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AI is not a threat to music industry if used in the right way: AR Rahman

The exercise was made possible by a company called Timeless Voices, which trained an AI model on songs sung by the two artists.

Lal Salaam, an upcoming Tamil sports drama film with AR Rahman as the music composer, uses AI-generated voices of late singers Bamba Bakya and Shahul Hameed for one of its soundtracks Thimiri Yezhudu. This was made possible by a company called Timeless Voices, which trained an AI model on songs sung by the two artists. The model then took the input of someone else singing a completely new song and transformed it into the voices of Bamba Bakya and Shahul Hameed. You can listen to the input and output vocals over here.

Permission was taken from the families of the late singers and they were compensated as well, Rahman posted on X. “Technology is not a threat and a nuisance if we use it right,” he added.

 

This comes at a time when AI companies are being accused by artists, musicians, and authors of using their work without appropriate compensation. OpenAI, Microsoft, and Stability AI all face lawsuits for this reason. The creative industry is also worried about how generative AI might threaten their livelihoods.

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This is not the first instance of AI being used to recreate the voices of dead singers. You can find a Frank Sinatra version of Smells Like Teen Spirit and the legendary Beatles last year dropped their final song called Now and Then, which uses AI to revive late John Lennon’s voice. However, AR Rahman’s use of AI has sparked a fresh conversation in India about the use of AI in the music industry.

Rahman, who is known for experimenting with the latest technologies, shared his thoughts on this in an interview with the BBC:

  • Why did he decide to use AI? “I think a lot of people have been putting out clips on TikTok and Instagram. I was intrigued and one of my assistants started a company called Timeless Voices and he sent me a sample of one of the singers who passed away whom I introduced to the industry. And the director, Aishwarya, for her movie, Laal Salam, was looking for a folk voice. And I felt that [this] voice would be good. It was an experiment.”
  • On getting permission from the family: “I wanted to take the permission of the wife and both the families of Shahul Hameed and Bamba Bakya. Also, it becomes a way of sustenance for them. In future, when people use that stuff they ask permission. And then we pay them for it. In a way, I felt my conscience was clear.”
  • What was the initial reaction of the families of the late singers? They were surprised and one of the kids sent a message saying “I’m very happy that my dad is being remembered and getting this compensation.”
  • On using technology the right way: “Any technology should benefit humanity and not take away livelihoods. […] I personally think you should use [AI] like a slave. We should use it for the good parts and not give authority or decisions which would harm humanity, even if you think it’s 100% correct. Keep it as an augmented tool for humanity to do things which sometimes take hours and hours of work.”
  • How accurate was the voice? “I would say 70 percent. Some of the songs are very near, but this song came out around 70 percent.”

Despite Rahman obtaining permission from and compensating the families of the late singers, not all are happy with this move. “AR Rahman using AI to create music might feel like modern-day magic, but where does it stop?” Vogue India asks in an article on this. People on X also raised interesting questions such as whether the late singers would have been okay with it and what this portends for upcoming playback singers in the industry:

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