News that the Beatles are using AI to include John Lennon’s voice on a new song marks the latest, and somewhat surprising, chapter, in the technology’s often controversial evolution.
The prospect of the tech-fueled new release more than half a century after the Beatles split has divided fans of the iconic band, with some full of excitement and others, well, a bit unsettled by the whole thing.
Even Paul McCartney described AI as “kind of scary but exciting” in an interview with the BBC where he discussed the new song.
But what do musicians think about the Beatles’ bold AI move? “Like most new technology AI is most likely a bad concept that will be utilized by the security state for acts of unspeakable evil,” Brian D’Addario of rock band The Lemon Twigs told MarketWatch. “But in the modern landscape of music, most methods of making popular music are completely artificial and mechanical anyway.
“From quantizing instruments to make them sound like they were played well, to pitch correcting a voice with AutoTune or Melodyne, I don’t see how the use of Artificial Intelligence is radically different to other ‘tools’ used in modern music production,” D’Addario added. However, he believes that technology can only do so much. “All of these technological advancements result in music that is deaf to matters of the heart and spiritually dead,” he told MarketWatch.
But the musician says he has enjoyed some of the AI covers that have emerged recently. “Personally I enjoy hearing Paul McCartney singing [Brian Wilson’s] “Caroline, No” or Kanye West singing “I’ll Bet He’s Nice” from The Beach Boys’ [album] “Love You” in a duet with Donald Trump,” he said. “It’s all good fun. And there are people on YouTube like Dae Lims who are doing great reconstruction of unfinished Beach Boys tracks, which are very enjoyable.”
Just as Bob Dylan’s decision to “go electric” way back in 1965 split his fans, so the Beatles’ AI experiment proving divisive among musicians. “[I’m] not really sure how I feel about it to be honest,” Shaun Gallagher of New York guitar rock band The Black Jackals told MarketWatch. “It would be very interesting to hear John [Lennon] and George [Harrison’s] take on the whole thing — I reckon Lennon wouldn’t be best pleased.”
The Black Jackals were formed in the Beatles’ hometown of Liverpool, where they signed a recording contract with Soundhub records. After a six-year hiatus Gallagher reformed the band in New York this year.
The British-born singer-songwriter is concerned that AI could potentially take work away from musicians and, like D’Addario, sees the technology’s shortcomings. “You can’t feed a songwriter’s passion and experiences into a computer, that’s then going to write an algorithm for a song — I’m just not having that.”
Glenn Grossman, a Brooklyn-based professional drummer and producer who has performed with Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, Salt n’Pepa and The Temptations, told MarketWatch that he doesn’t feel particularly threatened by AI, but acknowledges the risks it poses. He worries that an AI program could learn, say, the 50 most popular grooves and drum fills from recordings of a world class drummer and then re-create the drummer’s work without their knowledge or approval. “The more technology grows, the more cautious we have to be about its application,” he said. “We have to be very, very careful.”