Few are the people more worried about how they might (not) fit in to an AI-curated future than people in bands. This is because musicians, historically, have been cautious of seismic change within their industry. It was feared the advent of recorded sound might bring an end to live music. Home taping. Drum machines. Sampling. Spoti… well, okay, yes: they may have a point with that last one. But really, AI is just another thing for a next generation to ingeniously co-opt and turn to their advantage,
I thought of how this might be possible when Queen, late last week, announced a full scale tour by their “official” tribute act Queen Extravaganza. For what are tribute acts if not a primitive, beta version of AI? There is no record of who the first ever of their kind was, but you can bet your bottom dollar the manager of whichever band they were doing an impression of was sitting behind a desk snarling, “Well hang on a bloody minute.”
Sending envoys out into the wild playing what you want played, while you sit at home, is pretty genius
“Band members are used on a rotating basis from our ever increasing pool of musicians,” it reads at the foot of the poster: the “our” there being the surviving members of Queen. As far as I know they are the first to do this. Yes, plenty of tribute acts may get a nod of approval. But being fully involved, sending envoys out into the wild playing what you want played, in the way you want it played, while you sit at home staring at the stars through a telescope, is a relatively new idea. And a pretty genius one too.
The obvious comeback to this is, “Well yes, but one needs to have a catalogue as formidable as Queen’s before one can reasonably have a tribute band.” But… why? Why not anoint your own understudies the minute you have that first viral smash? Would it not, if you had a copycat act in each European city, be a smart way of sidestepping all that catastrophically complex Brexit red tape?
It’s got to be worth thinking about. And on another Queen-related matter: AI will never be able to write Bohemian Rhapsody. Any group of humans that can, meanwhile, will not starve, because people will always want to bellow along to such majesty: no matter, perhaps, who might be playing it.
Hamish MacBain is deputy editor of ES Magazine