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Fake Drake: Can AI actually write and record hit songs?

Drake, seen here performing at Lollapalooza Chile in March 2023, hasn’t said much about the reportedly AI-generated fake vocal that appears in the viral hit, “Heart on My Sleeve.” | Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images | Source: Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images

The internet is buzzing with speculation this week after an anonymous TikTok creator going by the name Ghostwriter977 posted a song titled “Heart on My Sleeve” that quickly racked up millions of streams online.

The track in question features apparently fake performances that sound eerily similar to the vocal stylings of hip-hop superstars Drake and The Weeknd—and the beat carries a familiar audio signature used by the sought-after music producer Metro Boomin.

According to reports on the viral video, none of the aforementioned artists had anything to do with the song. According to Ghostwriter977, the tune was created using artificial intelligence.

“I used AI to make a Drake song feat. the weeknd,” the caption on the viral TikTok reads.

But what does that even mean? Can AI actually write hit songs now?

According to experts at the intersection of music and artificial intelligence, it’s unlikely that the track was made with AI from soup to nuts. However, a number of music tech tools were almost certainly harnessed in the production of “Heart on My Sleeve.”

Jessica Powell is the CEO of Audioshake, a San Francisco-based music technology company that works with record labels, music publishers and artists to extract what are called “stems” from music recordings. A stem, simply put, is an isolated piece of music pulled from a multitracked recording.

Audioshake has created a tool that uses AI to zero in on discrete instruments and voices within a given song—drums, guitar, bass or a vocal performance, for example—and isolate those parts so that they can be remixed or remastered independently of one another.

Powell’s company is not the only firm that produces this type of software, and the Audioshake CEO made a point of saying her product was not used to create “Heart on My Sleeve.” However, she speculated that the person behind the viral track likely used a similar tool to extract vocal stems from a number of Drake and The Weeknd tracks in preparation for producing the banger.

From there, according to Zach Wener, founder and CEO of Uberduck, Ghostwriter977 likely turned to a vocal modeling AI tool. Many such open source tools are easy to find online and can be used on most modern computers, he said.

Wener’s Seattle-based company works with artists to help them create synthetic vocals and with labels in a consulting capacity.

As someone familiar with AI-powered vocal modeling, Wener said he has been following “Heart on My Sleeve”—and other similar stories—closely. His professional opinion on the song is that it was probably made almost entirely by a human. 

“You can’t just type ‘Make me a Drake collaboration with The Weeknd’ into a box and have it spit out a song,” he said.

In the case of “Heart on My Sleeve,” he suspects a human made the beat, a human wrote the lyrics and a human actually sang and rapped the words into a microphone. At that point, he said, a “skin” was most likely applied to the vocal performances. These vocal effects work like the audio version of an Instagram or TikTok filter—adding a Drake-like and Weeknd-like timbre to the verses and choruses.

They aren’t perfect, and fans familiar with both Drake and The Weeknd likely weren’t fooled—at least not for long.

“I still perceive a gap,” Wener said of the ability of this technology to imitate artists and the genuine article. However, he added, AI technology is moving incredibly fast at the moment.

“Any advice you give today about how you can tell a human beat from an AI beat will be outdated tomorrow.”