On Friday, the Recording Academy did for artificial intelligence what film and TV have yet to do: It drew a line. Quite simply, AI can’t win a Grammy. Only a human can be submitted for, be nominated for, or win music’s highest honor.

IndieWire called up a real, live human being, Recording Academy president and CEO Harvey Mason Jr., to walk us through his stance. Perhaps the striking writers guild and likely striking screen-actors guild can use this as leverage. At least, it should provide more leverage than the pending directors guild agreement.

Bottom line: If a song or album doesn’t have “human authorship,” it is not eligible for Grammy submission in any category. A human must write the music and/or lyrics, and a human needs to perform the music.

However… that does not mean AI is banned. If a songwriter uses AI to create an AI-generated vocal track, the human writer could still get a composition Grammy for the underlying music. If an artist sang over a track entirely generated by AI, the singer could be nominated for a performance Grammy. AI still has a place at the Grammys, but only as a tool for the artists behind them.

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“There is a question as to how AI is going to affect all of us. We know for an irrefutable fact that AI is going to play a role in music, performances, art, and entertainment,” Mason told IndieWire. “We’re not banning AI recordings at all. We’re saying we know AI is going to play a part in the process of making music. We’re not going to award an AI or a Grammy to a computer. I don’t even know what that would look like. What we’re saying is only human creativity or human performance is eligible for a Grammy nomination or win.”

So, could “Heart on My Sleeve” — a collaboration between AI versions of Drake and The Weeknd, which blew up on TikTok before it was swiftly removed for copyright reasons — win a Grammy? The complicated answer: AI Drake or Weeknd can’t, but the anonymous @ghostwriter977 (who is, in fact, a person) can.

“Let’s get this crystal clear so we don’t have people misunderstanding,” Mason said. “The song, first of all, is eligible; we would not award a Grammy to the AI versions of Drake or Weeknd or any artist that is not the true human version of their voice or vocal performance. It would be eligible for whoever wrote the song, and whoever created the track and the music. We would look at the publishing and say, that was created by a human, it’s eligible.”

In the case of “Heart on My Sleeve,” Mason says he’s spoken with “Ghostwriter,” the person behind the hit track (no, he didn’t tell us who it was) and he informed some of the Academy’s thinking about these bigger issues.

Harvey Mason Jr. at the Recording Academy Los Angeles Chapter's celebration ahead of the 65th Annual Grammy Awards held at Spring Place on January 28, 2023 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Gilbert Flores/Variety via Getty Images)
Recording Academy President and CEO Harvey Mason Jr.Variety via Getty Images

“We spent time talking about it, how he’s using it, what the process was, what his thoughts and concerns were,” Mason said. “He’s very, very knowledgeable and gave us great thoughts and insight as to what the future of music could potentially be using that technology.”

AI is not new to the music industry. Bedroom artists and garage bands have long used apps and tools to create entire backing tracks or to manipulate their sound. However, Mason said that Ghostwriter was “a tipping point. The record that he created made us all sit up and take notice and pay attention. Something’s happening here with this technology . Having somebody use AI to have a hit record, that’s actually a hot record, that sounds like something we would all love, brought an awareness, both an excitement and a concern, to the industry, to all the creative community and the Academy.”

The Grammys’ AI rules allow songwriters and producers to use the tech much as they have done with synthesizers or sampling. Mason cited Grimes, who said she would split royalties with anyone who wanted to use an AI-synthesized version of her voice to make a song.

Her position has been divisive among creators. Some believe that as long as it’s clear that a song is not an original Grimes track, and is identified as an AI Grimes, it’s a great opportunity to create some hits, raise your profile, and even provide market research as to what fans might want next. (All with proper remuneration and attribution, of course.) Others see it as a threat to their brand, likeness, artistry.

“What’s promising is the fact that artists still feel opportunity to utilize the technology to enhance what we do,” said Mason. “You never want to see it remove our creativity or take the place of our creativity, but after having these conversations, I’m hearing more people being excited about the potential for it to enhance or amplify our creativity. People are nervous, I’m concerned, we’re all concerned, and as far as artists are concerned, there needs to be a fair and equitable way for them to retain ownership of their voice and likeness to make sure that other people aren’t running wild with their personal talents, voice, and sound.”

The AI Grimes still can’t win a Grammy, but Mason made clear that the current rules around AI is the standard “for this year.” So not today, but maybe one day it does.

Grimes, New York, United States, 2013 (Photo by Fairchild Archive/Penske Media via Getty Images)
Grimes in 2013Fairchild Archive via Getty Images

“As our industry evolves, technology evolves, our community and creators and members change how they’re making music, and if something else takes place that we haven’t thought of, we’ll revise again,” he said. “Not this year, and I’m saying that on purpose. Not this year.”

Writers, directors, and actors are freaking out over AI, and so is the recording industry. Mason said he’s heard everything from “utter terror” to “enormous excitement” from creators and technical professionals alike. Some see AI having the potential of something like Napster to completely disrupt the industry. Many fear it could take away jobs from people who have spent their lives behind a sound board. He hopes the Recording Academy will lead the charge in creating legislation that can regulate AI’s use.

However, he says figuring out whether AI works or doesn’t comes down to the tastemakers and the professionals.

“AI is not spitting out hit records by itself,” he said. “Especially music people. We are resilient, and we always are able to figure out a way. We’ve been told our entire lives your music isn’t good, your voice isn’t good, and we’ve always been able to figure out a way to bounce back. So I see that as a similar challenge here. AI is going to play a part in our creative process and our music and entertainment process. But we are resilient, and we will find a way to use it to create great things.”


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