In an exciting development for Beatles enthusiasts worldwide, Paul McCartney announced that an unreleased Beatles record — complete with restored vocals from John Lennon — would be hitting the music scene later this year. The remarkable recovery of Lennon’s voice from an old demo recording has been achieved through artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.
Although McCartney didn't specify the name of the song, fans, and music experts are predicting it's a Lennon composition from 1978 titled "Now and Then." This demo track, part of several songs on cassettes marked "For Paul,"' was recorded shortly before Lennon's assassination in 1980. Yoko Ono, Lennon's widow, later gave the tapes to McCartney.
During his interview on BBC Radio 4, McCartney, now 80, shared his thoughts on the rising influence of AI. He provided insights into how producers leveraged AI to isolate John Lennon's vocals from a previous recording to create the brand new track.
Behind the Scenes of Creating the New Track with AI
In the interview, McCartney said that during the making of the 2021 documentary series "The Beatles: Get Back," director Peter Jackson was "able to extricate John's voice from a ropey little bit of cassette and a piano. He could separate them with AI; he'd tell the machine, 'That's a voice, this is a guitar, lose the guitar.'"
The retrieved vocals from Lennon’s tapes were then incorporated into another demo that the Beatles had been working on, leading to the completion of the new song.
“So when we came to make what will be the last Beatles record, it was a demo that John had, that we worked on," he added. “We were able to take John’s voice and get it pure through this AI so then we could mix the record as you would do. It gives you some sort of leeway.”
McCartney described generative AI technology as “kind of scary, but exciting." He also added, “We will just have to see where that leads.”
AI Concerns in the Music Industry
Artificial intelligence has stirred up a mix of anticipation and apprehension within the music sector recently. AI has been utilized to produce and market songs by artists who haven't explicitly given their consent. A notable example is the AI-forged Drake and Weeknd collaboration, "Heart on My Sleeve," which gained viral status before being withdrawn from Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, and other streaming platforms.
In response to these controversial uses of AI, Universal Music Group, the world's largest music company, urged major streaming platforms to block AI firms from using its music to train their technology.
In a statement, Universal Music Group said, “We have a moral and commercial responsibility to our artists to work to prevent the unauthorized use of their music and to stop platforms from ingesting content that violates the rights of artists and other creators. We expect our platform partners will want to prevent their services from being used in ways that harm artists.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. Copyright Office stated that AI art (including music) cannot be copyrighted because it is "not the product of human authorship." But then officials backtracked slightly on that decision, saying artists might be able to protect some works. "The answer will depend on the circumstances,” the office said, “Particularly how the AI tool operates and how it was used to create the final work."
Despite the challenges and concerns, McCartney's announcement of the AI-revived Beatles track is a testament to the fascinating possibilities that the fusion of music and technology can offer. As we wait in anticipation of this unique record, the dialogue about the implications of AI in music will continue to evolve.