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Our AI-Generated Blues Song Went Viral — and Sparked Controversy

Suno, a ChatGPT for music, is astonishing music fans, and angering them. Hear more uncanny AI creations, learn how it works, and how the company addresses criticism

Suno AI

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Just last summer, experts on the intersection of AI and music told Rolling Stone that it would be years before a tool emerged that could conjure up fully produced songs from a simple text description, given the endless complexities of the finished product. But Suno, a two-year-old start-up based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has already pulled it off, vocals included — and their latest model, v3, which is available to the general public as of today, is capable of some truly startling results.

In Rolling Stone‘s feature on Suno, part of our latest Future of Music package, we included an unsettling acoustic blues song called “Soul in the Machine,” fully generated by Suno, which uses ChatGPT to write lyrics unless you submit some yourself. The song — generated from the prompt “Mississippi Delta blues song about a sad AI” — went viral, with more than 36,000 plays in four days, and sparked debate over cultural appropriation, Suno’s training data (the precise contents of which they won’t reveal), the technology’s effects on human artists, and more.

In the new episode of Rolling Stone Music Now, we unveil more of the songs we made with Suno’s v3 model, and host Brian Hiatt speaks with the company’s co-founder, Mikey Shulman. Also in the podcast, we share even more from Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, who was among the first to hear “Soul in the Machine” when we sent it to him before publication. He notes that his reactions are “a combination of wonder, shock, horror,” and adds that “the use of an African-American idiom, deeply tied to historical human trauma, and enslavement, merely to demonstrate how close to ‘human’ the AI can become is disturbing.” (To hear the full episode, go here for the podcast provider of your choice, listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or just press play above.)

He also says he was stunned on a technical level that all of it was generated by AI — “not just the acoustic rural ‘blues’ guitar and the mournful ‘bluesman’s’ vocals, but also the room, ambience, of the simulated recording. No mics. No board. No high-ceiling converted small church transformed into a mobile recording space by a young, committed, Alan Lomax-type character, passionate to preserve vanishing sharecropper songs for posterity. It is not inconceivable that the Alan Lomax archive (and a lot more besides) was raided to train Suno’s AI.” (Suno has declined to reveal details of its training data, though one of its main investors, Antonio Rodriguez, told Rolling Stone that he is prepared for a potential lawsuit from labels and publishers.)

“The long-running dystopian ideal of separating difficult, messy, undesirable and despised humanity from its creative output is at hand,” Reid continues. “The horror of what ‘Soul in the Machine’ portends lays in the fact that what has been presented at this stage will not remain static. Its specificity and depth will advance, at frightening speed. What is certain is this: Humans driven by extraordinary circumstances to make beautiful, haunting, funny, strange, powerful, popular, cathartic, healing, and obscure [songs] — those who have suffered and struggled to advance their craft — will have to contend with the wholesale automation of the very dear-bought art they have fought to achieve.”

Download and subscribe to Rolling Stone‘s weekly podcast, Rolling Stone Music Now, hosted by Brian Hiatt, on Apple Podcasts or Spotify (or wherever you get your podcasts). Check out six years’ worth of episodes in the archive, including in-depth interviews with Mariah Carey, Bruce Springsteen, Questlove, Halsey, Neil Young, Snoop Dogg, Brandi Carlile, Phoebe Bridgers, Rick Ross, Alicia Keys, the National, Ice Cube, Taylor Hawkins, Willow, Keith Richards, Robert Plant, Dua Lipa, Killer Mike, Julian Casablancas, Sheryl Crow, Johnny Marr, Scott Weiland, Liam Gallagher, Alice Cooper, Fleetwood Mac, Elvis Costello, John Legend, Donald Fagen, Charlie Puth, Phil Collins, Justin Townes Earle, Stephen Malkmus, Sebastian Bach, Tom Petty, Eddie Van Halen, Kelly Clarkson, Pete Townshend, Bob Seger, the Zombies, and Gary Clark Jr. And look for dozens of episodes featuring genre-spanning discussions, debates, and explainers with Rolling Stone’s critics and reporters.

From Rolling Stone US