“This Is Something We Have to Pay Attention To”

As the world continues to grapple with the AI takeover, so are the Grammys.

The Recording Academy made headlines last week when it announced its rules about music created with artificial intelligence. Some feel like those songs should be banned, others say they are creative and innovative.

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The Grammys are listening to both sides — but don’t expect them to award a robot.

“We will not be awarding a Grammy to AI,” Harvey Mason Jr., CEO and president of the Academy, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “If you’re awarding a Grammy to AI, I would be uncomfortable or even curious to know who we’re going to give the Grammy to. So for now, we’re going to … give the Grammy to the human side of the creativity.”

In short, the Grammys want to honor music created with AI elements, but the song must be made by humans as well, and humans have to have a larger role in the creation of the song. “You can win a Grammy for the human portion of the track,” the executive explains.

Mason Jr., who became interim Academy CEO in 2020 and earned the official title in 2021, is also a popular, Grammy-nominated songwriter-producer who has worked with Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, Aretha Franklin, Justin Bieber, Toni Braxton, Chris Brown and others. He breaks down the Academy’s stance on AI, what part of an AI-produced song qualifies at the Grammys, how he’s used AI in his own recording sessions and the research the Academy’s done around AI.

Why was it important that the Academy specified a rule around AI recordings?

We all can acknowledge that AI is going to be a part of the future of our society, our culture and it’s definitely going to play a role in arts and entertainment. So for us, it was important to be proactive, make sure we started the discussions as early as possible. Some would say maybe a minute too late. AI has been around in the music community for the last year or two, depending on what you consider AI. So it’s here and it’s having an impact. And as an Academy, as we look to fulfill our mission and protect music people and also honor and respect excellent music, this is something that we have to pay attention to. So it was a conversation that we felt critical, to not just the awards or not just what we do at the Academy, but to our industry and to creatives and everything they do.

The Academy’s stance is “no” to fully-made AI songs and “yes” to partially-made AI songs, right? Could you dive into where you guys stand?

Yeah. I’ll try and simplify it. I’ve seen it miscommunicated a couple different ways. This is what it is. We know AI is going to have a hand in music going forward. For now, we are not as an Academy going to acknowledge AI with Grammy nominations or awards. We will continue to honor humans and their participation or their portion of a creation, knowing full well that there could be AI parts. For example, if you’re a human and you wrote the lyric and you did the track and the AI sings it, we’re not going to disqualify it. We’re not going to say it’s ineligible because there’s AI in it. We’re going to say, you can win a Grammy for the human portion of the track. Vice versa, if an AI writes the song and an artist says, “I don’t want to write, I’m going to sing this song,” AI is not eligible for her Grammy for the music or the lyrics, but the human that performed it is eligible.

Grammy trophies

Grammy trophies

So we are going to allow AI music and material and compositions and performances to be submitted, but we will not be awarding a Grammy to AI. I mean, that seems almost like you shouldn’t even have to explain it because if you’re awarding a Grammy to AI, I would be uncomfortable or even curious to know who we’re going to give the Grammy to. So for now, we’re going to continue to do that and give the Grammy to the human side of the creativity.

And human creation has to have a larger part in the song than AI, yes?

That’s exactly right. The human portion that is being considered for a Grammy or for a nomination has to be, they call it more than “de minimis.” It has to be a meaningful human participation, human contribution for it to be considered.

The Academy news came out the same week Paul McCartney talked about the final Beatles record, which was made by extracting John Lennon’s voice. We haven’t heard that song, but that is something that probably would qualify as long as the human creation portion is greater than the AI?

I don’t know what exactly this song’s going to sound like, as you said, we haven’t heard it, but if they’re using an old John Lennon vocal or using voice modeling to replicate a John Lennon vocal, that would be a performance consideration. And as long as there were other performances and other people involved in that performance more than “de minimis” amount, it would be eligible for a Grammy. If you’re talking about a composition, if the other members of The Beatles had written the song and it was submitted and there was more than “de minimis” amount of human creation, then yes, we would be willing to consider it for a Grammy.

The Academy announced a lot of updates last week, but the rules around AI made headlines. Did that surprise you? 

I’m not surprised. We all believe, both inside the Academy and just in the industry at large, that this is something that has to be discussed [and] has to be figured out. And I have to say, I’m still cautiously optimistic about it. There’s been a lot of fearmongering and a lot of people trying to say, “You have to ban this, or you have to get rid of that, and you can’t accept this.” We have to acknowledge that this is a technology that’s going to hopefully advance creativity, but it’s here and it’s happening. So we better figure out how to put guide rails around it, or at least have an understanding of what its role is going to be and prepare for it.

Whoever is submitting a song with AI elements should let the Academy know that the song has an AI element, correct?


If the Academy knows that a song has an AI element, will there be a group who then reviews it to make sure it meets the requirements?

