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A New Beatles Song Thanks To AI? But What’s Next?

Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney

According to BBC Radio 4, AI has been used to create a final Beatles song. Paul McCartney told the BBC that “the technology had been used to “extricate” John Lennon’s voice from an old demo so he could complete the song.”

“We just finished it up and it’ll be released this year,” he explained without revealing the title of the song, although it is rumored to be a 1978 Lennon composition called “Now And Then.”

The demo was one of several songs on a cassette given by Yoko Ono and labeled “For Paul.” John Lennon recorded the tracks onto a boombox shortly before his death in 1980. Two of those songs, “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love” were already cleaned up by producer Jeff Lynne and released in 1995 and 96. There was an attempt to record a third song, “Now And Then,” but it was never finished and released. “It was one day – one afternoon, really – messing with it,” Lynne recalled. “The song had a chorus but is almost totally lacking in verses. We did the backing track, a rough go that we really didn’t finish.”

“It didn’t have a very good title, it needed a bit of reworking, but it had a beautiful verse and it had John singing it,” McCartney told Q Magazine. “George didn’t like it. The Beatles being a democracy, we didn’t do it.” There also was a parasitic buzz on the original recording which didn’t make their job easy. But Paul was determined to finish it: “That one’s still lingering around,” he told a BBC Four documentary on Jeff Lynne in 2012. “So I’m going to nick in with Jeff and do it. Finish it, one of these days.”

This is now possible thanks to technology. Emile de la Rey, who was the dialogue editor for Peter Jackson’s “Get Back” documentary, programmed computers to recognize the Beatles’ voices and separate them from background noises and instruments in order to create “clean” audio.

“He [Peter Jackson] was able to extricate John’s voice from a ropey little bit of cassette,” Paul told Radio 4’s Martha Kearney. “We had John’s voice and a piano and he could separate them with AI. They tell the machine, ‘That’s the voice. This is a guitar. Lose the guitar’. “So when we came to make what will be the last Beatles’ record, it was a demo that John had [and] we were able to take John’s voice and get it pure through this AI. Then we can mix the record, as you would normally do. So, it gives you some sort of leeway.”

I have no problem with that, it was Lennon’s original vocals and AI just cleaned up the track. AI didn’t make up new vocals or didn’t invent a song that Lennon never sang. Of course, it is a slippery slope and with this new training, computers are perfectly capable to make up new vocals or even a new song. We all have heard of deep fakes, like very convincing videos of politicians giving speeches that they have never done, or a Drake song completely made up by AI. Will AI eventually create a new Beatles song that was never written by the Fab Four? Paul McCartney is well aware of the new technology:

“I’m not on the internet that much [but] people will say to me, ‘Oh, yeah, there’s a track where John’s singing one of my songs’, and it’s just AI, you know? It’s kind of scary but exciting because it’s the future. We’ll just have to see where that leads.”

“Scary but exciting”? Ai is here to stay with us whether we want it or not. We just have to decide if it will become more exciting than scary or scarier than exciting.

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