IN SOME NOT EXACTLY UNEXPECTED NEWS, a hit song featuring the stylings of Canadian pop megastars Drake and The Weeknd has been submitted for consideration in multiple Grammy categories. Nothing special, so what’s the twist? Well, neither Drake or The Weeknd had anything to do with the song, as its creator used AI to study the artists musical catalogues and clone their voices.
Excuse the boomer terminology, but back in our day, music was solely man-made. Sure, the vocalist wasn’t always the songwriter, and autotune has revolutionised the industry almost beyond recognition, but music was fundamentally human. Alright, enough of that boomer talk, let’s get with the times! Music created by artificial intelligence is not only gaining traction amongst listeners, it’s also garnering attention from the omnipotent authority on quality: the Grammys.
Now, before you get ahead of yourself let’s be clear. The AI produced song that’s up for a Grammy is not one of those memes you may have come across on social media. You know, the kind that uses AI to reimagine Lana Del Ray’s ‘Summertime Sadness’ if it were sung by Donald Trump, or the kind that show us what Homer Simpson belting out Keane’s ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ would sound like. The song in question, titled ‘Heart On My Sleeve’ was uploaded to TikTok earlier this year by shadowy user @ghostwriter977, and has all the makings of a typical top-40 hit.
Representatives for ghostwriter977, more commonly known as simply ‘Ghostwriter’, revealed that ‘Heart On My Sleeve’ has been submitted for nomination in the coveted categories of Best Rap Song, and Song of the Year. The AI song’s party crashing rise has opened up a whole can of worms and could completely change the music industry.
How is an AI generated song eligible for a Grammy?
First things first, let’s address your most pressing and obvious question: how on earth can an AI song even be eligible for an award if it wasn’t created by a human? Well, that’s just it, the awards that the song has been submitted for are given to writers, not performers. AI was only used for vocals and since Ghostwriter still wrote the lyrics, the song was technically created by a human.
While deviating from the path walked by traditional purveyors of the musical arts, Ghostwriter’s work still requires creative elements. Harvey Mason Jr, CEO of The Recording Academy (the group in charge of the Grammys), made it clear that the song meets all the requirements to be eligible for nomination. “As far as the creative side, it’s absolutely eligible because it was written by a human,” he said.
What have the Grammys said about AI created music?
The process of using AI to create music is still in its infancy, but the industry is moving quickly to keep up with the revolution and to protect existing artists without restricting emerging creators. The Grammys announced guidelines for dealing with AI earlier this year, clarifying that “Only human creators are eligible to be submitted for consideration for, nominated for, or win a Grammy Award”. They insisted that “A work that contains no human authorship is not eligible in any category.”
In short, music still requires a human element to be eligible for awards, but the use of AI is not forbidden, and will have dramatic implications for the future of the industry. “I knew right away as soon as I heard [Heart On My Sleeve] that it was going to be something that we had to grapple with from an Academy standpoint, but also from a music community and industry standpoint,” Mason said. “When you start seeing AI involved in something so creative and so cool, relevant and of the moment, it immediately starts you thinking, ‘OK, where is this going? How is this going to affect creativity? What’s the business implication for monetization?’”
Do AI songs that use artists voices violate copyright?
There is another catch to using AI to create chart topping hits, in that it technically infringes on copyright. While not quite a perfect facsimile of artists work, AI created songs use existing music to produce a sound that directly mimics an artist and is effectively inextricable from their voice. As you might expect, copyright holders have been quick to act.
After blowing up on social media, ‘Heart On My Sleeve’ was released on popular streaming services but was ordered to be taken down after it was deemed it violated copyright law. Unperturbed by possible legal complications, Ghostwriter has since released another AI song, this time mimicking the voices of Travis Scott and 21 Savage.
I used AI to make a Travis Scott song feat. 21 Savage… the future of music is here. Who wants next? pic.twitter.com/jFKLTzyzeT— ghostwriter977 (@imghostwrit3r) September 5, 2023
Could AI songs force musicians to go on strike?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d know that actors and writers are currently on strike, in part due to concerns of a burgeoning apocalyptic hellscape in which AI produces every bit of content we consume. Musicians haven’t yet joined them, even though AI threatens their industry too, but some prominent artists have said they’d take action if AI continues making inroads in music.
In an interview with the BBC, Grammy-nominated artist Hozier expressed doubt over whether AI music “meets the definition of art” and suggested he would take action if AI posed a threat to the music industry. “Whether it’s art or not, I think, is nearly a philosophical debate,” Hozier said. “It can’t create something based on a human experience. So I don’t know if it meets the definition of art.” When asked if AI presents such a threat to his industry that it warrants a strike, Hozier didn’t mince his words. “Absolutely,” he said.
As of now, there are no official plans for musicians to go on strike, and it’s not likely they will as most major artists are not members of a union. Record labels can license the voices of their artists for use in AI created songs and there’s nothing the voice’s owners can do about it. AI created songs could not only start to be nominated for awards, they could effectively replace modern artists, well and truly killing the radio star.