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2023 in Music & Audio Tech — Year in Review

A brief recap of the biggest milestones that occurred in music and audio tech earlier this year.

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz / Unsplash

As the new year is approaching, it's evident that 2023 has left a mark on the music industry and audio technology. Just like everyone else now rounds up their 2023, we wanted to make a brief recap of the biggest milestones that occurred in music and audio tech earlier this year, too.

From the proliferation of AI generative music tools to the surge in generative AI covers, and the conundrum surrounding AI-generated content, the industry has witnessed an evolution.

In 2023, the music industry experienced a surge in AI generative tools, reshaping the creative process for musicians and content creators. Google's Magenta Studio, Amper Music, AIVA, MuseNet, Jukedeck, WavTool, and it seems like thousands of other apps that emerge every month provided artists with an array of tools to generate music effortlessly (but not always ethically).

Even though the absolute majority of these companies claim they train their solutions ethically and don't use copyright-protected content (and those who do assure they pay royalties to the original creators), the question of ethics prevails.

No wonder that these tools gave birth to thousands of deepfakes and AI covers, featuring vocals and backtracks of popular artists, some of which even made their way to the top charts. Even the Recording Academy is ready to embrace the technology and consider AI-generated music for the Grammy award, but with a firm condition: this music must be mostly made by a human artist.

This boom came with its challenges. The controversial removal of an AI-generated song featuring fake vocals of Drake and The Weeknd, titled "Heart on My Sleeve," sparked debates on copyright infringement and the potential replacement of human musicians by machines. It raised questions about the ethical use of AI in the creative process and its impact on the music industry. The debate intensified as AI-generated songs mimicking popular artists faced takedowns due to copyright concerns, forcing the industry to grapple with the implications of AI on artistic originality and ownership.

Naturally, the rise of AI in music production inevitably led to a copyright conundrum weeks later. As AI music popularity and accessibility grow, legal questions arise around copyright: who owns an AI-generated track—the software's creator or the artist who prompted it? The US Copyright Office has taken a stance on that—as of now, AI-generated work requires the "human authorship" for copyright protection.

The most interesting part is that some musicians aren't against artificial intelligence at all. What's more, some even foster the technology. Electronic artist Grimes is among the pioneers who let fans not just consume but actively take part in AI music making. She made it through Elf.Tech, open-source software that allows fans to use Grimes' vocals, put them on their own songs, and even earn a fair 50% split of master recording royalties if they choose to broadcast their AI-made compositions online.

Companies like YouTube embraced AI, striving to navigate the legal complexities surrounding generative content. Trying to act ethically and responsibly towards the usage of AI and make content creation driven by artificial intelligence more controllable, YouTube leverages Google's DeepMind technology in their latest experiment, Dream Track, to offer a responsible and respectful AI experience. Creators can now seamlessly integrate AI-generated voices of popular artists into their Shorts, expanding the boundaries of expression without violating artists' rights.

Spatial Audio fostering

In the audio technology, a significant boom in spatial audio was propelled by industry giants Sonos, Dolby Atmos, and Apple. After the latter introduced Dolby Atmos to Apple Music in 2021, it's now planning to boost the royalties for artists and labels who embrace spatial audio in their tracks. According to a recent Bloomberg report, starting next year, Apple will give pay higher royalties to musicians for uploading tracks in spatial audio even if listeners don't choose the Atmos version of a song as long as it's simply available in that format.

Apple's commitment, however, extended beyond royalties. They introduced lossless audio streaming, encompassing their extensive catalog of over 75 million songs. Playlists such as "Made for Spatial Audio" were curated to serve as showcases for the technology. In early 2022, over half of Apple Music's subscribers embraced the Spatial Audio features, showcasing an interest in this technology, and by the start of 2023, this part increased to over 80%.

Another way to give spatial audio a boom and push hardware sales occurred earlier this year—Apple's hardware, including AirPods and the HomePod, now supports Atmos playback.

As the demand for immersive audio experiences grew, the market witnessed a surge in innovations, with spatial audio becoming a key differentiator for audio devices.

Music streaming isn't going anywhere

Despite the obvious challenges the streaming services faced this year, to which Spotify and Tidal responded with massive layoffs, Spotify's shutting down big projects, introducing new offerings, and changing its royalty scheme, the streaming industry still remains one of the most lucrative ones. By 2032, the market share growth is expected to reach $108.04 billion, and in the first three months of 2023, global music audio streams crossed the one trillion mark, highlighting the rapid growth and popularity of on-demand audio streaming.

New streaming services appear in response to exploitative schemes of the bigger players, and in emerging markets, new avenues for music consumption are open where local players like Boomplay, a prominent music streaming platform in Africa, or JioSaavn in India are taking advantage of this opportunity by offering services that cater to the unique preferences of their audiences.

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