Creators are afraid AI will replace them. This is a rational fear, but perhaps not for the reasons you immediately assume.

The vast majority of artists and musicians do not make significant money from their creations. For most, it’s a side hustle at best. Only a tiny percentage make a living, and only a tiny percentage of those creators sustain any semblance of a music or art career. This has always been the case, primarily because large parts of the art and music industries have always been high-risk and corrupt.

Most artists and musicians are hobbyists whose creations produce little to no value beyond themselves and their friends, family and perhaps a few fans. There’s really nothing wrong with this — I’ve been in a band that fits this description for 18 years — but a lot of musicians and artists act as if this was not a fact. Most overvalue their creative work for obvious reasons. Creative work is personal and one’s ego is typically intrinsically attached. For most, it’s a huge ego blow to calculate the amount of time and money poured into the pursuit of art and music, then compare that to the actual financial compensation. Art and music has the value the market assigns it. The feelings of its creators don’t factor in to what it’s worth.

Now that we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s easy to see why AI makes so many artists and musicians uncomfortable. At the click of a button, generative AI tools like ChatGPT, Midjourney and DreamStudio are able to synthesize massive volumes of human creativity into new and original works that instantly humble to output of most creators. That’s enough to make the average musician or artist jump to the conclusion that their work, typically being of little value to others (and rarely equal to the value the ego-bound creator gives it), is instantly dwarfed by this new technology, or will be soon.

There’s no doubt AI will replace mediocre musicians and artists, and many folks you see complaining about it are doing so because on some level they suddenly and rightfully feel insignificant, if only subconsciously.

At present, AI is moving much faster to replace artists in comparison to musicians. But make no mistake: Music will experience the same revolution.

Will AI create better art and music than humans?

Detractors will dismiss this question with “of course not”, but the answer is not so clear in reality (and not just because we’re dealing with subjectivity.)

AI already makes “better” art and music than plenty of humans. Technically speaking, most of what AI outputs as art is far beyond the technical reach of most artists’ ability to replicate or match in terms of quality. Sure, AI still makes numerous mistakes when rendering more complex aspects of images such as hands, faces, or other details that human brains have evolved over millennia to detect the minute details of. AI has a silly tendency to render keyboard and monitors facing away from people sitting at them. It often gives animals extra heads, tails and limbs. There’s a vast universe of ways today’s AI screws up art, but that universe gets smaller every day.

As more artists and musicians drop their fear of AI and embrace it as a creative tool, the question of whether or not AI art is better or worse than human-made will become moot. There will simply be too few mediocre artists and musicians left to wonder or complain, having been replaced by the artists and musicians that evolved to use AI to push creative boundaries to worlds beyond what was possible prior to AI.

“Real” artists and musicians will not just vanish, in the same way that vinyl records didn’t disappear. Like vinyl, non-AI-assisted art will almost certainly experience a resurgence in popularity after AI-assisted art and music has saturated the market.

Most artists and musicians who fear AI haven’t used it as a creative tool

If you’re an artist or musician still shaking your head and pumping your fist, ask yourself: “Have I spent many hours using AI tools to be creative?” I have, and let me tell you, it’s hard to see the upside to being a luddite.

What entitles such people to have such a strong opinion of a creative tool they’ve spent little to no time using? Yes, social media algorithms encourage that kind of behavior, but if we’re being serious, unless you have 20 hours under your belt using AI, you have no idea what you’re talking about.

One of the biggest misconceptions from AI novices is that AI-assisted creators are using LLM tools to simply click and output art, music and writing. In reality, we’re using AI output selectively, sometimes simply as inspiration, other times cherry-picking the best bits to include in otherwise human-generated artwork, songs and articles.

After spending a bit of time with AI tools, most folks will begin to realize AI is a tool to extend and enhance creativity, not kill it. AI offers some mind-blowing new creative opportunities, but human beings are still in the driver’s seat of creativity and will be for some time. This town is big enough for the both of us. If AI ever does entirely replace humans as creators, there will be a long period of time before this happens where humans will be using AI to be more creative and prolific than ever.

We’ve seen this before

The backlash against creative uses of AI has many parallels to the backlash against free access to music back in the Napster days. Today, we have free access to music via Spotify, YouTube, TikTok, and other platforms. It’s ubiquitous. It has its problems (again, related largely to the top-down corruption of the music industry), but the modern musician that doesn’t make their songs available on streaming services is about as rare as the telegraph operator, milk man, and encyclopedia salesperson.

The modern artist or musician will soon to be like these anachronistic job roles, made largely irrelevant by technology. You can still send a telegram, get milk delivery and get an encyclopedia delivered to your door, it’s just way more of a niche service.

Even the idea of a “recording artist” is already anachronistic, as we’ve transitioned from musicians making the majority of their income on sales of physical music to earning the lion’s share from licensing and building/sustaining large online audiences to monetize in myriad ways. This is precisely why labels now sign artists to draconian “360 deals” that take a cut of all revenue streams.

You can’t copyright AI art and music (sort of)

Recently there was a significant court decision in which a federal judge ruled AI art wasn’t subject to copyright because it was mostly machine-made. At the same time, Getty Images and Adobe have launched generative AI tools which they guarantee are free of unlicensed images as source material. Things are trending toward AI-assisted art and music being fine for ephemeral uses, but un-copyrightable for monetization unless higher standards of transformation are met (versus the low bar of modern copyright, where even small transformations constitute a new copyright-protected work as long as they are human-made).

Nobody knows for sure, but it’s looking like copyright will remain the domain of humans for some time to come. This ostensibly means if I create an album cover or music video or song with AI, anyone is free to copy that and sell it themselves. Imagine The Weeknd releasing his new hit AI-generated single, and then anyone being able to sell it, sync it to their videos or remix it for free, without any licensing fees. Yeah, that’s going to happen over the music industry cartel’s dead body.

What’s actually going to happen is that real humans will use AI to assist in human-led generation of art and music. The Weeknd could have AI write the entire song — chords, melody, lyrics, drums, everything — and then just recreate that in a studio with different tools. It’s functionally the same AI-generated song, but now it can be copyrighted. Art is a little trickier, but plenty of artists are already using projectors to guide artworks, and some are starting to project an AI creations and paint them.

Some mediocre artists and musicians will use the AI tools to create works of far greater value to the market. Without a doubt, most of the top artists and musicians are not sleeping on these tools. Yes, we’re all waiting for them to get better, as they will, but if you’re not using AI now in a creative capacity, it’s time to lose the stubborn, antagonistic attitude and give it a shot.