Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

“Babe wake up, a new Beatles song just dropped”: The power of AI in the music industry.

Molly Boyke
Illustration by Molly Boyke.

It’s 2023; and the Beatles, a beloved English rock band that broke up in 1970, just released a new song. 

Who cares if half the band members have passed away, or that it’s been over 50 years since they’ve been active? Their new single “Now and Then,” which dropped Nov. 2, managed to debut at number seven on the Billboard charts, pulling at the heartstrings of older generations who never thought this would be possible. 

But seriously, how is this possible?

In the 1970s, John Lennon composed and recorded a demo for “Now and Then”; however, he was unable to complete the project before his death in 1980. The Beatles were interested in turning Lennon’s vocals into a full fleshed song in 1995, but they were unsuccessful because the background noise in the cassette tape was too loud. 

Nonetheless, contemporary AI has become far more advanced and accessible, with the average smartphone user being able to generate art with the click of a button. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr went back to “Now and Then” with technological advancements on their side, using AI to separate Lennon’s vocals from the piano and background noise. 

“Now and Then” is no longer a lost song, thanks to AI. The new Beatles song is a shining example of how recent technology can be used to assist unfinished projects. Instead of leaving “Now and Then” in the hands of AI, where Lennon’s voice is deepfaked (or replicated by a computer), McCartney and Starr saw the power of technology and used it to tighten up a work in progress. We’re actually hearing Lennon’s voice, just a slightly edited track. 

Musical AI has its controversies though, as many believe it threatens authenticity because songs don’t utilize the voices of actual singers. Back in April, a since-deleted TikTok video by @ghostwriter977 went viral, where the anonymous user employed AI to generate a song titled “Heart on my Sleeve.” Drake and The Weeknd’s voices were deepfaked, leading audiences to generally believe these two artists released a new song together. 

AI covers have become a phenomenon on social media, leaving audiences spooked about the power technology holds. User @breakstuffpod on TikTok deep faked Frank Sinatra’s voice to sing “Levitating” by Dua Lipa, the comment section full of concerns of how close it sounds to the deceased jazz singer’s voice. 

Musicians have spoken out against AI, such as Ed Sheeran, who stated “If everything is done by robots, everybody’s gonna be out of work. I just find AI a bit weird.” 

Although there are justifiable concerns with AI in the music industry, there are benefits that shouldn’t be completely discredited. As seen with this new Beatles song and the heartfelt reaction it received, AI can be used as a tool to finish projects that would have otherwise never seen the light of day. @Blakerobertward on TikTok posted his parents’ reaction to the new song, where they were in tears by the end. In his caption, he explains, “memories came flooding back of their childhood, family, the hard times, and the fun times of their youths…when the song finished [my dad] said ‘it was great to hear John again’.”

The younger generation of Beatles fans have also been deeply moved by the new single. 

As a Beatles fan myself, I fell in love with their discography—all thanks to my dad. When I heard “Now and Then” for the first time, I thought of our familial relationship, and how I never thought we’d be able to hear a new Beatles song at the same time. @Maijahmusic on TikTok expressed her emotional connection to “Now and Then,” stating “My dad and grandpa got me obsessed with the Beatles when I was six and now there’s a Beatles song that I’ve heard that they never will.” 

Without AI, this project would have never been finished, thus disconnecting the music industry’s past from the present. The release of “Now and Then” has raised the question on if AI should be used to continue other dead musicians’ works. 

However, there’s been criticism surrounding this idea, music journalist Michael Gonik states, “Nothing pays tribute to an artist or their legacy like suggesting they could be replaced by a computer program.” Many argue that AI will never capture the authenticity of a musician’s work, therefore shouldn’t be used at all. 

It’s important to remember though that the remaining members of the Beatles took material directly from Lennon’s cassette tape, only using AI to enhance his voice on a 46 year old recording. It is possible to use AI in music and maintain authenticity, meaning the original artist’s voice is still present, and AI acts as a tool to finish lost projects.   

Society grappling with the ethics of AI’s presence in the music industry can’t be figured out overnight. Until then, we’ll just have to look back at the music legends that have passed and think, “Now and then, I miss you.”

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