‘Robots are never going to do that’: Ivor Novello stars on the threat of AI

UK

Paloma Faith, KT Tunstall and other songwriters at the Ivor Novello Awards have spoken out about the use of AI in music, saying meaningful songs cannot be written by “robots”.

The awards ceremony, which honours the craft of songwriting, was held in London this afternoon, with artists including Raye, Bruce Springsteen, Lana Del Rey and Skepta honoured.

It comes at a time of instability for songwriters as artificial intelligence has grown in its capabilities. Dozens of artists have called for more protections against the use of their identities without consent, and the use of their music to train AI models.

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KT Tunstall was recognised for her 20-year career. Pic: PA

Tunstall, who received the outstanding song collection prize recognising her 20-year career – 18 years after claiming her first Ivor Novello for Suddenly I See in 2006 – told Sky News she finds the issue “worrying”, but also trusts that humans can recognise when music is heartfelt.

“If you look at all the songs that have stayed in popular culture from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, there were tonnes of songs coming out then as well that haven’t been remembered, but the ones that we all still sing at karaoke, the ones we still play, are the ones that are lived, real, authentic experiences by the writers. And that emotion comes through.

“We recognise as a fellow human being that they’re talking about something we’ve gone through and something we understand. And a robot’s never going to do that.”

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Bruce Springsteen is the first international artist to be inducted into the Ivors Fellowship. Pic: AP/Chris Pizzello

‘One of the most harrowing, traumatic experiences I’ve ever had’

Faith, who presented an award at the ceremony, released her sixth studio album, The Glorification Of Sadness, earlier this year.

“That is about probably one of the most harrowing, traumatic experiences I’ve ever had, which is breaking up with the father of my children after 10 years,” she said. “I don’t understand how AI can get to such a personal level of explanation that I can only articulate because it’s my personal experience, my first-hand experience… not just of writing about a female role as a mother but also heartbreaking stuff.

“It’s all from a feminist angle and I think it’s so nuanced that I don’t believe [AI could match it]. But what I think the danger is and what the worry is… is that our emotional range and our emotional intellect will be guided by computers and eventually maybe we’ll lose part of our brains, because we will believe that there is only the emotional range that a computer has dictated to us. That to me is worrying.”

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CMAT was nominated for best album. Pic: PA

‘It’s already creeping in’

Up-and-coming Irish singer-songwriter CMAT, who was nominated for best album and has won acclaim for her heartfelt, playful pop, believes there is no place for AI in making music.

“I understand there’s people making arguments in tech and data, I can understand arguments for AI being used scientifically, but what is the point, artistically? I don’t get it. It has to be from the human experience. I need to know that a person is behind what I’m hearing. And it’s already creeping into music – and I know it’s been happening with songwriters, where they’re putting in AI prompts into music and using that as a jumping off point for the writing of their song. That’s crazy to me. I think it’s gross.”

Former Mercury Prize winner Sampha, who was nominated for best song musically and lyrically at the Ivors, said while he does not use AI himself and can see it “presents issues”, it also “presents possibilities”.

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Some 26 songwriters and composers collected awards at the event, with Raye – who made history at the Brits earlier this year – named songwriter of the year.

She was described as “the voice of a generation” by judges, who praised not just her own work as a solo artist, but also her work for others including Charli XCX, Little Mix, Beyoncé, John Legend, Ellie Goulding and Zara Larsson.

Springsteen was also in attendance to receive the Ivors Fellowship, the highest honour at the awards – making history as the first international artist to be inducted.

Best album was awarded to Black Classical Music, written by Yussef Dayes, Rocco Palladino and Charlie Stacey, while this year’s special international Award celebrated the career and influence of Lana Del Rey.

Rap legend Skepta was recognised with the visionary award, while esteemed songwriter Bernie Taupin, renowned for his partnership with Sir Elton John, was honoured with the gong for outstanding contribution to British music.

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