Earlier this year, when the anonymous musical creator known as Ghostwriter released an unauthorized track that used artificial intelligence voice effects to mimic the pop superstars Drake and the Weeknd, the fallout was immediate and far-reaching.
The mostly original song, “Heart on My Sleeve,” was promptly removed from official streaming services, even as experts acknowledged that its use of A.I. fell into a rapidly expanding legal gray area. But while the major record labels sought to protect their intellectual property and scrambled to prepare for disruptions to come, the track also proliferated on social media, earning millions of listens and helping to inspire a wave of similarly novel compositions.
Throughout the aftermath, Ghostwriter stayed silent — at least in public.
Behind the scenes, however, the shadowy act and its team were making overtures to the very industry figures “Heart on My Sleeve” had unnerved. In the months since, those behind the project have met with record labels, tech leaders, music platforms and artists about how to best harness the powers of A.I., including at a virtual round-table discussion this summer organized by the Recording Academy, the organization behind the Grammy Awards.
“I knew right away as soon as I heard that record that it was going to be something that we had to grapple with from an Academy standpoint, but also from a music community and industry standpoint,” Harvey Mason Jr., a producer who is the chief executive of the Recording Academy, said in an interview. “When you start seeing A.I. involved in something so creative and so cool, relevant and of-the-moment, it immediately starts you thinking, ‘OK, where is this going? How is this going to affect creativity? What’s the business implication for monetization?’”
Mason said he had contacted Ghostwriter directly on social media after being impressed with “Heart on My Sleeve.” He added that Ghostwriter attended the meeting in character, including using a distorted voice.
On Tuesday, Ghostwriter returned with a new track, titled “Whiplash,” this time using A.I. vocal filters to sound like the rappers Travis Scott and 21 Savage and deliver a message to the industry: “Me and Writer raise a toast,” the A.I. version of 21 Savage raps. “Trying to shadowban my boy/but you can’t kill a ghost.”
The song — which was posted to social media platforms like TikTok and X, formerly known as Twitter, instead of Spotify and other proper streaming services — came accompanied by a statement that called on both Scott and 21 Savage to collaborate on an official release. “The future of music is here. Artists now have the ability to let their voice work for them without lifting a finger,” Ghostwriter wrote. “If you’re down to put it out, I will clearly label it as A.I., and I’ll direct royalties to you. Respect either way.”
Representatives for Scott and 21 Savage did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A representative for Ghostwriter, who requested anonymity to not expose those behind the project — acknowledging that much of its marketing power comes from its mystery — confirmed that “Whiplash,” like “Heart on My Sleeve,” was an original composition written and recorded by humans. Ghostwriter attempted to match the content, delivery, tone and phrasing of the established stars before using A.I. components.
They added that the Ghostwriter team had recently submitted “Heart on My Sleeve” for Grammy Awards in two categories at next year’s ceremony: best rap song and song of the year, both of which are awarded to a track’s writers.
“As far as the creative side, it’s absolutely eligible because it was written by a human,” said Mason of the Recording Academy.
He added that the Academy would also look at whether the song was commercially available, with Grammy rules stating that a track must have “general distribution,” meaning “the broad release of a recording, available nationwide via brick-and-mortar stores, third-party online retailers and/or streaming services.”
Ghostwriter’s representative said they were aware of the commercial availability requirement.
The Ghostwriter team noted in a statement that it hoped to raise awareness about the creative and business possibilities of A.I. voice filters, comparing the technology to the early days of hip-hop sampling or user-generated content on YouTube. It offered examples like the ability to do karaoke in the voice of one’s favorite artist; at-home creators making original music à la fan fiction; or artists’ estates using the filters for posthumous original releases.
With guidance from Mason, the Recording Academy and its partners in the industry, the team said it hoped to work with stakeholders to build a platform that ensures artists who choose to license their voice can control how it is used and make sure they get paid when it is.
“Ghostwriter really has played an important role here to bring awareness and attention,” Mason said. “We know A.I. is going to play a role in our business. We can’t pretend to turn our back on it and try to ban it.”
He added, “I’m not scared of A.I., but I do believe work needs to be done to make sure that things are in place so that the creative community is protected.”