We’re going to have to see how this first cycle goes with AI consideration. I just don’t think we are going to be able to look through every submission that has AI and try and check it for accuracy on the splits and the performance credits and things like that. We’re definitely going to rely somewhat on people submitting to give us honest answers as to what they’re doing versus what AI’s doing.

As a songwriter and producer, have you ever used AI in any of your sessions or work?

We’ve all used AI because a lot of people don’t realize what AI is. There’s apps that are there putting things in tune, extracting vocals out of songs, getting rid of certain frequencies, mastering plug-ins. These are all AI. They’re analyzing music and they’re making effects or changes to the music based on intelligence. It’s in the app. So yes, I’ve used it. We’ve all used it. It’s becoming more and more prevalent. I was in a session last week when a lyricist top liner put the title of a song we were working on in one of the apps, and it spit out a lyric. And they started using lyrics from that and editing that and going off that and revising it, putting in different prompts, “Make it more about heartfelt,” and then it sent out more lyrics. So I have not ever used the lyric or a track in its entirety, but I have been in sessions where people are using it for inspiration.

What kind of research has the Academy done when it comes to AI?

I’ve been spending a lot of time with other leadership at the Academy talking to and meeting with people from tech, from the labels, from streaming platforms. Just last week, we had a gathering of AI experts and influential people from tech entrepreneurs, streamers, creatives. And we really spent time, multiple hours talking about what were the possibilities of AI? What were the fears? What were the upsides, downsides? What things that we need to consider to protect from? And we had really deep, engaged conversations, but the outcome generally was optimistic and thinking that this was going to be another tool in a line of other advancements that give creatives and those that are creative the opportunity to do more and then come up with more really cool things. So we’ll see where it goes. But that conversation, along with others that I’ve had with artists, with the producers that have been using AI, have really been helpful in informing where we’re going to go as an Academy.

I met with the copyright office. We talked exclusively about AI. They came to my studio. I showed them how AI was involved in music. We talked about what they could do to help around intellectual property protection and copyright protection. So we’re in on that front, on the political side and legislation side. I met with the producers, all the producers that have been using AI and actually having hit records. We’ve reached out to them, we’ve talked to them, learned from them. Labels have been really a key part of this conversation to help us define what is AI’s role? What does it look like? What does it mean? How are we going to allow artists to continue to thrive and creators be able to create? So this is across the board, talking to everyone we can meet with.

Robot Plays Piano Hangzhou

Robot Plays Piano Hangzhou

We met with people from tech companies. They flew down from Silicon Valley, which was incredible and super thoughtful of them. Talked to experts specifically about AI. Some of them didn’t know anything about music, but they all knew everything about AI. So we just were picking their brains and figuring out what is the intention? What are the things to think about? What are the things that we should be watching out for? So we’ve had really good conversations.

What we ended up finding out when we talked around the brainstorm session for creatives is that AI, although a little bit scary — because many of us have worked our entire lives to perfect the craft of making music and figuring out how to play an instrument or how to work on a software or a computer or in a studio — while that is frightening, the idea of AI being able to be utilized by a creative in a very bespoke, specialized way is going to still be able to allow us to differentiate what we make. And what I’m trying to say is taste and the acumen of the creative is still going to be at a premium because you have to prompt this stuff. And if your readers aren’t as familiar with it, you have to tell AI what you want. And when you get it back, it’s not perfect.

You get it back, you make a change, you make a revision, you reprompt, you remix. And this editing process is really common to what producers do or songwriters do anyway. We’re always listening to what we’ve done. What are the musicians that are playing, spitting out or creating? And then, OK, now try this, try that. From the beginning of music, we’ve been editors, we’ve been people that pull away the unnecessary parts and highlight the exciting parts. That’s going to continue with AI. I think it’s just going to give us more possibilities, more opportunities, maybe more versions to think about or interpret. But for the most part, the creative people that I’ve talked to have felt optimistic about it, provided that we can make sure there’s a way to monetize it and continue to attribute credit to the right people in using AI.

Here is the Academy’s official rule about AI recordings:

The GRAMMY Award recognizes creative excellence. Only human creators are eligible to be submitted for consideration for, nominated for, or win a GRAMMY Award. A work that contains no human authorship is not eligible in any Categories. A work that features elements of A.I. material (i.e., material generated by the use of artificial intelligence technology) is eligible in applicable Categories; however: (1) the human authorship component of the work submitted must be meaningful and more than de minimis; (2) such human authorship component must be relevant to the Category in which such work is entered (e.g., if the work is submitted in a songwriting Category, there must be meaningful and more than de minimis human authorship in respect of the music and/or lyrics; if the work is submitted in a performance Category, there must be meaningful and more than de minimis human authorship in respect of the performance); and (3) the author(s) of any A.I. material incorporated into the work are not eligible to be nominees or GRAMMY recipients insofar as their contribution to the portion of the work that consists of such A.I material is concerned. De minimis is defined as lacking significance or importance; so minor as to merit disregard

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