William Goldstein discusses the AI controversy in the music industry

todayAugust 16, 2023 10

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Composer William Goldstein. Photo Credit: Katherine Fox

Composer William Goldstein discussed the AI controversy in the music industry.

He also opened up about his career in the music business, creating music in real time, as well as being a composer in the digital age.

Background on William Goldstein

Goldstein has scored over 50 movie and television projects, which include “Fame” and “The Miracle Worker.” He has been a recording artist for both Motown and CBS Masterworks.

His own label is distributed worldwide by The Orchard with over 70 albums currently available averaging six million streams monthly.

He has written on the arts for The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. He has been a pioneer in the use of computers and electronic instruments in  music.

Since 2011, he has received international recognition for his ability to create music in real time, continuing the tradition of the great 18th and 19th century composer pianists. 

What are your thoughts on the AI controversy in the music industry? 

In 1985, I created the first musical score on a computer for film or television. At the time, I developed a technique called Orchestral Synthesis, where I created the sound of an orchestra electronically. Entertainment Tonight covered this. The Los Angeles Times wrote a major piece on it. I was visited by members of the Musicians’ Union who were concerned I was going to be putting people out of work. Today everybody in the music industry is using the techniques I developed in 1985. 

As the year 2000 approached, everybody was afraid that computers would crash, and the world would collapse. Now we have AI. There are definite dangers for those who use AI in a devious manner, vivid impersonations by visuals or voice of known personalities or private personalities.

When it comes to the realm of creativity, AI is a useful tool in many ways. I experimented with it to see if I could come up with something I like for the cover art of my November release Musical Portraits: An International Collection. It came up with a lot of images. They were all nice, but none of them were inspiring. 

The concern everyone has about AI is that it will replace creative people. In limited ways possibly yes. But ultimately originality and genius I think will always stay above AI. I would like to see AI do what I do at the piano. I compose an emotionally charged composition in front of an audience, the audience is often moved to tears. I’m not worried about being replaced by AI. 

You are known to create music in real time… Can you tell us more about that? 

It wasn’t until 2011 at the Transatlantyk Festival in Poznan Poland that I realized my ability to create music in real time was not common amongst my colleagues. In the 18th and 19th centuries, all well-known composers did this. I was asked to be head of the jury in a competition, the first in over a hundred years, on creating music in real-time.

Before attending the festival, I assumed everyone who wrote music could speak the language of music in real-time as I do. Franz Liszt would do performances where he would ask the audience to write three notes on a piece of paper and put them in a hat.

He would pull one of the pieces of paper out of the hat and create an instant composition from those three notes. I do the same thing. It’s easy. I thought every composer could do it. However, I was notified by the head of the festival that this was too difficult for anyone to do, and it was eliminated as part of the competition.  

That was my wake-up call. For the first time, I realized that beyond a successful career making records and scoring movies, I had a gift that was not common among my colleagues. So, for the last 10 years or so I’ve been focusing on creating in real-time.

Releasing albums, live performances, and doing masterclasses on the creative process. What I’ve come to understand is that my ability to do this is simply there. I speak the language of music in real-time as easily as everyone speaks the spoken language. When you speak, you don’t have to tell the tongue in your mouth where to go to make a sound.

My fingers over a keyboard are like the tongue in my mouth. They immediately express whatever I want to express in the language of music without me having to tell them where to go.

When I’m composing in real-time, this is not improvisation any more than when you’re having a conversation with someone. Dialogue is not improvisation it’s just speaking. You are speaking in real-time. And while I’m at the piano I am speaking in real-time. 

How does it feel to be a composer in the digital age? (Now with streaming and technology being so prevalent) 

As previously mentioned, I pioneered the technology that everyone uses in the digital age. These last years I have been strictly dealing with creating acoustic music; however, I love digital distribution today.

When I was a Motown artist, you got statements once every six months. You had no idea how accurate the figures were. And I never saw any money beyond the advances that I received.

Now I have analytics 48 hours after the fact from most streaming services in the world. My catalog is distributed by The Orchard, and they do a fabulous job of seeing that my music is distributed to all the streaming services, and that all streams are accounted for. 

Also the distribution reach is worldwide, which it wasn’t before the digital age. Because manufacturing costs were expensive, releases were rolled out slowly territory by territory. Now when I release a recording it’s worldwide. I love it. 

What do your plans for the future include? 

Recording more music, more live performances, and more masterclasses. I would very much like to share what I’ve learned about the creative process. And even though you can’t teach a gift, by communicating my understanding of how I do what I do, I believe I can move anyone in the world closer to their own creative sources and their ability to express themselves. 

My new album “Musical Portraits” will be released on November 17th, and the first single from the album will be released on August 25th.

What is your advice for young and aspiring composers? 

Meet as many people in the industry as you can. Everything happens through the people that you meet along the way. If you’re a pop artist, you live at a time where you can record and release anything yourself worldwide. That’s the good news, the bad news is that everyone else can do that as well. I suppose there are thousands and thousands doing that, yet, the cream does seem to rise. 

If you’re interested in scoring movies, get in touch with film students at the major film schools in the country and volunteer to score student films. Meet people on the way up. If you develop a good relationship they will take you with them as they evolve up the ladder of success. 

Were there any moments in your career that have helped define you? 

Being at Columbia University Teachers College when I was nine years old for guidance and evaluation, made me realize that I was gifted with something special and had to nurture it.

Joining the fledgling musical theater workshop at BMI when I was 19, which was the second year of the workshop, brought me to the attention of major players in the music industry, giving me my first publishing contacts which led to my writing a one-act musical, A Bullet for Billy The Kid, which was produced by CBS television when I was 22. 

The most surprising and unsuspecting career boost came with Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Records, discoverer of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross and many others, discovered me. I was signed to Motown as an artist in 1975.

In 2009, Motown released The Best of William Goldstein on Motown. To say that experience changed my life would be an understatement. It was one of the most positive enlightening experiences I’ve ever had.  

What does the word success mean to you?  

If I may paraphrase that great line from the movie Love Story, “never having to say you’re sorry”. In this case, never having to apologize for anything you do as an artist or explain yourself to anyone. The ability to be creatively independent which I have been for some time, releasing what I want, and when I want.

There are many creative opportunities I wish came my way that have not come my way. They might in the future, and they might not. However, my perspective is clearly that I’ve been blessed to have a creative life all the years I’ve been on the planet.

Thanks to BMI’s early interest in my career, I was able to put myself through the last four of seven years in college on my earnings as a composer. No complaints. 

To learn more about William Goldstein, check out his official website.

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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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