Artificial intelligence (AI) technology has advanced to the point where AI systems can be used to create new musical works and songs. As AI becomes more ubiquitous in the process of making music, artists and listeners both will have to address a looming question: do humans or machines make better music? Before digging into this question, we must first acknowledge that taste in music, like all art, is subjective. Nonetheless, there are some important aspects of AI-based music to consider when framing this question, and the question itself could have significant implications for all aspects of the music industry.

As of this writing, few AI systems designed to make music are capable of truly creating a brand new song out of thin air. Many others are able to take user inputs to make adjustments to existing soundscapes or beats, but that may result in music that sounds similar to songs produced by other users of those systems. Two systems that are, in fact, able to create new music are Google’s MusicLM and Jukebox, made by ChatGPT creator OpenAI. Neither has been released to the public as of May 2023.

A 2023 study by researchers at the University of York attempted to determine whether deep or non-deep learning methods could be used to generate music that was rated favorably compared to human-created music. They involved 50 participants with “relatively high musical knowledge,” each of whom rated samples of both computer- and human-created music based on dimensions including stylistic success, aesthetic pleasure, repetition/self-reference, melody, harmony, and rhythm. The works were all in the classical style and included string quartets and piano improvisations.

The result of the study showed not only that human-composed music was strongly favored over AI-generated sounds, but also that the strongest deep learning method was equivalent to a non-deep learning method. This latter point suggests that deep learning may not yet be the key to achieving ultimate success with AI-created music.

One other crucial question in the discussion of whether AI- or human-generated music is better is to what extent listeners may be able to discern the difference between the two. In the study cited above, listeners were often able to tell the difference based on the parameters used in the evaluation. Other listeners may point to a lack of subtle nuance and variety in AI-generated music. Still, some studies suggest that it can be difficult to tell the difference between these two sets of music in some cases.

As machine-generated music becomes increasingly prevalent, listeners and artists will have to reckon with the question of who (or what) creates the best music. It is to be expected that music AI tools will become better at creating music that listeners enjoy hearing over time. A 2023 study by researchers at the University of York found that participants generally rated human-composed classical music favorably to machine-created music on parameters including stylistic success, aesthetic pleasure, melody, and more. Still, some studies suggest that many listeners are already unable to tell the difference between music made by computers and music composed by humans.

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You can read more about this topic here: Decrypt: Human vs. AI-Generated Music: Indistinguishable, or Uncanny Valley?

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