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AI Helps Randy Travis ‘Sing’ Again, What Does it Mean for the Music Industry?

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When country singer Randy Travis suffered a life-threatening stroke in 2013, he lost the ability to sing in that “gnarled, knotty baritone” voice adored by millions, including me, around the world.

But now, thanks to AI and a ‘surrogate’ singer, Travis has released a new song called “Where That Came From” and it’s warming the hearts of fans. It really does sound like Randy picked up the microphone and defied the tragic circumstances dealt to him to produce new music.

In the CBS Sunday Morning video you can see how much it means to Randy, his family and music colleagues. Warner Music brought a team together to use “AI for good” and that’s how it’s mostly been received.

Good AI.

But the more I think about it, the more I wrestle with the issue of AI generated content performing as a real person. There is no doubt “Where That Came From” is a Randy Travis song, but it’s not really sung by Randy.

The ‘guide’ track is sung by James DuPre, an excellent country music singer, then AI is applied which has been trained on Randy’s voice. As part of the process, they extracted the voice track from 42 Randy Travis songs to zero in on the nuances of his unique sound.

It appears there’s more to the process than just AI. You can do a lot of tweaking in a sound studio. It also helps that Kyle Lehning, Randy’s trusted, career-long producer was at the helm.

So where to from here? I think this project is something we can all get behind. The artist is still with us, playing a role in making the music and it’s been developed from legally owned sources.

But I think it needs to labelled as ‘produced with AI’ or something similar. Tweaking a voice with auto-tune isn’t the same thing. Auto-tune needs the original performance, AI does not. It just needs reference performances to create the new ‘original’ song.

Ultimately, it’s up the artist. It’s their creation. Tennessee has introduced the ELVIS Act which is designed to protect artists from AI deep fakes.

The AI genie is out of the bottle, so it’s up to all of us to make sure we label it correctly.

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