The “final” song from The Beatles is reportedly being released to the public any day now, following ex-Beatle Paul McCartney’s remarks earlier this year that the mystery track was made possible thanks to artificial intelligence. He’s since clarified that, no, that doesn’t mean there was anything “artificially” created for the song — just that AI has been mainly used to clean up and edit what’s believed to be the tune Now and Then, an unfinished John Lennon piano-and-voice demo from 1979.
The song’s release comes, also, at quite an interesting time — against the backdrop of a broader discussion about the implications of AI for all kinds of creators, and amid the question of whether we’re all hurtling toward a future in which AI will eventually supplant everyone from writers to actors and musicians. In fact, this is one of the sticking points at the heart of the dual strikes still ongoing in Hollywood. The music industry, meanwhile, is reportedly starting to freak out over yet another concern related to AI — as demonstrated by the new song, below, that on first blush sounds like a John Lennon track.
Take a listen to the song — titled Everybody But You, which has been astonishing listeners across social media — and see what you think. TikTok user Kid Klava recently uploaded that Lennon-sounding track and explained how it came together, the finished product being vastly different from all the other AI-generated music that at this point I’m sure many of you have heard being shared on the Internet.
Long story short, the brief tune above was written and sung by an actual person — who then, basically, told a computer to make the voice sound like Lennon’s. “I wrote this a few weeks ago, but when it came to recording it, I realised my voice wasn’t quite right for the song,” Kid Klavia wrote on TikTok. “This morning, I decided to check out this AI voice replacement stuff that everyone’s been losing their shit over, and then I realised… I can get John to sing it for me! Oh yeah, and why not get Paul on backing vocals while I’m at it?
“It was surprisingly easy and it only took a few minutes to generate the vocal.” Pretty wild, right?
If you’ve been following the developments in this space in recent months, then I don’t need to remind you that a lot of what we’ve seen up to this point regarding AI and music has to do with the novelty of a computer coming up with a song on its own — which is to say, by simply rearranging some of the inputs that it’s been fed (obviously, I don’t mean to imply a machine has a creative spirit and “composes” a song the same way a person does).
The track above, meanwhile, is a whole different can of worms.
A lot of you have shrugged off the ability of AI to create decent-sounding music up to this point, and rightly so. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In my opinion, the Lennon-sounding track above sounds … well, reasonably decent, if I’m being honest. It’s not perfect, but Lennon’s accent is definitely there in places. Moreover, the finished product is also vastly better than what you’d get if a computer tried to do the same thing from scratch. It sounds solid, and that’s actually the problem (to some people).
“The use of some of the greatest ever artists to artificially perform and promote songs is a nightmare for us,” one unnamed music executive told The Daily Mail. “It threatens to undermine everything that the music industry was set up to do.
“But also you have to spare a thought for the surviving family members of people such as John Lennon, because his legend status is being used to make money for others. It seems entirely wrong and open to huge abuse.”
“Seems” wrong is probably the perfect way to phrase it. Because I’m not sure if what’s going on here is actually wrong. If you disagree, just refer back to the comments that Kid Klava wrote on TikTok, which literally include the declaration that “I wrote this …”
Here’s the bottom line for me. The music industry has been caught flat-footed by technology over and over again, Napster’s rise being one of many great examples. And the same thing looks to be happening all over again. Furthermore, I think that if the industry is in a perilous spot at the moment vis-a-vis AI, it ought to take a look in the mirror if it wants to find someone or something to blame.
If there’s an artist like — oh, just to pick someone at random, let’s say Drake — who makes garbage music that’s easy enough for a computer to replicate and make it sound like the real thing, then in my opinion that says as much about the artist as it does the machine. If the era of ChatGPT and generative AI teaches us anything, it’s that originality matters more than it ever has before. And if you’re churning out commoditized garbage, which is largely what the Billboard Hot 100 consists of these days, you really shouldn’t be surprised one bit that the robots are coming.