The fiasco around AI-generated music has embroiled Spotify — and a company that claims to have produced more than 14% of all the recorded music in the world is in the crossfire.
On May 3, multiple news sources reported that Spotify was purging “tens of thousands of songs” uploaded by an AI music generating start-up called Boomy. Boomy claims their users have “created” nearly 15 million songs using its AI generator, which they estimate as embodying “around 14.17% of the world’s recorded music.” The tracks were flagged by recording giant Universal Music, according to a source cited by the Financial Times.
There has been an increasing sharp tenor of user complaints and industry forewarnings about a tsunami of shit-tier AI-generated tracks overwhelming streaming platforms. But that isn’t why Spotify purged them. Universal, according to FT, reported “suspicious streaming activity on Boomy tracks,” which usually means bots were being used to artificially increase plays, and thus payouts for their creators.
This is the logical endgame of streamonomics: bots making music strictly and perhaps solely to be listened to by other bots. The only human interaction would be your monthly subscription fee.
Still, some industry types saw this as a pre-emptive strike against AI-generated music, which they assume listeners and the platforms themselves don’t really want. They were sorely disappointed when, just a few days later, Spotify abruptly reversed course. Most if not all of the purged tracks were reinstated; Boomy crowed that their “curated delivery” of new tracks to Spotify had been “re-enabled.”
Artists are right to be mad about this stuff — streaming fraud actually takes money directly out of their hands thanks to the streaming industry’s controversial “pro-rata” payout model. And the model will surely be bent to the point of breaking when the quantity of AI-generated music towers over that made by humans. Hackers have known about the Boomy-to-Spotify scam for years, which works like this:
2. Use Boomy to upload to Spotify.
3. Redeploy your botnet from clicking on ads to playing your Boomy-made tracks on Spotify.
4. Try to get paid before you get caught.
Boomy has no criminal intent or liability in this: the company simply created a tool that crooks have found useful. Most of Boomy’s creators likely do nothing with the music they generate. And I believe Boomy is actually quite opposed to this for their own reasons.
But the misuse of Boomy in these schemes — as well as the tidal wave of shitmusic from AI music platforms flooding streamers and slowly seeping into your algorithmic bubble — merits a closer look at how Boomy operates.
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It takes about four or five clicks to “create” a track on Boomy. These are the instructions on how to do so:
The first button you click on to start is literally called CREATE, followed by one called SONG. You then pick a STYLE — ranging from “Lo-Fi” to “Rap Beats” to “Global Groove” and “Electronic Dance” — play with a few settings or not, and then click CREATE SONG. That’s all there is.
After taking a step back, it’s obvious that the real work of Boomy users is not in song creation but in song rejection. With this kind of music generation machinery at their disposal, Boomy could probably write a bot to mash the buttons and create millions of tracks as fast as Boomy’s hardware and pipes could manage, without any human intervention at all. By letting humans mash the buttons, Boomy gives users the flattering impression that they are the ones creating art rather than acting as a filter to weed out AI’s worst possible creations.
But you are not a musician when you use Boomy. You are, as the Soviets called the humans pushing contaminated debris around Chernobyl, a bio-robot. You are doing the work that robots are still unable to do themselves. In this case, you are granting AI a human sense of taste — and copyright protection.
The labor to curb the atonal screams of AI is free, but we wouldn’t be in late-stage capitalism if companies didn’t charge users for the vague possibility of someday making money from it. Boomy offers user add-ons — you can pay $9.99 to have your AI-generated track scrubbed up by “Dolby mastering,” which is hilarious. Boomy also sells subscriptions: you can buy “Premium” memberships for $2.99 per month or “Pro” memberships for $9.99 per month. Pro enables the user to “release unlimited albums or singles,” so this is what the person who wants to make money from Boomy is going to use.
It should be noted here that these prices are in some cases significantly more expensive than those from actual music distributors. TuneCore will take the musician off the street and distribute their tracks for prices ranging from free to $49.99 per year at their highest tier — less than half of what Boomy charges on an annual basis.
Boomy keeps 20% of streaming revenue (a major sore spot among hackers from the gripes we’ve seen). But more importantly: Boomy also owns 100% of the music generated on its platform. All of those tracks that have such fascinating artist names on all of those Spotify playlists — what the company calls their “Boomystars” — every one of them is owned by Boomy itself, and then licensed back to the people Boomy elsewhere claims “created” them. Boomy’s end user licensing agreement states clearly that they own it all:
Boomy elsewhere explains that it “owns and manages the copyright to songs created on the platform” in order to comply with “relevant copyright regulation and streamline collection of your revenue share.”
After taking the copyright, Boomy then licenses the music you “created” back to you for “most commercial and non-commercial terms.” Boomy explicitly states they can “exploit the Boomy-Owned Materials for any purpose, including, without limitation, in connection with the Distribution of Release(s).”
Emphasis added in the above statement, because here’s where we get to the point of why humans rather than bots really need to be the ones to mash the buttons. Perhaps it’s possible for Boomy’s AI to hum along unaided by humans, composing thousands of musical doodles per second. But if that were the case, none of Boomy’s output would be eligible for copyright protection. The US Copyright Office considers art generated by AI alone as equal to that created by a cat or dog or a strong breeze. A creative work must have been created by a human in order to be eligible for copyright protection.
To break down the process: copyright only comes into existence after the human user on Boomy mashes the button that says CREATE SONG.
If humans weren’t mashing the buttons, all those Boomy creations — 14.17% of all recorded music, copyrights assigned from its “creators” to Boomy itself — would be free for everyone to use. Revenue from owning 14.17% of the world’s recorded music would also cease to exist.
Boomy flatters users that they are creating when they’re not, which also supports the illusion that they own what they “made” when they don’t. For all of the talk about “people power” and “liberating creativity” by the companies that market AI, it seems the average user isn’t being “freed” but fucked.
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The point of this isn’t to bag on Boomy. The output is mediocre, as you expected it would be. But I didn’t expect to find terms for artists (or “artists” if you prefer) that were quite so scandalous. The criminal activity is not Boomy’s responsibility and actually beside the point. I fully believe they are appalled their creations might be used for click fraud. It would interfere with what otherwise looks like a pretty lopsided business model that is already stacked high in Boomy’s favor.
Looking down the road, it appears AI generated music could be used not for unleashing the creative powers of amateurs, but to obtain copyright control over a large chunk of the music on streaming platforms. One company might hold the largest catalog of copyright tracks of any single entity in the world, “created” but not owned by people who mash a few buttons and filter out the worst of what’s produced by their AI — and creating a gigantic, exploitable copyright portfolio along the way.
Far from being a revolutionary attack on an unfair industry, we would again see the novelty of technology used as a Trojan Horse to get inside an exclusive club. You’re still not invited. But you can always become the next “Boomystar.”