Warner Music CEO Dusts Off His YouTube Chops for AI: “There’s a Very Clear Analogy to UGC”

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Warner Music CEO discusses the future of AI in the music industry

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Photo Credit: Steve Johnson

Warner Music CEO Robert Kyncl warns that AI will massively impact the music industry next year. He calls the technology a ‘genie that can’t be put back in a bottle,’ though the ex-YouTube has been through this battle before — sort of. Here’s Kyncl’s reassuring ‘we got this’ message.

The Warner exec spoke at the Code Conference this week, discussing the increasing number of tracks created using AI technologies. “Look, you have to embrace the technology because it’s not like you can put technology in a bottle—like the genie is not going back in,” Kyncl told the crowd of listeners. Instead, he says the industry must address the rightsholder issues that come along with AI technology.

“There’s a very clear analogy to user-generated content—we have a blueprint for this,” Kyncl says. YouTube’s current licensing agreement was born when the platform found itself in hot water for its millions of hours of user-generated content that coincidentally contained copyrighted works. Kyncl should know, he spent 12 years at YouTube’s Chief Business Officer before joining Warner in January 2023.

He was instrumental in helping the platform build its Content ID software, which tracks copyrighted material on the platform. Taking notes from that experience is the way to deal with AI, he says. “We built a multibillion-dollar business, which now is a multibillion-dollar business per year. It was an incredible revenue stream for everyone. AI is that, with new super tools. We need to approach it with the same thoughtfulness and we have to make sure that artists have a choice.”

Kyncl emphasizes that artists who aren’t keen to have their voice replicated for user-generated content must be free to opt-out. However, those who do (like Grimes) embrace AI technology may see themselves become a creative brand beyond just a single mind collaborating with friends and colleagues. Anyone in their bedroom can prompt an AI with strings of text.

Warner Music is focused on working with content platforms like Spotify, YouTube, and TikTok to help define the rules of how AI music should be compensated. “Name, image likeness, and voice should have the same protections as copyright and the same simple protections as copyright, but it will take time,” Kyncl says. “I believe it will get there, but it will take time. And in the meantime, we’ll work with the distribution platforms collaboratively to run ahead of that.”