive response from music artists like David Guetta, who believes that new music styles can come from AI technology - but that it should only be used as a tool and can never replace artists themselves. Meanwhile, Grimes has granted permission to use her voice for future AI-generated music.   Conversely, Heart On My Sleeve, which used deep-fake vocals from the Weeknd and Drake, was removed from streaming services and Universal Music issued a statement to coincide with the action. The future of AI in music is difficult to predict, but one thing is for sure: strict legal and ethical boundaries must be set to protect musicians and the industry as a whole. They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Unfortunately, using AI in the ways recently demonstrated is stealing. No matter how good the intentions might be, it grossly infringes on copyright and as a company that is proud to champion original creative expression and DIY culture within music, Rough Trade feel it’s really important to collectively protect artists’ ownership as an industry, at all costs.   

Centre Stage: Mark Davyd

Middlesbrough is a town in the North East which has a reputation of typifying the phrase ‘left behind communities’. It ranks in the premier league as an area of relative deprivation, featuring highly on the government agenda to level up the economy. Despite this, Middlesbrough has been home to a vibrant music scene for decades, producing artists like Whitesnake, Chris Rea and James Arthur who are an absolute staple of the national touring circuit. However, in the last few months Middlesbrough has become talked about in our office for a very different reason: its grassroots music venues are closing. Not just one, or even two, but three venues. In only three months.  What does it mean when this happens? Music has always played a significant role in the town’s identity, with a variety of venues catering to different genres of music. From rock and punk to electronic and folk, there has been something for everyone in Middlesbrough’s music scene. However, as more and more venues have closed their doors, the range of music on offer has dwindled, leaving residents with fewer opportunities to experience live music. The closure of grassroots music venues has also had a damaging impact on artists in Middlesbrough. These venues provided an essential platform for artists to showcase their talent, develop their skills and build a fanbase. This is particularly true for emerging artists who often rely on smaller venues to gain a foothold in the music industry. In addition to the limiting opportunities for local artists, the closure of the grassroots music venues in Middlesbrough also has a knock-on effect on the town’s economy. These venues were not just places for people to enjoy music, they were also important contributors to the local economy. They provided employment opportunities, attracted visitors from outside the town and helped to stimulate other businesses in the area such as bars and restaurants. According to Music Venue Trust research, for every £10 spent in a grassroots music venue, £17 is spent elsewhere in the night-time economy – there’s the beer before the show, the kebab after the show, as well as the taxi home.  The MVT Annual Report 2022 describes what a typical venue contributes to the economy based on responses from the 960 venue members of the Music Venues Alliance. Each one of these venues in Middlesbrough would be providing work for an average of 11 full-time equivalent staff, hosting 182 events providing opportunities to perform for 546 acts, with approximately 2,000 musicians getting the chance to play.  With an average turnover of £520,000, resulting in circa £885,000 in economic activity elsewhere in the local economy, the closure of just one venue would lose the city £1.4 million in economic activity. Middlesbrough has lost three such venues in three months. That’s 33 jobs gone. 546 events lost. Hundreds, if not thousands, of potential future careers for artists that now have no place left to start.  Right now, one grassroots music venue is closing every week in the UK. At the start of April, unless the government acts to prevent it, the removal of energy bill support will cause that number to explode. Middlesbrough isn’t alone in facing this problem, it’s just at the front of the queue right now.  The three venues that have closed did so because they simply could not afford to carry on making it work. The money has run out. How much money did they need to keep going? An average of £5,000 a year. Middlesbrough would still have those three grassroots music venues if there was a way to generate £15,000 a year.  I chose to write this column about Middlesbrough not just because it is probably the worst case example we have right now. I picked Middlesbrough because it still has one other thing going on which could be an opportunity to put this all right.  On June 5 this year, Arctic Monkeys will be playing at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium. The performance is already sold out, but legitimate resale tickets are going for an average of £114. The website suggests that the capacity for the show is 34,000, but I am going to be generous and say that maybe it’s only 30,000. If 50p of every ticket went into a fund to ensure small venues can continue to serve their local community, that one show would generate enough money to prevent all three venues from closing down.  One show. 50p a ticket, 0.43% of the ticket price. The result? A whole community that still has access to music every day of the week, every week of the year.  I don’t believe we can’t work this out. 

Digital Discourse: How TikTok can help build a live business

BRIT Trust Diaries: Not Saints founder Chris De Banks

Centre Stage: Mark Davyd

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