Hours before joining a panel to discuss AI and the future of tech-art, CEO and co-founder of award-winning platform Beatoven.ai, Mansoor Rahimat Khan talked to FPJ about a future where AI can coexist with independent musicians.
Over the last weekend, a track called 'Heart on My Sleeve,' allegedly created with artificial intelligence to sound like it was by Drake and The Weeknd, became a chart topper and was subsequently pulled down. AI-generated music is already firing up controversies. Where does this leave independent musicians and singers who are already strapped for cash and resources? "I'd encourage musicians and composers not to see this technology as a threat but rather see it as a tool to make them more efficient towards music composition. AI is going to be a tool for users to get started on their tracks and then combine their own creativity to make complete compositions,” says Mansoor Rahimat Khan, CEO and co-founder of the platform Beatoven.ai, which uses Artificial Intelligence to generate music. Khan is a classical sitar player of the Dharwad Gharana and cofounded the online tool to compose customised pieces with royalty-free music for a video or podcast. He's also on the Forbes Asia 30 Under 30 list for being a top tech entrepreneur.
He will be joining innovative thinkers like Prateek Arora, Indian Sci-Fi creator, screenwriter, and VP of Development, BANG BANG Mediacorp, Abhinav Aggarwal, Co-founder and CEO, Fluid AI, and Pankhuri Upadhyay, Founder, Maker's Legal for a special discussion tonight at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in South Mumbai. The Ministry of Culture, Government of India and Avid Learning are holding a discussion titled, 'Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Tech-Art: What's Next?' They will cover a range of topics, including the role of AI in the creative process, the ethics of AI in art, and revolutionising the way we engage with art. We asked Khan about the future of AI-generated music.
Q. Beatoven.ai is India's first AI-backed music tech startup. Coming from a family of musicians and being a sitar player yourself, were you always interested in innovating something beyond your own compositions and live performances?
I was very fortunate to be born in a family that has been dedicated to music for the past 7 generations. There has been constant innovation in this family generation over generation in terms of shaping the sitar and our own music style of one of the richest cultural heritages of this country i.e. Indian Classical Music. When you're born in such an environment, you're inspired by your family members and constantly there's a hunger to innovate yourself. I was one of those unique cases in my family that got an exposure to technology at a young age. Being a 12th board topper in math, I had a natural inclination towards engineering and started working at the intersection of music and technology at a very young age. It was a rabbit hole in terms of exploration of music theory, music production, artificial intelligence and I've been active in this space for nine years now. When I found the right person in the form of a co-founder, it was obvious to me to make a huge impact, building a company is the best way forward.
Q. How has AI-generated music changed the game for content creators?
I believe AI is a powerful technology that has the potential to solve a lot of large problems in the music industry. We went after the problem of solving copyright infringement issues for video content creators on various content platforms such as Youtube, Instagram, Tiktok etc. We were of the opinion that Generative AI could be the best technology to solve this problem and started building the tech for it ourselves. It took us two years to build it and we ultimately launched the tool this year in January. The impact of what we've built has been massive, the most exciting part is the kind of use cases that have emerged from this technology. From Youtube creators to AI artists to rappers to Indie filmmakers to podcasters and advertisers, all kinds of users are using our tech to make music for their content and this is exciting to see. When we speak to our users, we hear from them that they feel they're creating their own music rather than searching for music and this in my opinion is a big behavioural change.
Q. What is your argument against musicians and composers who worry that AI will make them redundant?
I would encourage musicians and composers not to see this technology as a threat but rather see it as a tool to make them more efficient towards music composition. Any new technology has this challenge to face where it is anticipated as a threat, however, one needs to realise that technology is just a tool to make yourself efficient and improve your processes. The smart ones adopt technology early and try to be ahead of the curve and I believe AI is just at the start of a cusp of evolutionary change in consumer behaviour.
Secondly, it is important for companies like us to build ethical business models that are inclusive of artists and can potentially be a new revenue source for them. We already pioneered this at Beatoven, all producers that work with us get paid for the data they contribute to our platform.
We periodically keep announcing budgets towards this initiative. We also send a report to all our artists monthly on how their contribution is impacting our product worldwide and artists are taking pride in working with us.
Q. We are already seeing AI generated tracks on charts. What is the future of AI in the field of music when it comes to popular music, podcasts and commercials?
AI is going to be a tool for users to get started on their tracks and then combine their own creativity to make complete compositions. In fact, 10% of the user queries that we get today on Beatoven fall under this category. My belief is it's only going to get bigger from this point onwards in the form of integration. With regards to popular music, my belief is it's always been less about the music and more about the artist and their journey.
There’s a reason why Pink Floyd's music sounds a certain way or the Beatles music sounds a certain way, it is driven by their individual influences, journeys and inspiration that has resulted in that sound. This aspect in art creation is not going anywhere; individual creativity will find more value now in the age of AI and truly innovative and original artists will stand out. Mediocre artists who’ve tried copying other artists with no originality will definitely have no value in this age. We will soon have AI models that will compose mediocre music that is influenced by generic data. We haven't reached a point in technology yet where the AI is sentient. There’s definitely merit in being an improvisational and creative musician in the age of AI.
3 ways AI will help independent artists and music creators:
As somebody who’s been building in this space alongside his co-founder Siddharth Bhardwaj and our team – much before it was trending – here are Khan's thoughts on how this new tech will shape the industry from a music industry standpoint:
1. It will possibly solve the problem of copyright restrictions for content creators and let them create original music for videos, podcasts, games and other forms of digital content.
2. It will enable musicians to be more creative: The innovation will lie in the collaboration of AI and musicians. This may even lead to newer styles of music that we haven’t ever heard before.
3. Many more people will become music directors – the barrier to becoming a music creator will be diminished. This could have both positive and negative implications. The market size would grow but the amount of effort that goes into developing the skill of music composition and production may lose its value.
Most importantly, musicians will be at the core of this new revolution. Creative music will always find its value.
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