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IMS’ Ben Turner on the future of electronic music

"AI is going to eat us all alive unless we learn to play with it and control it," the International Music Summit co-founder tells IQ

By James Hanley on 20 Apr 2023

The latest IMS Business Report illustrates the scale of the damage to the electronic music industry in 2020

International Music Summit (IMS) co-founder Ben Turner has urged the business to look at the development of artificial intelligence in music as an opportunity rather than a threat.

The debate has dominated the conversation since a song that simulated the voices of Drake and The Weeknd was removed from streaming services due to a copyright claim.

The complexities of AI will be a leading topic at the 14th edition of electronic music conference IMS Ibiza, which returns to the White Isle’s Destino Pacha Resort from 26-28 April. And Turner believes the rest of the industry could learn a thing or two from the genre’s willingness to embrace technological innovations.

“The reason electronic music seduced me was its independent spirit and culture. That spirit of independence has been a big part of what we do,” Turner tells IQ. “Electronic music has always been about embracing new technology by its very definition, and it’s had first mover advantage quite often as technological shifts have happened because of that independence: Web 3.0, metaverse, NFTs and now AI.

“Electronic music has never shied away from embracing technology when a lot of the music industry just pulls the shutters down”

“Electronic music has never shied away from embracing that technology when a lot of the music industry just pulls the shutters down, like we’re seeing now with the Drake and Weeknd thing. It’s just remove-remove, takedown-takedown, block. And I get it, I understand that millions are invested in these artists, but AI is going to eat us all alive unless we learn to play with it and we learn to control it, and collaborate, experiment and educate.”

He adds: “There are many people within electronic music playing with AI and enjoying it. So I think the rest of the music industry should learn a lot from what the electronic space is doing. Equally, I’m also nervous about what this means on many levels.”

IMS’ Understanding The Unstoppable: AI and Music Unravelled… panel will seek to demystify the issue by bringing music executives together with “some of the best brains from the AI world” – including lawyers.

“There’s a big saying around the music industry now about AI, which is that the lawyers are going to make all the money for the next few years and have fun trying to stop it,” explains Turner.

“People are not booking these artists trying to tick a box, they’re booking them because they sell tickets and are bonafide headliners”

Speakers at IMS will include Grimes, Warner Music Group’s Max Lousada, Tap Music co-founder Ben Mawson, YouTube Music’s Dan Chalmers, CAA’s Maria May, UTA’s Hannah Shogbola and Tom Schroeder of Wasserman Music, with around 1,500 delegates expected.

The summit, which will also see the unveiling of the annual IMS Business Report, will conclude on 28 April with seven-hour open air party IMS Dalt Vila, which marks the opening of Ibiza’s summer season. Acts will include CamelPhat, Anna, BBC Radio 1’s Jaguar and IMS co-founder Pete Tong. On a related note, Turner suggests that mainstream music festivals’ attitudes towards booking dance acts have evolved over time.

“I feel like there was a long period of time where festivals felt, ‘Okay, we need a DJ on the stage. Who shall we book? We need to show some recognition of DJ culture at big festivals,'” he reflects. “But now, I don’t think people book Calvin Harris because he’s a DJ, they book Calvin Harris because he’s one of the biggest and best artists in the world, and I think that’s the shift.

“People are not booking these artists trying to tick a box, they’re booking them because they sell tickets and are bonafide headliners. It just happens that they’re a DJ, but they’ll put on as big a show and as great a show as any other act headlining the festival. It’s become so immersed into mainstream culture now that it’s a less marginalised genre, it doesn’t really work to keep it in a corner anymore. It’s just what young people expect to see as part of the blend of going to a crossover festival.”

“Africa and the Middle East are the final two parts of the world that are only really beginning to truly embrace this music in a huge way”

In closing, Turner identifies the Middle East as a key emerging market for the dance music scene.

“The Middle East region is fascinating, inspiring, and exploding at a high speed in terms of events and festivals and now production,” he says. “There’s just so much excitement and energy coming out of that whole region. What you’ve seen with the festivals in Saudi Arabia is this huge growth of young people embracing this music and hearing DJs for the first time in their lives.

“We used to say the final frontier was Latin America, and then the final frontier was Asia, but actually, Africa and the Middle East are the final two parts of the world that are only really beginning to truly embrace this music in a huge way.”

 


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