When you encounter a brand and listen to the accompanying music and/or sound logo e.g. in a video on social media, will you then be able to tell, if it is composed by a human or a computer? And does it matter for the brand perception?
Music has always been seen as an expression of the personal emotions and experiences of the artist – a very human sentiment. A computer has no personal or “human” traits other than what it has been assigned in code by a human, and therefore it should not be able to communicate sincere emotions of its own. But what happens, when music generated by an AI (Artificial Intelligence) gets increasingly sophisticated and is narrowing the gap between man and machine in music and sound creation and potentially challenges the sonic branding business? Is it the beginning of the end for agencies like Unmute?
The human touch
If a piece of music contains vocals, they will often be the easiest part to identify as either man or machine because of the sound and timbre. We humans know exactly what our voice should sound like.
Instrument sounds on the other hand can be more difficult to evaluate as either human- or machine-made. Software instruments have come a long way and if treated properly and sitting in a mix, you would not think that it is not a real musician playing the actual instrument. But still, a real person is programming the virtual instrument to sound real and human, resulting in a sort of cyborg musician.
The gap is certainly narrowing, and the next step is to be AI-generated music. AI has actually already been implemented in several industry-standard music production tools such as Logic, Pro Tools, and others but on a relatively small scale in assisting functions such as detecting tempos, helping adjust a mix, generating a drum loop (ok, maybe not that simple, but still far from android Mozart), etc. But the fully-fledged autonomous AI-powered end-to-end music creation tools are well on their way.
Looking more specifically at the sonic branding side of things, attempts at using AI technology to create brand music that companies can use in advertising, at conferences, for HR purposes, and so on exist today. And because sound and music for sonic branding purposes will often not include human voices, the threat of AI composition seems imminent for our business.
No need to worry (yet)
However, the main issue with the existing AI-driven end-to-end tools is that they simply do not sound human enough. A lot of the sounds have a certain artificial timbre to them, the arrangements are often unbalanced, and a lot of the melodies do not make much sense – the music does simply not sound natural enough to the human ear and lacks emotion. It is however possible to manually mend some of these flaws to a certain degree, but then the efficiency argument of using these services over a sonic branding agency is kind of out the window.
It really does not matter if a computer or a human has made the music you are listening to, and you can certainly make a computer generate a piece of music for your branding purpose, but as for now, AI is nowhere near having the ability to create brand sound and music that is equally meaningful and tailored as that made by a human and especially by a professional sonic branding agency like yours truly. The sound and music will be less authentic to the brand, and the musical fit will be too loose, so to say. The same goes for stock music libraries and their generic “one fits all” approach. It is simply not suitable when it comes to sonic identities, which will always be highly individual to each brand.
Humans know human aesthetics and needs, and on top of that comes the continuous communication between brand and agency and the creative, iterative process, that we put a lot of care into. Not to mention strategy, creative concept, implementation which are cornerstones in sonic branding and is mainly about communication between real people.
In creating a sonic identity for a brand, the ability to deeply interpret human emotions and expressions is crucial, but it may just be a matter of time before technology catches up and cracks the code.