Three power couples to watch in 2024

Ran Geffen Levy

MBW Views is a series of exclusive op/eds from eminent music industry people… with something to say. The following op/ed comes from Ran Geffen Levy, Founder of, which provides insights to music tech start-ups, companies and VCs. He is also the CEO of Amusica Song Management in Israel.

The AI frenzy reached a fever pitch in late 2023, with stakeholders clamoring to make their voices heard before the EU’s provisional AI regulations dropped on December 9.

But the truth is that 2023 merely set the stage for 2024’s main event: the finalization of the AI governance bill.

In an uncertain landscape, where the rules around compensating copyright holders for data used to train AI remain unclear, an unlikely alliance has emerged between Big Music and Big Tech.

Though wary of each other, these giants have entered into a mutually beneficial partnership – “frenemies with benefits” – in a race to dominate the emerging AI space.

Here are three power couples (and three eligible singles) to watch in the AI race in 2024.

UMG x Alphabet: 

The Universal Music Group-Alphabet alliance [via its deal with YouTube in August 2023] shows legacy giants joining forces against the AI threat. Alphabet gains a content kingmaker in UMG to train its AI and draw creators. UMG gets to shape the AI music explosion while monetizing its catalog. It’s a mutually beneficial blockade against disruptors, letting them stack the deck and, more importantly, boost the price of their stock.

UMG needs to protect the value of its assets and is determined to provide the building blocks of the future Cambrian explosion of AI-based User Generated Music (UGM) creators. UMG’s BandLab deal is just the beginning of an ambitious journey to become AI music’s everything.

Google is in a race against time to protect its prime real estate. It needs to turn the search bar into an AI-powered Everything Bar. Recently, people have been given the ability to generate images directly from their search bar. Why not music?

While Google is being sued for unlicensed data scraping, UMG is suing Anthropic (which recently secured $2 billion from Google) for scraping its data without a license, which Google deems as “fair use”. To work together, they need a DMZ in the shape of UMG x YouTube’s incubator that will give entrepreneurs a lawsuit-free space to develop the next music generation, creation and monetization platforms boosted by the expertise of UMG’s A-list artists.

Alphabet’s technology and reach combined with the repertoire of Universal will enable the creation of a fully licensed “Universal Alphabet” of AI-based music.

At this point, no one knows what the legislation around generative AI, image, voice, and likeness will be. UMG is fighting on behalf of artists for fair compensation. Regardless of the results, they will still have co-ownership of the startups developed in the incubator, which would enable UMG to generate income. UMG’s shareholders cannot lose.

Warner x ByteDance

WMG’s partnership with TikTok, announced in July 2023, is truly “first of its kind”. Never has there been a time when the leaders of the biggest disruptor in the music industry have met with ex-leaders of its main competitors to maximize revenue together. 

How do you maximize revenue? According to WMG CEO Robert Kyncl, “focusing on revenue per user is a very, very important part of what the industry needs to do”. The deal with TikTok has given WMG a “wealth of insights” from the billion users of TikTok just before they are converted to TikTok music subscribers and more notably TikTokShop clients, securing golden ring seats to their artists for monetization options to superfans.

China-headquartered ByteDance, with a state-of-the-art consumer-focused AI, can bring WMG’s artists immediate results before you can say TikTok.

To successfully manage “additional and alternative economic models”, Kyncl and his team could provide invaluable insights from their experience building YouTube’s Content ID and upsell algorithms to create, together with ByteDance, a system that would manage TikTok’s vision of Ubiquitous Service. This will enable the WMG team to have a real say about how music-related rights owners would be compensated across TikTok’s music and commerce ecosystem.

TikTok’s Global Head of Music Business Development, Ole Obermann broke down TikTok’s targets to lead in: discovery, promotion, engagement, consumption, live, merch, tickets, and live-streaming. Kyncl’s plan for the “Next 10” is “to be the best of both worlds: Music and Technology, Global and Local, Scale and Speed, Data and Instinct, Individual Talent and Collective Impact…Today and Tomorrow”. 

Today, most WMG artists are human. Tomorrow, some of their superstars will be digital. Superfans will always be human with a desire to own a piece of their star regardless of whether they are human or digital. WMG’s shareholders cannot lose.

