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Suno, Dope ChatGPT for Music, Is Out But Here’s Why It Might Be Problematic

Does the "people will go to Suno over Spotify" take seem legit?

Photo by William Recinos / Unsplash

It’s not that the world needs even more AI text-to-music tools, but they keep emerging anyway—some are better, some are worse. Suno is probably among the most popular “ChatGPTs” for music at the moment. And honestly, among the best ones. But if there are so many, why has Suno gained that much attention in the last couple of weeks?

We won’t review the tool in this article, nor will we showcase how good it is. It is good, and that’s the problem. Instead, let's try to figure out if Suno might be a threat for human artists.

What is Suno?

Credit: Suno 

As reported by Rolling Stone, Suno was founded nearly two years ago by Mikey Shulman, Keenan Freyberg, Georg Kucsko, and Martin Camacho, machine-learning experts who worked together until 2022 at a Cambridge company, Kensho Technologies, which focused on finding AI solutions to complex business problems.

Suno is a web-based AI-powered music generation tool. It’s different from other AI text-to-music solutions, though, because it can create an entire song with a single prompt. Yes, a two-minute song, using large language models and diffusion models to generate original music, lyrics, and vocals based on user inputs, using the same general approach as ChatGPT. You can simply enter specific details about the desired genre, mood, and topic of the song, and Suno will attempt to generate something matching those parameters. However, Suno's music is still limited in its ability to be edited or customised, similar to how Stable Diffusion works for images.

With a free account, users can generate up to ten songs per day, while paid plans offer more credits for creating more songs. The free version doesn't allow commercial use of the generated songs, but paid plans do.

It seems not even people here know how much of a revolution Suno v3 will be on the music industry. This is music generation's Midjourney moment.
byu/TheOneWhoDings insingularity

“We are not here to make more Fake Drakes"

What makes this tool stand out is that there's unironic excitement around Suno's potential to disrupt the music industry, with some predicting it could lead to the "end of the digital artist and rise of live performers."

In mid-March, Suno released v3, its first model "capable of producing radio-quality music." And it does truly make high-quality songs, some of which sound almost indistinguishable from mediocre human-made tracks.

According to Suno's blog post, v3 is designed "for creating original music, and [their] models don't recognize references to other artists."

“We are not here to make more Fake Drakes. To further protect against misuse, we have developed proprietary, inaudible watermarking technology that can detect whether a song was created using Suno,” the team shares.

It's interesting that they pointed that out because many generative AI companies use copyright-protected data to train their models, without openly disclosing that, of course. OpenAI’s Sora AI text-to-video tool, which is also a top player in its field now, recently said that they used “publicly available” videos to train their model but didn't go into specific details on what kind of videos that would be.

As of writing, Suno doesn’t reveal its data sources, either. Maybe they use royalty-free music for training, which is unlikely considering that the quality of music it generates is really, really good. Besides, as Rolling Stone reports, one of their investors, Antonio Rodriguez, has said that “the risk [they] had to underwrite when [they] invested in the company, because [they]’re the fat wallet that will get sued right behind these guys. "Honestly, if we had deals with labels when this company got started, I probably wouldn’t have invested in it. I think that they needed to make this product without the constraints," Rodriguez shares with Rolling Stone.

Suno is currently addressing respect for artists’ and labels’ intellectual property and won’t allow users to generate songs in the style of specific artists; real artists’ voices can’t be generated, either.

“It doesn’t mean we’re not going to get sued, by the way,” Rodriguez says to Rolling Stone. “It just means that we’re not going to have, like, a fuck-the-police kind of attitude.”

When writing this, I feel kind of déjà vu because we recently covered pretty much the same story but from the AI video world. OpenAI’s Sora has been launched, and along with praise and excitement, it brought job loss debate and ethical concerns to the table, which seemed to outweigh the admiration. Now with Suno, it’s pretty much the same but the excitement level is still higher than the one of concern.

