Skip to content

Human Creativity Outperforms AI in Commercial Music Composition, Study Finds

Humans compose more emotionally accurate and appealing music than Gen AI.

Photo by Elijah Merrell / Unsplash

Despite constant outcries that AI will soon replace human art and leave musicians without jobs, the study finds that AI music will hardly fill out even the commercial music sector.  

Stephen Arnold Music, the music branding company, and SoundOut, the sonic branding and marketing testing business, have joined forces for a white paper titled "Music Composition – Human versus Machine" which has shed light on the role of Generative AI in composing music for emotional briefs. It revealed intriguing insights into the capabilities and limitations of AI in comparison to human composers. Long story short, humans can compose more emotionally accurate and appealing music than Gen AI, while the latter weakens emotional accuracy and appeal when modifying a human-created piece of music.

The findings of the study show that while Gen AI demonstrates a 20% accuracy rate in composing music for specific emotional briefs, it falls short of the precision required for commercial-ready music. AI has its potential, but it's yet to match the emotional depth and appeal achieved by human composers, particularly in the context of brand marketing and sonic branding.

David Courtier Dutton, CEO of SoundOut, remarked in the press release that "While humans still outperform AI on the emotional front, this study has revealed that AI 'composing by numbers' is already not far behind."

"The AI was not bad, it was just not as good. With some emotional fine tuning we expect that AI will at some point in the not too distant future match the majority of human composers. The AI does not need to understand emotions, just how to invoke them in humans. The 2023 argument that AI cannot be creative has all but been settled, and this study demonstrates that AI can also compose music to move us emotionally, it now just needs a little more technical empathy to be able to do this with sufficient precision for commercial use."

"AI has demonstrated that it can be a valuable asset with respect to creative inspiration and ideation. When developing commercial-ready music for leading brands, however, there are additional considerations for evoking the proper emotion at the proper time," Chad Cook, President of Creative & Marketing at SAM, stated in the press release. "Performance, emotional timing, production quality, mixing and mastering are all elements in which the human touch makes a distinct impact. Combining the capabilities of humans and AI has real potential for sonic branding in terms of efficiency and quality."

The study conducted two tests to evaluate the effectiveness of AI in music composition. The first test focused on the emotional accuracy of AI-composed tracks and revealed that while AI showed promise directionally, it often failed to meet commercial standards. In the first test, four music briefs were designed by SAM and SoundOut spanning a variety of human emotions. Each brief was programmed by SAM into Stable Audio, and five tracks were produced for each brief, yielding a total of 20 tracks for the test.

The resultant tracks were then analysed on SoundOut’s On Brand platform, yielding percentile scores for each track against 212 emotional attributes enabling an analysis of how well each brief had been executed.

The conclusion is that AI has done reasonably well. Directionally, the performance of the AI is largely successful for most compositions. In most cases, though, this falls short of what would be acceptable for commercial usage (80%). That said, around 20% of the time the AI does create something that could genuinely be considered as appropriate.

What is clear is that AI is not yet at a level where it can consistently be relied on to replace human composers on a single-shot basis and it should therefore be used as a creative tool — a compositional "co-pilot" — taking the heavy lifting off the initial composition which can then be worked on with more emotional focus by human composers.

Given its 20% accuracy rate, it's unlikely that AI will be the trusted composer for today's brands; however, when used in collaboration with humans, it provides a very strong ideation platform for music creators.

The second test compared the appeal and emotional response of consumers to music created by AI versus human composers, with human-composed tracks consistently outperforming AI-generated ones. Test 2 built on the first test by examining the comparative appeal and emotional response of hundreds of consumers to music created by AI versus human composers, both from the same music brief. A complex music brief was designed by SAM and SoundOut and given to SAM’s composer, Mack Price, as well as programmed into the popular Gen AI platform, AIVA. The resultant tracks were then tested by SoundOut with its leading consumer music testing platform, Slicethepie.

For both appeal, and for the magnitude of emotional response indicated by BrandMatch, the human composed/modified tracks rated more highly than AI composed/modified tracks. Humans were better at composing or improving AI tracks that deliver the desired emotional impact. Humans also improved the AI track, while AI worsened the human track.

The potential of AI as a creative tool is promising, that's for sure, but it seems like human composers remain essential for achieving the desired emotional impact and commercial readiness in music composition.

The full report is available for download here.