Yesterday, AI brought a Beatles song our way

3 Nov 2023

A record of With The Beatles. Image: Badgreeb Records/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Using machine learning technology, a demo that John Lennon made in the 1970s was restored and turned into a new song.

Roughly 28 years since The Beatles released a song, a “new” single from the band has been released thanks to the restorative power of AI.

The new song – called Now and Then – was released yesterday (2 November), but its journey first began as a demo that John Lennon made in the 1970s.

The idea to create the song came about in the 90s, but there were technical difficulties in working with the tape-recording Lennon had left behind.

In a short film detailing the song’s creation, Paul McCartney said the piano was “a little hard to hear” and that “we didn’t have the technology to do the separation”.

Between these challenges, creative differences among the surviving members of the band and George Harrison’s death in 2001, the idea of remaking the song was put on hold.

However, technology used by director Peter Jackson for the documentary series Get Back restored the idea of bringing the song back to life. This series had a focus on using AI technology to enhance old songs.

Jackson claims that the series team developed technology that can take any soundtrack and “split all the different components into separate tracks based on machine learning”.

“So in the mix, we could lift John’s voice without lifting the piano, which had always been one of the problems,” McCartney said. “Now we could mix it and make a proper record of it.”

The surviving band members came back together to work on the song, with McCartney performing a guitar solo that bears a similar style to Harrison’s previous work with band.

Various companies are working on AI technology that can create music, such as Meta’s model that can create songs from text-prompts. Meanwhile, the concept of taking a singer’s voice to create new songs has raised questions around copyright.

But earlier this year, McCartney claimed on X that “nothing has been artificially or synthetically created” in the new Beatles song.

“It’s all real and we all play on it,” McCartney said. “We cleaned up some existing recordings – a process which has gone on for years.”

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A record of With The Beatles. Image: Badgreeb Records via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic