AI can never go on tour like Taylor Swift


AI can never go on tour like Taylor Swift

Artificial intelligence won't sink the international music industry, writes KERNEELS BREYTENBACH.


SORRY, but I don't believe the stories that AI (artificial intelligence) is going to destroy the music industry. It's true that the international music industry is choking on its own foolishness, but AI isn't going to deliver the fatal blow.

Concerts remain supreme

Since the founding of the Edison Speaking Phonograph Company in 1878, record companies have been a force that has had enormous influence on the distribution of music.

The arrival of rock music in the 1950s made their power grow beyond all proportion. Without a record contract, no music artist could launch a career. The record companies strummed their guitars and everyone danced.

Their power peaked in the 1970s then went downhill — slowly at first with the advent of the CD, faster with the switch to the MP3 format and the advent of Napster, then at the speed of light with the big internet music catalogues provided by Apple and Spotify.

Record companies' hubris led to their downfall. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa and many other artists founded their own record companies to circumvent the censorship and interference of giants such as EMI, Warner Brothers and Columbia. And when Sony developed the CD in the early 1980s, those companies laughed and said it would become a gimmick, like cassettes.

When the internet gave millions of people cheap access to music in the 1990s, artists had to fall back on concerts to replace the income they once made from record and CD sales.

That's why I think AI won't play a significant role in the international music market any time soon. People still want to attend concerts. They enjoy that kind of contact with their favourite artists — and that's where artists earn their best money.

AI “musicians" can't walk onto a stage and make music.

New superheroes are active on stage

Spotify's statistics on the most popular artists show that we are in a transitional phase where only a small percentage of people still listen to their old favourites very often. The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Queen and many more are slowly making way for the new generation of superheroes.

Among the 2,500 artists that people listen to the most, The Beatles are ranked 119th, with 31.7 million listens per month. The artists in the generation after them who do best are Elton John (48.9 million), Queen (47.7 million) and Fleetwood Mac (31.5 million). From the more recent decades, Coldplay fare better (65.6 million), as do Imagine Dragons (61.6 million) and Maroon 5 (56.4 million). 

Who are the top performers of our time? All groups and people who are  active on the international stage. At the top are The Weeknd (108.8 million), Ed Sheeran (86.2 million) and Taylor Swift (85 million). They are followed by Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Shakira, Ariana Grande, David Guetta and Bad Bunny.

The Weeknd (the Canadian artist Abel Makkonen Tesfaye) has performed 525 concerts and has a global tour in his sights. He has  released only five albums. Taylor Swift regularly breaks records with her tours (there have been six big ones). More than 10.5 million people have attended her concerts. Ed Sheeran has already performed 1,264 concerts, and at the time of publication it will be 1,268.

The chances that an AI artist will end up among the top 10 on the list are zero.

And the TikTok generation? Only one artist who operates on that medium is high on Spotify's list — Jvke, with 30.8 million listens. He does better than The Beatles, people.

Surprising names from yesteryear

Of course, such statistics inevitably make one think of the big names of yesteryear who are still trying to grow as artists, even though some of them have pacemakers and most of them can no longer make moves on the concert stage because their hip replacements prevent it. Mick Jagger, as always, is the exception to the rule.

The late Tina Turner holds position no 310 on the Spotify list, with 19.1 million monthly listens. Gordon Lightfoot is not listed, which means fewer than 4 million listen to his music monthly. He is in the good company of the Grateful Dead.

Now the interesting question for me is how one should approach the artists who survived the record companies and stand with one foot in the grave and still make music, often on concert stages.

In the playlist below, I contrast the music of the top 10 artists, and some of the names mentioned above, with the recent (relatively speaking, of course) releases from artists over 70. Prepare yourselves for a culture shock.

Paul Simon’s milestone at 82

For the complete picture, I also include the placement of the “senior artists" on the Spotify list: Paul Simon (no 943 with 9.1 million listens), The Who (no 1,004 with 8.7 million listens), Willie Nelson (no 1,169 with 7.7 million listens), Yusuf/Cat Stevens (no 752 with 10.6 million listens), Bob Dylan (no 777 with 10.3 million listens), Dolly Parton (no 515 with 14.3 million listens), Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones (no 177 with 25.1 million listens) and Paul McCartney (no 678 with 12.5 million listens). Jethro Tull, Graham Nash and Bruce Cockburn still perform concerts for all they are worth, but do badly on Spotify.

The one who surprised me the most among the last group is Paul Simon. Like Leonard Cohen a few years ago, Simon has just released an album entitled Seven Psalms at the age of 82, which not only renews his career but will also one day be counted as one of his great milestones.

Will The Weeknd be able to emulate him one day? Maybe AI knows.


Apple: The old and the new 

Spotify: The old and the new

♦ VWB ♦

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