Microsoft x Meta: 

The “once in a lifetime” collaboration deal announced between Microsoft and Meta Platforms around AI was described, by Jeff Teper, President of Microsoft Collaborative Apps and Platforms, as a partnership “to deliver immersive experiences for the future of work and play”.

The combined ecosystem of MS-Meta harnesses the power of billions of daily active users, seamlessly intertwining professional and leisurely interactions across a vast social media landscape, active marketplaces and gaming across all platforms and devices. Both companies have deployed generative AI tools to facilitate creation and generate sales and interaction. To stay at the top of the game, they need “vast troves of content” to facilitate the booming creator economy. To enable premium content, they need music. Lots of it.

Both companies have created music generation tools as an open-source ecosystem. Meta’s AudioCraft was trained on 10,000 hours of music fully licensed or owned by Meta and can generate music and sound effects using text prompts. Microsoft’s Muzik can do all of the above and generate lyrics, adjust pitch and duration to arrange the music, create a synthetic singing voice and mix the recording. The origins of the training data are unclear.

The combination of Microsoft, the number 2 gaming company in the world that owns “the building blocks for the Metaverse”, and the one that rebranded itself as Meta and dominated the VR device market, puts them in a position to create the global definition of the Metaverse and, by proxy, the future value of music.

Meta’s commitment to creators was made very clear in the first-ever Creator Week on Instagram, held in 2021 by Mark Zuckerberg: “I think that any good vision of the future has to involve a lot more people being able to make a living by expressing their creativity and by doing things they want to do, rather than things they have to — and having the tools and the economy to support their work is critical. Our goal is to be the best platform for creators like you to make a living.”

What will the future look like for human music creators? The definition of the latter is changing as you are reading this. I created music using a variety of AI tools (including Suno via MS Copilot) and I am human. Do I fall under the category of a “real artist”? I have also created Video images and scripts using AI. Am I the new Renaissance man? MS-Meta bets that all of us will want to become one.

In that case, there is a golden opportunity for Zuckerberg and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to create the “DaVinci Project” – A house for independent AI-powered human creators, with a new creator-centric business model that could drive their ambition to lead the future renaissance of the creator economy. Bringing the current music industry on board is optional.

Three Singles 

Sony Corp is playing a game of its own. It’s the number one gaming company in the world, ranked number two in sales of VR devices, manufactures hardware, owns a vast library of film and TV assets, has an army of virtual YouTubers, and [operates] the second [recorded] music company in the world. Its headquarters are located in AI data training heaven and it has a dedicated AI arm committed to “unleashing human imagination and creativity with AI”.

They have the tools to do everything, in-house, based on their human talents and proprietary technology. Their innovation fund has invested in Woovly, a social shopping network that has the look and feel of TikTok Shop, Defined AI, a marketplace for buying and selling AI data, tools and models and that is the shortlist. Endless possibilities.

Amazon is playing with everyone. Partnering with Google in their investment in Anthropic,  deploying Microsoft 365 productivity tools across their cloud service, and providing AWS services to Apple. Amazon Music is linked to the feed of TikTok. It has extensive relationships with all the players in the music industry across Twitch and Amazon Music.

While the company does not own music rights it owns the priceless answers to the five Ws that would be the next focus of the music industry: Who bought What, Where and When they bought it, and Why. When, if and under what terms they will share it with the music industry can reshuffle the deck.

Apple needs a game plan. It is moving beyond iPhones and is about to integrate AI into its apps. Microsoft is breathing down its neck to become the most valuable company in the US and Sam Altman is working with Jony Ive, Apple’s ex-iPhone Design Chief, to create an alternative. Apple needs to stop them or at least slow them down.

One way to do it is to take a different approach to data training and offer to write big cheques to news publishers while the New York Times is suing OpenAI and Microsoft for not writing one. If and when Apple writes a cheque to a music company for the right to train AI modules on their data they could be saving the music industry from the peril of “fair use” just like they did when they launched iTunes.

But what would happen if music companies were paid an annual fee for data training? Music companies would be worth a whole lot, with more money to distribute to their artists and shareholders. Who will get what? That is in the hands of the major players of the music industry and theirs alone.Music Business Worldwide

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