Recording Academy CEO to artists: Don’t fear A.I.

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Before becoming the CEO of the Recording Academy, Harvey Mason Jr. wrote songs for Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and Britney Spears. Even with this strong artistic background, Mason Jr. is a believer that A.I. will complement, not compete, with musicians.

“I think if we get the right guide rails in place, A.I. can be a creative amplifier, not a replacement for creativity,” Mason Jr. said Wednesday at Fortune Brainstorm Tech in a conversation with conference co-chair Terri Burns. “That’s what technology has been throughout history since somebody invented a drum or a wood stick with some holes in it; the flute.”

As the Recording Academy’s chief executive at this critical moment in technology, Mason Jr.’s embrace of A.I. may alter the course of musical history. 

Mason Jr. acknowledges both the “terrifying” and “great” nature of A.I. He cited “Heart on My Sleeve,” a song featuring A.I. versions of rapper Drake and the Weeknd—which garnered millions of plays before Universal Music Group removed the song citing infringement—as the shining example. “Consumers want music by their favorite artists, they want to hear their favorite singers or rappers performing songs. So the possibility of A.I. contributing to that is both interesting and a little bit scary,” he said. 

Still, he said that creators are not “embracing” A.I., and chalks that up to fear. “It’s scary when you hear your voice being replicated, without an agreement, or even attribution or remuneration, coming back to you as an artist, or as a singer, as a writer.”

This fear came to a head with the release, and ultimate takedown, of “Heart on My Sleeve.” And while most artists seemed opposed to digital duplication as the song made headlines, singer Grimes embraced the possibility of her A.I. clone—so long as she receives 50% royalties. “Same deal as I would with any artist i collab with. Feel free to use my voice without penalty. I have no label and no legal bindings,” she tweeted in April.

As an artist and executive, Mason Jr. seems to have done it all. He served as musical producer on Pitch Perfect 2, Get on Up, and Straight Outta Compton. He has written and produced songs like Jennifer Hudson’s “And I Am Telling You” and Whitney Houston’s “I Look to You.” In May of 2021 he became the chief executive officer of the Recording Academy, which hosts the Grammy Awards and serves as the music industry’s informal governing body.

He noted that digital work, including A.I., has never been excluded from the Grammy Awards. And he said he hoped that more creators will experiment with A.I. and redefine human ownership of digital work. “We as an academy want to award human creativity,” he said. “I can’t even understand how we would award a Grammy to a computer.”

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