Outlook: AI, metadata & the future of production music
Julia Trainor
Issue: November/December 2023

Outlook: AI, metadata & the future of production music

If there’s anything 2023 has taught us in production music, it’s that change is the only constant. This, of course, is true of any part of an entertainment industry impacted by strikes, artificial intelligence and an increasingly-connected world.
We shift. We adapt. We move forward. We ditch the gloom-and-doom mindset and kick ass. From our perspective, the future of production music is bright for those willing to embrace these three trends.
AI is here to stay, but will not replace humans in music

As with most other industries, generative AI will continue to impact the music world, but as a supplement rather than a job-killer. The death of music supervision or composing as a career path is far from imminent. 

Not convinced? Think of a song that resonates with you emotionally and try to explain ‘why’ it makes you feel that way? Why does Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” bring tears to someone’s eyes? The answer is subjective — different people hear the same sounds and feel differently. AI also doesn’t explain ‘how’ the music elicits emotion. Even if you could somehow qualify it with language, how would you communicate something so abstract to a computer? How do you write code to recognize – let alone replicate – emotional resonance? Right now, you simply can’t. 
The best AI can do today is predict how music might make us feel, and categorize it based on metadata that ‘must’ be created by humans. And from what we’ve seen, even simple AI-based tagging tools for songs are far from perfect. It will be a while before artificial intelligence does much beyond streamline office tasks in the music industry.
Metadata will be vital as globalization continues

Since the advent of streaming, our industry has experienced a paradox, as the world both shrinks and diversifies. The globalization of content continues, and production music libraries have responded to this need by creating location-specific music that reflects the cultures and music styles in those regions. Need some Guatemalan folk? Check. Korean-sung hip hop? Check. A trailer with Ukrainian vocals? You get the point. But all that’s for nothing if you can’t find the music. The answer is in the metadata. If a track uses a zurna, your metadata better have the word “Turkey” in there. The specificity and thoughtfulness behind keywords are more important than ever. Those companies that excel at location-based data will be most successful.
Customization tools are clutch in serving an ever-growing range of content creators

With a whopping 91 percent of all businesses using video as a marketing tool today (Wyzowl), the range of productions underway at any given time has both grown and changed dramatically. To reach and adequately serve all of these content creators, production music companies need to offer tools that allow them to customize music use without breaking the bank.

Those that provide stems and alt versions (just to name two) will come in clutch. A stem is an isolated instrument track from any given piece of music, while an alt version is a pre-edited version of a track offering variation in its length, tone or arrangement. Need your cut to maybe start with just a bass pulse for more suspense and switch to more instruments later? This is where stems and alt versions are helpful. Both of these tools give editors a budget-friendly way to tweak licensed music to their projects’ unique needs.   

Julia Trainor is Music Supervisor/Head of Sync A&R at Alibi Music (https://alibimusic.com), a leading provider of licensed music & SFX for trailers, promos, network programming, advertising, branded content, video games and all forms of multimedia.