Earlier this year, when the anonymous musical creator known as Ghostwriter released an unauthorized song that used artificial intelligence voice effects to mimic pop superstars Drake and The Weeknd, the ramifications were immediate and far-reaching.
The largely original song, “Heart on My Sleeve,” was immediately removed from official streaming services, even as experts acknowledged that the use of AI fell into a burgeoning legal gray area. But as the major record labels scrambled to protect their intellectual property and scrambled to prepare for future disruptions, the song also spread on social media, earning millions of listens and helping to inspire a wave of similar new compositions.
Throughout the aftermath, Ghostwriter remained silent — at least in public.
Behind the scenes, however, the shadowy act and his team made overtures to the very industry figures who had unnerved “Heart on My Sleeve.” In the months since, the people behind the project have met with record labels, technology leaders, music platforms and other artists about how to best harness the powers of AI, including during a virtual roundtable this summer hosted by the Recording Academy, the organization behind the Grammy Awards.
“As soon as I heard that record, I immediately knew it was going to be something we had to grapple with from an Academy standpoint, but also from a music community and industry standpoint,” says Harvey Mason Jr., a producer who said the CEO of the Recording Academy in an interview. “When you see AI involved in something so creative, cool, relevant and current, you immediately think, ‘Okay, where is this going? How does this affect creativity? What are the business implications for monetization?’”
Mason said he reached out to Ghostwriter directly on social media after being impressed by “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 AI vocal filters to sound like rappers Travis Scott and 21 Savage and deliver a message to the industry: “Me and Writer brings a toast out’, the AI version of 21 Savage raps. “I try to shadow my boy / But you can’t kill a ghost.”
The song — which was posted on social media platforms such as TikTok and X, formerly known as Twitter, rather than Spotify and other actual streaming services — was accompanied by a statement calling for both Scott and 21 Savage to collaborate on an official release. “The future of music is here. Artists now have the ability to make their voice work for them without lifting a finger,” Ghostwriter wrote. “If you want to release it, I will clearly label it as AI and transfer the royalties to you. Either way, respect.”
Representatives for Scott and 21 Savage did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A Ghostwriter representative, who requested anonymity so as not to expose the people 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 tried to emulate the content, rendering, tone and phrasing of the established stars before using AI 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 song’s writers.
“On the creative side, it definitely qualifies because it’s written by a human being,” says the Recording Academy’s Mason.
He added that the Academy would also look into whether the song was commercially available, with the Grammy rules stipulating that a song must have “general distribution,” meaning “the wide release of a recording, available nationwide through physical stores , Thirdly. party online retailers and/or streaming services.”
Ghostwriter’s rep 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 potential of AI voice filters, comparing the technology to the early days of hip-hop sampling or user-generated content on YouTube. It offered examples such as the ability to do karaoke with the voice of your favorite artist; home makers who make original music à la fanfiction; or artist estates using the filters for posthumous original releases.
With guidance from Mason, the Recording Academy and its industry partners, the team said it hoped to work with stakeholders to build a platform that allows artists who choose to license their voice to control how it is and can make sure they get paid when it is.
“Ghostwriter really played an important role here to raise awareness and attention,” said Mason. “We know that AI will play a role in our business. We cannot pretend to turn our backs on it and try to ban it.”
He added: “I’m not afraid of AI, but I do believe we need to make sure everything is in order so that the creative community is protected.”