When Napster emerged in 1999, the music industry experienced an existential crisis. The advent of peer-to-peer digital file-sharing devalued music and caused an industry-wide downturn, leaving traditional gatekeepers wondering what would come next. The emergence of the music streaming ecosystem offered a practical solution – but not before labels and artists lost billions of dollars of revenue to digital theft. With the emergence of AI, the technology’s potential impact on IP ownership and compensation has many concerned about history repeating itself.

The music industry has learned from the Napster era: It has taken measures to protect copyrights and intellectual property ultimately leading to the evolution of digital music platforms and streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. And just as Napster revolutionized the distribution and consumption of music in the early 2000s, disrupting an entire industry, AI’s revolutionary impact on creation is positioned to shift the paradigm for the music industry. 

Many are concerned that AI could issue in a new era of online music piracy, just as Napster did.  The advancement of AI in music creation means that copyright ownership is becoming increasingly complex. With AI tools capable of creating entire songs without direct human input, yet using models that are based on human creations, questions arise about who owns the rights to these creations and how they should be licensed and monetized.

In an environment of uncertainty and ambiguity around rights, the transparent, decentralized, and immutable nature of blockchain can counterbalance the introduction of AI-generated content by creating equitable monetary systems which protect musicians’ intellectual property. 

Tokenization provides a path to defining digital ownership and transparent rights distribution for musicians. It’s the process in which digital intellectual property (i.e. rights to a song) are confirmed by a token minted on the blockchain (typically an NFT, or non-fungible token). Royalty payments can then be facilitated through secure and transparent smart contracts that are built atop the blockchain which don’t require interference from third parties like banks or music labels. Most notably, they can be distributed in perpetuity, ensuring tracking/attribution throughout the life of the creative work.  

Integrating NFTs into AI-generated works and workflows will ensure ownership of music is made clear and traceable on a blockchain network – and that creators are paid fairly. By providing verification of the original song or track, in theory, that particular artist can receive royalties anytime an AI modelo creates an output that incorporates their sound. In this way, a marriage of AI and blockchain would benefit established artists, fans, and aspiring musicians. 

Knowing there are opportunities to protect their work still leaves room for artists to experiment with AI in terms of the creative or composition process or even sharing in royalties with fans. Musicians like Holly Herndon and Yacht have embraced AI as a tool to push the limits of their creativity while artists like Grimes have gone a step further, declaring publicly that she would share 50 percent of profits on any successful song that uses her AI-generated voice model.

Ultimately, the future of music lies in the hands of those who adopt and drive these game-changing innovations. By fostering a culture of innovation and embracing new technologies, the music industry can create an environment that benefits everyone involved. Blockchain is already solving the music industry’s biggest problems and there is potential for AI to help improve processes as well — but that has yet to be widely explored. 

With the introduction of new technologies to the music industry, there’s an inherent responsibility to avoid past mistakes and rather focus on how they can add value for all members involved. It seems as if the industry is catching onto the potential dangers of AI early enough – and hopefully, seeing the opportunities for creative advancement, too. 

Inder Phull is the CEO & Co-Founder with Richie Hawtin and Joel Zimmerman (aka Deadmau5) of Pixelynx, which has the stated goal of creating “the most cohesive music metaverse that puts creators and fans at the heart of the ecosystem.”