Drake and The Weeknd
Besides Grimes, there are few big-name artists who have embraced the possibilities of artificial intelligence in popular music. But there is a handful of AI practitioners cropping up who are more or less forcing the issue. One of those is Ghostwriter, who has co-opted the voices of hip-hop stars like Drake, The Weeknd, 21 Savage, and Travis Scott, not just to make music but to carve out a plum new business opportunity. The first step was Internet virality; now Ghostwriter is shooting for legitimization by submitting his AI Drake/The Weeknd collaboration to the Grammys.
The loophole here is that the song, “Heart On My Sleeve,” has been submitted to categories—Best Rap Song and Song Of The Year—that award the writer of a track, not the performer. The AI was only used for the vocals, so “it’s absolutely eligible because it was written by a human,” says producer Harvey Mason Jr., chief executive of the Recording Academy.
In fact, “With guidance from Mason, the Recording Academy and its partners in the industry,” the “Ghostwriter team” wants to “work with stakeholders to build a platform that ensures artists who choose to license their voice can control how it is used and make sure they get paid when it is,” per The Times. In other words, Ghostwriter’s whole schtick seems to be a ploy to force artists to buy into a new business model they’re creating from scratch, in which the Ghostwriter team licenses human voices for profit. Feeling the Black Mirror vibes yet?
While the team may be touting the artist’s ability to “control” how their AI-generated voice is used, they are, in a way, holding those artists’ voices hostage to do so. Ghostwriter didn’t give the artists they copied an option to control their voices; the songs were released to the Internet without regard to consent. The 21 Savage/Travis Scott AI collaboration “Whiplash” can almost be viewed as a direct challenge to those artists to buy in or lose the option to control: “If you’re down to put it out, I will clearly label it as A.I., and I’ll direct royalties to you. Respect either way,” Ghostwriter said in a statement about “Whiplash” (via the NYT). Submitting “Heart On My Sleeve” to the Grammys feels like a similar challenge to the industry to engage with Ghostwriter’s vision for the future or miss out on the new wave.
Like many creative industries, it seems the music business is reaching an inflection point when it comes to artificial intelligence. Legally, there are still a lot of gray areas to exploit and few precedents have been set. Unfortunately, it seems like artists will have to act fast to protect themselves before the opportunity is snatched from their hands by opportunists looking to get in on the ground floor of the future of exploitation.
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