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AI-Music Arms Race: Meet Udio, the Other ChatGPT for Music

Just last year, many experts believed an AI model capable of generating complete, high-fidelity songs from text prompts wouldn’t arrive anytime soon,  but now, an arms race is on between competing music-making models that do just that.  Suno‘s v3 model, released to the public just weeks ago, was a remarkable breakthrough, particularly in realistic, human-sounding vocals — and today, a formidable new competitor arrives via the just-launched start-up Udio. The two companies’ output seems closely comparable, though some early users have suggested that on average, Udio‘s output may sound crisper than Suno‘s, with less of the sonic fuzziness that can betray tracks’ machine-created origins. 

Udio’s product came together remarkably quickly after its founding last December by four former researchers at Google’s AI-research wing, DeepMind. They’re backed by a range of tech heavyweights, including 16z (a.k.a. Andreesen Horowitz) and Instagram co-founder and CTO Mike Krieger. “We were very well supported from the day we took investment,” says one of the company’s co-founders, Andrew Sanchez. “So the technical co-founders were sort of able to hit the ground running because we could get that all going pretty quickly.”

There are some notable music names on Udio’s list of early investors as well, including Common, producer Tay Keith, industry vet Steve Stoute’s United Masters, and Will.i.am. In a press release, Will.i.am, who’s long been an evangelist for AI’s musical possibilities, was effusive about the company’s product: “This is a brand-new Renaissance and Udio is the tool for this era’s creativity,” said the artist, who was consulted during the development of the product. “With Udio you are able to pull songs into existence via AI and your imagination.”

Though neither company will directly confirm or deny it, there is substantial reason to believe that both Udio and Suno were trained on copyrighted music, without permission, a practice recently decried in an open letter from the Artists Rights Alliance, signed by artists from Stevie Wonder to Billie Eilish. The group reiterated its stance in a new statement to Rolling Stone. “Using artists’ work without consent, credit and compensation is not only unethical and irresponsible and destructive of cultural gifts, but also illegal,” said Jen Jacobsen, Executive Director Artist Rights Alliance. (The question of whether copyrighted material can legally be used to train AIs is currently being decided in various court cases.) “The Artist Rights Alliance urges AI platforms to turn back from this reckless path and, if they fail to do so, we urge rights-holders to take prompt legal action to stop them.”

In Rolling Stone‘s use of a pre-release beta version of Udio, the service produced two separate songs in a single day that were clearly using a voice that was all but indistinguishable from the late Tom Petty‘s. “We do have a filter in place to detect cases where the voice sounds too similar to some existing artists,” says co-founder David Ding. “Of course, this filter is not perfect. It’s also an AI system, and we are going to continue iterating on it. But it definitely is not intended.” Udio may have future plans of offering voice clones more officially, however  — the company’s press release mentions an impending scheme to give artists “financial control over their voice likenesses.”

Unlike Suno, which is focused on putting music-making tools into the hands of average consumers, Udio also sees itself as a tool for musicians, and the founders say its creative abilities along those lines should ease creators’ concerns about their use of training data. “We have been guided by musical people from the outset,” says Sanchez, “and what that means is that we’re making a product which is going to enable those folks to create great music and, to be clear, to make money off of that music in the future.” Sanchez emphasizes his belief that the company’s output is “transformative” — that, in other words, the model is making something new out of its training data, an argument that ChatGPT is also using in its current court cases over its use of copyrighted material.

Trending

An AI blues song that Rolling Stone created with Suno’s v3 went viral last month; above is a competing effort from Udio. We used the prompt “solo acoustic Mississippi Delta Blues about a sad AI” — like Suno, Udio calls out to OpenAI’s ChatGPT via API to write lyrics unless you provide some of your own. We also asked Suno and Udio to produce diss tracks about each other; here are those results.

Suno currently generates two-minute-long music clips from its prompts. Udio is more customizable but also perhaps less intuitive to use, starting with 30-second segments that can be extended to users’ specifications. There are even more fine-grained controls that the company is already privately offering to musicians, and co-founder Sanchez says that any creators concerned about the company reach out to them. “We’re open for business,” he says. “Ring us up. We would love to talk and we’ll get you in there and then you’ll see, ‘Oh, wow. This actually is cool. And I’m less scared of it now because I feel like I’m a master of it.’”

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