As of right now, the people who make their living penning songs seem to be decidedly undecided about artificial intelligence. And a little uncertain about the implications and expectations in the world of music. Can it make a songwriter’s job a little easier? Absolutely. But will AI replace songwriters and all their heart and soul? Not likely. In any kind of creative industry, most are in a wait-and-see mode when it comes to AI.
That said, it’s not as if technology hasn’t already given music makers tools that have greatly impacted their world. Think of Andy Hildebrand, the geophysical engineer and mathematician who changed the game significantly more than 25 years ago when he invented Auto-Tune to correct the pitch of someone’s voice in a song. So here comes AI, which tech experts are saying will be as game-changing as the internet was nearly four decades ago. And if the list of AI contenders in the songwriting space so far—BeatStars, Audoir, Boomy, Jarvis, Splice, BandLab, Soundful and ChatGPT—is any indication, it’s nearly impossible to downplay AI’s impact on the music of the future.
Grammy-nominated songwriter Ashley Gorley weighs in on AI and songwriting
SUCCESS turned to prolific hit songwriter Ashley Gorley
When someone is so clearly killing it without help from technology and has been doing so for more than 20 years, how much value can AI add to the creative process?
“Somebody I’m writing with might pull up a loop, and I don’t ask where it came from,” Gorley says. “I know I’ve probably written to a Splice loop or an Arcade loop, and I’ve been in rooms with producers and track-based writers who’ve pulled up a guitar loop, bass loop or drum loop. We’ve used that to inspire melodies.
“There are times when producer-writers draw from that, as opposed to me looking for licks and loops and then building a vibe around that,” he says of the first-generation of AI loop tools.
Ashley Gorley on how a song gets off the ground
For every 100 songs you hear, they might’ve come to life 100 different ways. It all depends on the songwriter. Some start by putting pen to paper. Some by sitting down at the piano. But for Gorley, he’s an iPhone Voice Memo kind of songwriter even when he’s with other writers.
“I’m more scattered. I have to pace around the room and yell out whatever comes to mind. We talk through ideas first, or someone starts a vibe, or even has a full instrumental of a song. But it doesn’t have words yet,” he explains. “Once I lock into an idea, I can see all the way to the end of the story. That’s when I’ll start using the Voice Memos app… to sing out what I think the song could be, and we iron it out from there.”
Gorley considers himself a topliner: the one who comes in after a track-based writer has created a base for the song. “The topline is the melody and lyrics. That’s what I do.”
Can AI write songs with heart?
A great song can come from anywhere. That’s the general consensus among the people who make those great songs. It can drop into your lap without even trying, or it can come from long hours of blood, sweat, tears and a blank sheet of paper. That’s when keeping an open mind about the tools of the trade can help.
“I’m not gonna lie: I’m open to it. If I thought I could type in ‘break-up ideas,’ and it would give me 200 randomized things, then that’s fine. It can be another form of idea inspiration, which will only benefit everyone,” he says. “It might spit out a song title, but it’s not gonna have the melody, the lyrics and the flow. There are no rules on the tools we use. You can change the production stuff, but you can’t change the melody and what the song is saying.”
It’s possible for AI technology such as VoxBox and Lalals to go one step further than Auto-Tune, Gorley says, because they can make you sound almost exactly like a different singer. It could make Carrie Underwood sound like Adele. Or vice versa.
“A sound engineer can manipulate the tone of my voice with a plug-in so I sound like a pop singer,” he says. “You could make me sound like Drake. It would sound pretty close and fool people, but I don’t know what the endgame of that would be.”
Will AI replace songwriters?
Since the very early mentions of AI in music and AI songwriting, people have been reluctant to accept the notion that a computer could do their job. Or at least do it well. But Gorley hasn’t seen anyone running scared about AI replacing songwriters. “No one is freaking out,” he shares. But in the same way that Auto-Tune gave creatives a useful tool, AI could do the same for the next generation.
“You can already adjust the tune and the tone of a singer’s voice with Auto-Tune,” he says, adding that this can help sell the song. Because when you’re not thinking about the pitch being off, you’re focusing on the melody and lyrics.
“I’m down for that. In a way, it’s a reminder for songwriters to not write generic songs like AI could,” he says. “You just have to find ways to use it for good.
“The world is yours. You have the internet; you have AI,” he maintains, “but people are still going to stand out by writing better songs.”
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of SUCCESS Magazine. Photo by ©Katie Kauss/courtesy of Ashley Gorley.
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