by Julian Schmauch | 1,6 / 5,0 | Approximate reading time: 3 Minutes
First virtual rapper signed to major label: are real bands in trouble?

First virtual rapper signed to major label: are real bands in trouble?  ·  Source: Capitol Records

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FN Meka is the first virtual rapper signed to a major label. Capitol Records recently announced signing the “AI-powered robot rapper”. The record label is part of the biggest of the three major labels, Universal. FN Meka has amassed over ten million followers on Tik Tok since starting out in April of 2019. His first single was released August 12, 2022.

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Update (August 24, 2022): According to a new report by the New York Times, FN Meka has been dropped by Capitol Records after growing backlash. Industry Blackout, a movement to strengthen the rights of people from the Black community working in sports and entertainment, had posted an open letter, in which they accused Capitol Records of being unaware “how offensive this caricature is.” They further stated that “[FN Meka] is a direct insult to the Black community and our culture.” Shortly after, Capitol Records issued a statement with a public apology. They went on to declare that ties with the FN Meka project had been severed, effective immediately.

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FN Meka: First AI rapper

Back in April 2021 Music Business Worldwide first reported on the AI rapper. At that time, FN Meka already had over nine million followers in Tik Tok. His videos had been watched over one billion times.

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The rapper/avatar was developed by self-proclaimed first virtual record label “Factory New”. Co-founder Anthony Martini explained in an interview with Music Business Worldwide that FN Meka is the result of gathering “thousands thousands of data points compiled from video games and social media.”

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In addition, almost everything about FN Meka’s music is virtual and generated by algorithms. Martini further explained that Factory New uses a proprietary AI technology to analyze pop songs. Through this, lyrics, chords, melodies, tempo and even sounds are generated. The label then creates songs based on these suggestions.

Virtual artist – real vocals

The only human contribution to the tracks are the vocals. But it comes to no surprise that Factory New is already working on something in this department. According to Martini, his company is getting close to readying artificial vocal technology that sounds convincing enough to be used in a song. There are a number of advantages of signing a virtual artist, Martini further explained. He is never sick and always on time for concerts. He or she never ages. That way fans will be able to maintain their initial connection much longer.

In addition, a virtual artist and its avatar will be owned in its entirety by the record company. Martini used the recent public war-of-words between Taylor Swift and Scooter Braun as a counter-example. A virtual artist would never engage in any public negativity. Also, any type of brand cooperation can be guided and decided by the record company. Which seems to be part of Capitol Record’s thinking. The record label is part of the world’s biggest major label Universal and houses heavyweights such as ABBA, die Beastie Boys, Halsey, Katey Perry, Neil Diamond, Paul McCartney and Sam Smith.

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FN Meka’s first release “Florida Waters” on Capitol Records came out on August 12, 2022. The track is a collaboration with US rapper Gunna, whose last two albums both shot to number one on the charts, and professional Fortnite gamer Clix. The track was produced by Turbo, who was the producer behind many beats for Travis Scott, Young Thug and Lil Baby. 

What are your thoughts on this? Is the age of virtual artists upon us? Must bands and other artists fear that no one shows up at their shows anymore? Let us know in the comments!

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First virtual rapper signed to major label: are real bands in trouble?

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19 responses to “Update: First virtual rapper signed to major label – FN Meka has been dropped”

    Rasmus says:
    9

    A new approach to minimizing novelty and innovation in the music industry – using artificial intelligence to make sure the audience is not challenged, surprised or have there ears opened to new sonic space.

      Luk says:
      0

      Exectly that. They make everything simple so that everyone can do it, then you have market drawning in the ocean of same **** and gues who will sell? The corporations with bigest budget on marketing. EZ

    Nigel says:
    3

    The dehumanisation of the arts, one of the quintessentially human qualities, is so unidealistic that it’s appalling. Mainstream music as we know it is one thing. But auto-generating music from the condensed average of all that is out there on the Internet is the direct route to a bland dystopian musical landscape that no one really wants realised; in an imagined scenario where we’d see more and more of these ‘artists’, mainstream music would digitally bounce off itself and thus move ever further down the literal mainstream to the point where everything would sound identical. Hooray for a blander world.

      die beastie boys says:
      0

      But the thing is, a lot of music–with rap in-particular getting a bad…rap…lately–already sounds identical. And that type of music often comes from artists who are actually trying to create something unique. Let alone all the musicians and labels purposefully trying to formulate hit songs. And people are already dehumanizing their music with perfect editing, automation, auto-tune, perfect quantization etc. I don’t think AI and avatars in music is a bad thing. It depends on how it is used. This meka character is not a creative use.

    Diki Ross says:
    0

    The logical endgame of labels ripping off artists… axe the artist altogether.

    I wonder if the trend towards making humans sound and play like robots is starting to look like it was the bad idea I have always thought it was?