“This is the next AI unicorn. Skeptics will say it’s a pump post. Objective facts are the amazing iteration speed, sound and voice quality, and seeing my own habits of increasingly going to Suno over Spotify,” some stunned user says on X.

“Are you listening to AI music yet? I still prefer human-recorded music, but the AI stuff is coming on strong,” another says.

But not all are excited, though. Those working with music and sound professionally aren't so easily impressed: "As a producer/music maker/composer/whatever, yeah I see no point of this in the creation process. What AI could be useful for is organizing samples and instruments, generating ideas, or monitoring for mastering. I'm thoroughly unimpressed by the actual quality of the music itself from basically every example I've heard so far, aside from it being passable as musical audio, but that's not that hard," shares a user on Reddit.

Going to Suno over Spotify? So far, seems unlikely.

The fact that some people estimate Suno’s quality so high they might “go to Suno over Spotify” is telling. This has surely been written to gain exposure on X-formerly-Twitter, and no one in their right mind would ever turn to low-effort, generic, entirely AI-made sounds over human-created music but let’s imagine for a second that people would actually start listening to such AI "musicians." Why's it problematic? Competition. And royalties.

AI tools, especially those that are actually capable of creating human-like music, can compete with artists, and they’ve already started. Considering the sad state of the industry in terms of royalties and overall complexity that up-and-coming artists face when it comes to their music discovery, competition with AI is a serious issue. Before Suno, there wasn’t a decent tool that could generate music that was worth our attention. Let’s be honest, all of those are mediocre at best. And if human musicians now have to compete not just with other artists but AI too, which is so much more productive, the royalty pool becomes extremely diluted. Data training on human work without artists' permission adds a bit more drama to the current state of affairs.

"The shift towards streaming and the impact of AI both threaten the livelihoods of union musicians and also of composers and songwriters (neither of which have a union). As someone at the crossroads of technology and music, I believe it's more important than ever that musicians get paid appropriately for their work," founder and CEO of Output, Gregg Lehrman, told us.

The issue with the industry is that it's not merely a music making or music recording industry (but was it one, ever?). Artists need to be entertainers, bloggers, TikTokers, merch sellers, community builders, business people, superfan growers, and God knows who else to finally get noticed. But this "issue" is what will help musicians survive.

"AI is leveling the playing field for music creation, making it easier for anyone to create music. There will be more content made than ever before from every corner of the world. And some of it will be great and quite successful," shares Lehrman in an email interview to Kill the DJ when we asked him whether such AI music might be a threat to artists. "However, AI cannot replicate the nuance of great music. Music isn’t just about a melody or lyrics. The power of artists lies equally in what they stand for and the community they’ve built. Some of today’s biggest artists like Taylor Swift have a meteoric impact because of the ideology and community that they build around their artistry. AI can’t build community, and so it cannot create the same level of impact as human artists."

Suno’s founders said to Rolling Stone that the service could attract a user base bigger than Spotify’s. Whether AI-made music is proper music is the question for another story, but what's clear now is that if Suno indeed attracts as many users as Spotify has, the latter will be overflown with AI-tracks, and listeners won’t be able to choose or distinguish between artificial tracks and real ones.

Currently, there are no restrictions or bans on distributing AI music onto streaming services. Listeners regularly catch AI music on Spotify and Apple Music. Artists whose works are clearly used to train those models can’t opt out, either.

So... if artists don’t give their consent, aren't even asked to give it, can’t opt out, and listeners aren’t too happy when they hear a blatant AI song either, do we really need more tools like Suno, no matter how technologically great they are?

And how can artists protect themselves? Lehrman thinks that community building is what will help human artists stand out, even when AI music is actually able to compete with them. "Keep building your community and speaking up for what you stand for. These are the things that will set human-created music and AI-created music apart. AI music won’t stand for much nor will it have community — and that will ultimately hurt its reach."