Takeaways from ‘Drake’s’ AI Song (Feat. ‘The Weeknd’)

AI-generated results for “Drake as an Andy Warhol painting”
(Image courtesy of craiyon.com)

Earlier this month, “Drake” released a song entitled, “Heart on My Sleeve” featuring hit singer “The Weeknd” produced by famed beat-maker “Metro Boomin.” The only caveat is that none of them actually made this song and that the real writer, producer, and rapper is an unknown individual named ghostwriter977, a TikToker and YouTuber, who dresses like a Halloween ghost (and that’s pretty much all we know about them for sure).

The motivation to make this song appears to be nothing more than “Why not?,” but its precedent could have strange legal and commercial effects with the song being banned from all streaming platforms as of April 17. In this article, I will break down some of my thoughts on 1) its similarity to what an actual, officially released song of its yoke might sound like and 2) legal implications of AI generated music.

Takeaway #1: Similarity and Lack Thereof

During its brief time on TikTok, Spotify, and YouTube, the track did large numbers including 15 million TikTok views, 600,000 streams on Spotify, and 270,000 YouTube views, but is the track to the quality that its views imply?

Instrumentally, the answer is no. Metro Boomin’s production style is significantly different as he obviously doesn’t just put a piano arpeggio over a trap beat and 808 bass, but the minimal sound crosses the line of joking irony and reaches the point of minimalistic originality. The entire instrumental could easily be replicated with a piano patch on FL Studio, three drum samples (kick, snare, and hi hat), and an 808 bassline, and while many rap beats aren’t super complex either, Metro Boomin has flipped interesting samples in the past, created predictable, but musically useful bell melodies coupled with synths and dark pads; however, the lack of these features is something of a double-edged sword. While Metro Boomin wouldn’t make a beat in this style, it is still a believable instrumental for a pop-rap fusion record and is, therefore, not entirely uncharacteristic of what an actual hit song might be like, just not something characteristic of Metro Boomin.

Now onto the big part: vocal similarities.

The Drake vocals, at least in terms of the first section of the hook, sounds 100% like him, although the second section of the hook, when the AI voice is forced to hit the high notes, does not achieve the same level of realisticity and sounds chopped, robotic, and forced. In other words, Drake’s high notes were unlistenable.

The Weeknd’s vocals, which made an appearance in the second verse (“Drake” sung both the hook and the chorus) were utterly indistinguishable from that of the real singer. Yes, The Weeknd vocals were poorly mixed (although this may be because I was listening to a bootlegged version of the track on YouTube three days after the original song was banned), but this did not ruin their uncanny similarity to that of the actual singer.

I, however, will comment that AI’s inability to produce an adequate-sounding high-pitched Drake vocal is inexcusable since AI has hundreds if not thousands of hours of Drake’s voice at its disposal. Even if Drake never sang vocals this high in the history of his catalog, you would hope that the software could at least make a listenable inference.

I am not going to comment on how similar the style of the lyrics, the flow of the rhymes (Drake), and/or the design of the singing melodies (for when Drake and The Weeknd sung the second verse or the hook and the chorus) sounded in relation to the actual people, because 1) I don’t know if ghostwriter977’s AI software auto-generated all, some, or none of these factors, 2) I do not regularly listen to Drake and The Weeknd, and 3) I am not a music theorist.

I will, however, concede this: all three factors sounded very, very similar to that of an actual song the two of them would make, especially in the case of The Weeknd. The hook, although strange at first, got stuck in my head like any good earworm of a song and the lyrics and rhythmic and/or melodic flow of the two artists “featured” in the song sounded like anything any two of the artists would produce.

One last thing before we move on: ghostwriter977, the person who actually  composed “Heart on My Sleeve,” wrote the following possibly prophetic utterance: “I was a ghostwriter for years and got paid close to nothing just for major labels to profit. The future is here.”

The question is: is it?

Takeaway #2 – Legal Implications of AI-Generated Music

While AI-generated images are not protected by copyright, AI-generated music is a different story. In fact, this is yet to be decided. Since AI, at least AI that operates to this level of proficiency, has not been around for long, there are questions as to whether or not AI-generated images of stock photos, such as those based off of GettyImages that actually show the watermark visible on the AI-generated ones, are illegal and whether or not AI can be cited as a creator on a patent for code that the technology helped generate. In other words, it is just too early to tell.

Entertainment lawyer Craig Averill put it well when he said, “The author has to be a human as the law stands,” and then stated “It can’t be completely computer-generated. If you come up with a composition and then you have an animated character that’s front-facing for it, and you don’t have to really pay that entity any royalties, what does that look like? We’re not there yet.”

Consider this: would if you wrote the lyrics for a song in the deliberate style of an artist, but then had AI “sing” or “rap” these lyrics? And, on top of that, would if you said something like “Check out this new song by Dwake and The Weekend,” not “Drake” and “The Weeknd.” You wouldn’t technically be using the brand of Drake and The Weeknd, but you would be implying it though imitating their voices, styles, and, to a lesser degree, their names. That is where the lines get murky and we don’t really have a current answer.

Evidently, AI is an exciting new technology and with implications abounding.