Last week the music industry was abuzz about Capitol Records signing the first AI artist. This week everyone is talking about how fast that artist was dropped. AI rapper FN Meka has over 9 million followers and over a billion views on TikTok, but it turns out there’s more to a signing than just pure numbers, as the label quickly found out.
Virtual Artists Are Here
FN Meka was created by Factory New, a company that describes itself as a “first of its kind, next-generation music company, specializing in virtual beings.” While the industry was struggling with questions of ownership and royalty payouts to an artificial artist, what it overlooked is the actual content that was being created.
Soon after the signing was announced to great fanfare, the world beyond TikTok got a look at FN Meka and didn’t much like what it saw. That created a giant backlash that caused the label to drop the AI artist in only a matter of days.
The backlash over the project came by way of an open letter from Industry Blackout, a group of Black industry professionals who called FN Meka a “direct insult to the Black community and our culture.” The letter sited an “amalgamation of gross stereotypes [and] appropriative mannerisms that derive from Black artists, complete with slurs infused in lyrics.” This included FN Meka’s use of the N-word in 2019 song “Moonwalkin,” and an Instagram post in which the artificial rapper was shown being beaten by a police officer in prison.
Machine learning is only as good as the information it’s been provided, and in this case it seems like it was skewed more on sensationalism than reality. That said, it’s stunning that Capitol did no due diligence on this as the backlash seems to have caught the company by surprise.
Not Much Of A Deal
But the deal between the label and rapper was for distribution only, and according to all reports, Factory New never received a penny in advance royalties. That meant that the Capitol has no financial downside, except, of course, for the huge heap of negative publicity that came with it.
Make no mistake, major labels would love a stable of robot artists. They don’t talk back, argue about creative control, and are always available when you need them. Sounds good in principle, but I bet there’s some deep checking that happens before the next one is signed.