The end of music

This week, KISS was in the news for selling not only the rights to their full back catalogue, which isn’t too unusual for major bands or musicians approaching their end-of-life, but also their full IP. Now, the concept of KISS is owned by a Swedish company, the same that is responsible for the hologram-based ABBA shows in London.

It might seem a bit surprising that ‘KISS’ is a tradable concept, something like this, at this scale, was bound to happen at some point, specifically given the hypercapitalisation our society has been going through since the financial crisis of 2008.

Conceptually this is not a new type of development; KISS is now sharing the same commercial corner as The Gorillas, which is a band without any humans, as well as pretty much every k-pop act, where the human members are simply contracted to perform a role, and can see their contract cancelled at any time, when the owners of the related IP decide its time, or when the individual member misbehaves, gets too old, or are just not popular enough with the audience at large.

So, KISS forking over the rights to their product for upwards of 300 million shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, even if this is the first at this scale (that I’m aware of).

However, this event also accelerates the commercialisation of the production of consumable media, as if this hadn’t been commercialised enough, yet. Now, ‘KISS’ can keep on producing music forever. And, as a recognised global brand name, it will be much easier to sell new music by ‘KISS’ than it would be if the same song would be performed by an as-yet-unknown, up-and-coming, band from who-knows-where.

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Worse, with the immense progress of machine learning, AI, in the last few years, Pophouse Entertainment, the company now owning the KISS brand, doesn’t even have to employ humans anymore to even write, produce, and record new songs; Just train an ‘AI’ on the KISS back catalogue, and produce an infinite number of new songs, one every 6 months, say. Then, also using AI, produce a music video, Tik Tok shorts, Instagram reels, and whatever you might want in the future, at negligible cost. These will be guaranteed money makers, because the cost of producing more will be marginal.

In fact, the complete process could be, completely, automated, such that, even after an upcoming global nuclear apocalypse kills all humans, but leaves a computer network intact, KISS can still create new songs every few months, for Twitter and Tik Tok bots to keep commenting, resharing, and remixing the work.

Already, the complete back catalogue of artists like Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen are tradable commodities. When the opportunities the deal which KISS made become clearer to major performers, we are likely to see more of them. We will never get rid of The Rolling Stones, Guns ’n’ Roses, AC/DC, you name it. Indeed, even The Beatles recently released a new song with the help of machine learning.

And, as a consequence, new music from new artists will become even more marginalised than it already is. Sure, as it has been for years, musicians, new and old, have access to a global market through platforms like Spotify and Tik Tok, but because these platforms are not actual markets, but manipulated by the platform owners to serve their own interests, the odds are perpetually stacked against them, in favor of alternatives that are known to be successful, or are backed by big money in order to make them successful.

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A few years ago, a Dutch team used sophisticated tech, which we would now call AI, to produce a new Rembrandt painting based on an AI model having been trained on the master’s paintings. This was spectacular, but also multiple lifetimes ago. Or rather, just 8 years.

Also a lifetime ago, that is, four years, researchers used machine learning to train an ‘AI’ on Eurovision songs, creating the rather hilarious Blue Jeans and Bloody Tears. It should have been performed at Eurovision.

Now, using the similar processes, for all intents and purposes, this will be the end of new music.