Is being human still a prerequisite for being an ‘artist’?
We don’t mean the ability to display humanity. We quite literally mean: does an artist really need to be a human to be considered an actual artist, who can perform and record music, generate streams, market singles and albums, and build a fanbase?
The answer to that question, according to Anthony Martini, co-founder of ‘virtual’ record label Factory New, is no.
Factory New describes itself as a “first of its kind, next-generation music company, specializing in virtual beings”. Its roster is comprised exclusively of virtual artists.
The firm’s first ‘signing’ was AI-powered robot rapper, FN Meka, who has 9 million followers (and over a billion views) on TikTok.
Technically speaking FN Meka is voiced by a human. But as you’ll learn here, everything else about him – from his lyrics to the chords and tempo underpinning his music – is based on AI.
And Factory New believes its tech may soon be able to do away with the requirement for a Homo Sapien performer altogether.
“Not to get all philosophical,” Martini tells MBW, “but what is an ‘artist’ today? Think about the biggest stars in the world. How many of them are just vessels for commercial endeavors?”
If fans only ever see their favorite artists on screens anyway, Martini questions, then what difference does it make if those artists are real people or avatars?
In addition to using Artificial Intelligence to make the music released by its artists, Factory New uses Augmented Reality to create the content for TikTok and and decentralized finance models to sell digital goods.
“Think about the biggest stars in the world. How many of them are just vessels for commercial endeavors?”
The label recently launched crypto-rapper Lil Bitcoin‘s debut single I Love Bitcoin on March 26 as a ‘1 of 1 NFT’, while FN Meka sold a piece of digital artwork – ‘a super toilet’ – as an NFT, for $6,500.
“It’s probably the first time in history that an artist is dropping an NFT before releasing actual music but these are the types of rule-breaking models we’re embracing,” adds Martini, commenting on the Lil Bitcoin release.
Martini, the founder of Commission Records, has experience of traditional artist development, having signed and/or worked with artists like Tyga, Lil Dicky and Madeintyo during his career. (These days, in addition to his work at Factory New, he’s the CEO of online royalty-selling platform, Royalty Exchange.)
Martini’s partner at Factory New, Brandon Le, has designed some of the most popular video game ‘skins’ on the market.
MBW explored the link between developments in AI, virtual artists and the rising value of songs in a widely-shared analysis last month, in which we asked if we’re currently witnessing “the death of the artist”.
We noted that Roy LaManna, CEO of digital distribution and services company Vydia – which has worked with Kanye West, Akon, Post Malone and Lil Pump and now, Factory New – prophetically commented on this very topic in an interview with MBW last summer.
“Think about it,” he said, at the time. “The virtual likeness of an artist; it doesn’t get old, it doesn’t get angry, it doesn’t argue with you.
“You look at Scooter Braun and Taylor Swift bringing that [personal fallout] to the surface; if Taylor wasn’t doing that, no-one would know about that situation and no-one would care. So what if Taylor wasn’t an artist, but an avatar? Basically a corporately-owned video game character.”
Here, Anthony Martini, co-founder of Factory New, tells MBW below about the concept behind his new label, its virtual artists and the company’s future goals…
How did FN Meka come to be?
Factory New is a media company focused solely on virtual and digital talent, there will be no human artists on our roster. Our first character is FN Meka, an AI driven robot rapper. He was created using thousands of data points compiled from video games and social media.
“Even with all the money labels devote to finding talent, the success rate is a pitiful 1%. Now we can literally custom-create artists using elements proven to work, greatly increasing the odds of success.”
Anthony MArtini, Factory New
The old model of finding talent is inefficient and unreliable. It requires spending time scouring the internet, traveling to shows, flying to meetings, expending resources all in search of the magic combination of qualities that just might translate into a superstar act.
Even with all the money labels devote to finding talent, the success rate is a pitiful 1%. Now we can literally custom-create artists using elements proven to work, greatly increasing the odds of success.
Even if we can get to 2% success rate then we’ve doubled the industry standard.
Can you explain the basics of the AI process that leads to each recording? How are the lyrics written, how are they performed etc.?
We’ve developed a proprietary AI technology that analyzes certain popular songs of a specified genre and generates recommendations for the various elements of song construction: lyrical content, chords, melody, tempo, sounds, etc. We then combine these elements to create the song.
As of now, a human voice performs the vocals, but we are working towards the ability to have a computer come up with and perform its own words – and even collaborate with other computers as “co-writers”.
What’s the ambition here; with the number of TikTok views already attracted, is there an opportunity for a chart / audio streaming crossover?
Anyone that has kids knows the future is virtual, and Factory New is creating celebrities for that world. TikTok has been an amazing platform for us. In less than a year, we’ve gained over 9 million followers which has led to a ton of opportunities from brand partnerships to artist collaborations.
“Our artists aren’t limited by the human form, so as a company, we don’t want to be limited by traditional business models either.”
We’ve recently been in talks with their execs about some interesting things you’ll hear about soon. As the lines between the physical and virtual world blur further, we don’t think there will be much of a distinction between the two.
Our artists will definitely have chart and streaming success, but we want to be more dynamic than that. Our artists aren’t limited by the human form, so as a company, we don’t want to be limited by traditional business models either.
We’ve often written about the concept of ‘robot stars’ in a world where hits seem to be more important than artists. What’s your view on the likelihood of that development in the future?
If a song is good, people will listen to it. Maybe the fact that it’s made by a robot makes it even more interesting. Not to get all philosophical but, what is an “artist” today? Think about the biggest stars in the world. How many of them are just vessels for commercial endeavors?
“Most hits are written by teams of people who get paid to make music that will “sell”. We think machines can eventually run this process more efficiently than humans.”
Most hits are written by teams of people who get paid to make music that will “sell”. We think machines can eventually run this process more efficiently than humans. How many fans ever actually meet the stars they idolize anyway?
People’s fandom develops from digital images on screens projecting expertly designed content – who actually knows with certainty whats real and whats not? If the content is good enough, do people even care how it’s made?Music Business Worldwide