To the delight of millions of fans worldwide, The Beatles, more than 50 years after their breakup, released a "new" song today called "Now and Then," written and sung by John Lennon. It was made possible by artificial intelligence, but not the generative AI currently grabbing headlines. And it raises a whole set of questions about the future of the music business.
Shortly after Lennon was killed in 1980, his widow, Yoko Ono, gave Paul McCartney a cassette tape labeled "For Paul." In 1995 and 1996, the three surviving Beatles released versions of two of the songs from Lennon's cassettes as part of the multimedia Anthology project. "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love" marked the band's first "new" material in over two decades.
Like the new song, those additions to the Beatles catalog used Lennon's vocals with new backing tracks recorded by the other band members. But lifting Lennon's voice using 1990s technology wasn't easy. Said producer Jeff Lynne about the track "Free as a Bird," "It was so hard. Layering that voice in there, which had piano glued to it. Really difficult, virtually impossible. But we got it done somehow."
The technology worked, and so did the overall concept—all three Anthology CD releases reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts and catapulted the Beatles back into the public eye.
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