    38 Cents says:
    -3

    Probably more intelligent and musically challenging than most other rap.

    Chip says:
    2

    Real bands have been in trouble for a long time now. Having to compete with ‘curated’ artists for a few thousand dollars per million streams, and being in debt from the get-go to their labels.

    The record industry just can’t stop twisting the knife…

    die beastie boys says:
    0

    The AI music part isn’t a big deal. Neither is the avatar a big deal. There are many artists creating new and interesting music using AI and generative techniques. There are also people producing drab and uninteresting, uninspired music without using AI. We also already have bands like Gorillaz and software like Hatsune Miku (HM isn’t widely appreciated, but people are using vocaloid tech to create interesting, albeit niche stuff). The difference with this “rapper” is that it’s disingenuous. It’s kind of ironic. It’s one thing if someone were to create something like this with the intent of creating something new and interesting. I think it could be done. But for a big corporate entity to come out and openly state that they intend to create something purposefully inauthentic with no artistic intention is not the way to do it.

    I don’t think anything like this will hold water, particularly in N. America. People here are obsessed with a semblance of authenticity. As for the concerns of the record industry, such as negative publicity and aging artists, I think the K-pop industry has that sort of thing locked down. But even S. Korean fans don’t always like when it goes too far, and the labels are increasingly becoming more charitable and forgiving when their idols don’t perform like perfect robot puppets. K-pop fans generally understand the way the industry works, that it’s kind of an artificial Barbie-Ken reality TV spectacle. Even so, there’s a reason why less talented K-pop idols with unique personalities are vastly more popular than the ones who lack personality but are far-and-away more talented in singing, dancing, etc. There’s a reason why K-pop fans feel so connected to the idols. At the end of the day, they are real people, they really do train intensively, they really are exerting themselves and performing in the physical world, and they have real personalities. Weirdly animated 3D avatars just aren’t endearing. Even V-tubers are real people behind the veil.

    Mike Moreau says:
    0

    Its rap. Just about anyone or anything can write that junk. Let’s see AI write a symphony.

      die beastie boys says:
      0

      I don’t know about symphonies specifically, but there are already people experimenting with AI to create classical pieces.

      Every few years, something like meka creates a buzz about AI taking over music, but it never happens the way people think. If you ask me, it has already taken over a large number of people’s listening tastes and choices in the form of streaming algorithms funneling certain artists into every playlist, and the countless “cleverly titled” spotify playlists that have virtually the exact same track listing.

      I also find it interesting that many of the supposed culprits in the AI take-over have actually had longevity. Hatsune Miku is the most prominent example. But HM has a lot more going for it than this FN. HM was a legitimate creative project that was and continues to be innovative, despite not taking over the music industry or even being very popular amongst anyone but weebs and breakcore-heads. FN is just some corporate, clout-chasing scheme (not even sure how to spell clout lol). At this point, I’m convinced that it wasn’t even intended to go anywhere. Seems like they got the publicity they wanted so that they will now be mentioned as an aside every time someone does something musical with AI.

      bc says:
      0

      ai has been generating music in the style of well known European composers for some time. just google “AI generated Bach”. 20 years ago “Band in a Box” was generating jazz solos in the style of specific famous players. There’s nothing about a style of music that makes it more or less amenable to AI. If it has a style then it can be learned by a person or a computer.

      Rocky Dennis says:
      0

      And here, Mike Moreau has decided to announce his world his utter contempt for African-American culture.

      ram says:
      0

      My company has an AI that can compose in pretty much any style (except rap), and that includes symphonies.

        Mike Moreau says:
        0

        For what purpose? This is my sole question concerning AI. What is the end game? Honestly, for me, it looks like its purpose is to remove humanity from everything to increase profit for capitalists. Remove the composer and musicians so someone can make more profit. Remove the human at a kiosk and replace it with AI. Remove the cashier from the grocery store and replace it with AI. Remove the human at the call centre and replace it with AI. This is not improving the customer experience at all, but it is cutting labour costs so big money can get even richer and more people will have trouble finding work.

        If the true purpose of AI was to be used in space exploration, then that would be something altogether different. But from what it looks like, it is just another attempt at replacing the human worker for profit.

      Ewan says:
      0

      Orchestral film and TV music already sounds like it could be generated from machine learning. It’s the media composers who should be worried..

    mehdi says:
    0

    it’s not open source AI? why bother?
    Stable diffusion for music is WIP (not soon though)

    Jumadda says:
    1

    The thing is, as an artist, my job is to express the otherwise inexpressible. And that involves breaking out of formulaic constraints, and challenging my understanding on a relatively constant basis. Our Industry musics are so formulaic they may as well be made by robots. All this does is shine the light on who the real artists are. The bot got a billion views because its novelty, not cuz it resonated with anyone’s soul. And when the novelty wears off, then what will we have? The circle goes round n round

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