Grammys Clarify AI Eligibility for Awards

It's one of many questions facing the music industry

Thundercat at the Grammy Awards
Thundercat arriving at the 2023 Grammy Awards.
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

In 2019, Pitchfork reported that Warner Music had partnered with an app called Endel which now looks like a forerunner of what we’re now calling AI. As Matthew Strauss wrote at the time, the app in question “creates personalized music for you based on a mood that you can request” — and the Warner deal allowed its work to be distributed on a grander scale. That increasingly feels like the beginning of something, a shift within the music industry that suggested that a computer program might wind up becoming someone’s favorite artist.

And now, the CEO of the Recording Academy, Harvey Mason, Jr., has clarified the circumstances under which an AI could end up winning a Grammy — or, in certain circumstances, not winning a Grammy. Mason provided the Associated Press’s Maria Sherman (via ABC) with some clarification on what the institution’s recent guidelines meant for AI-assisted music.

“Here’s the super easy, headline statement: AI, or music that contains AI-created elements is absolutely eligible for entry and for consideration for Grammy nomination,” Mason told the Associated Press. “Period.” Mason went on to clarify that “we are not going to give a Grammy or Grammy nomination to the AI portion.”

“We don’t want to see technology replace human creativity,” he added. “We want to make sure technology is enhancing, embellishing, or additive to human creativity.”

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It’s a nuanced position for a challenging — and constantly shifting — divide. Where, exactly, does an artist using software for their music end and the software begin? An excellent Philip Sherburne article at Pitchfork from 2022 explores some of these very questions — and alludes to the musicians who are using AI to push their work into new areas instead of simply trying to reinvent the wheel.

That said, it’s also unlikely that we’ll see (for example) Holly Herndon nominated for a Grammy any time soon — which is a shame, as her album PROTO is fantastic. It’s also eminently possible that the question of AI eligibility for Grammys will prove to be a moot question, if nothing that can be described in that way is actually nominated — but it’s an issue that’s likely to loom over contemporary music for years to come.

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