In one of our previous stories, we've briefly covered this already: Ben Hill, a UK-based musician known as Posse Unit, used LALAL.AI to create an AI song with Taylor Swift's voice. The song climbed the UK top charts soon after, and Ben got huge press coverage in the national outlets.
This song is already removed from Spotify, YouTube, and other platforms (but Ben can send a tape if you're ready to shell out £10 for one), so we've decided to talk to him about this bold experiment, the setup he exploited apart from an old knackered Lenovo and a refreshing can of Skol, ask Ben what he thinks of AI in music, and much more stuff.
Tell us a bit more about how you got into music & for how long you've been doing that.
Ever since the young age of four or five, I've been surrounded by music because my mum and dad were in a band, and they used to rehearse every Sunday night in our living room, so I'd be listening in on the stairs. Then, my dad left a guitar behind when he passed away, and I secretly used to take that out when my mum wasn't around to play the guitar and learned how to play it.
I started writing songs when I was about nine or ten, and I even started sending demo tapes away to EMI Records and stuff, but with a ten-year-old's handwriting. So it looked really bad. The fact they were in crayon as well probably didn't help my cause, so ever since those early days, I've been writing songs surrounded by music.
Very lucky to meet some wonderful people on the way. I spent a lot of time at Peter Gabriel's studios in Box, Wiltshire, which is not a million miles away from where I grew up in Bath. So yeah, I've been in and out of bands, which is always better than being in and out of prison, right?
Why did you choose Taylor Swift's voice for your AI song?
Dickie Chappell, one of the guys I hang around with and am a very good friend with, who's also Peter Gabriel’s co-producer, told me in the summer I needed to check out what Taylor Swift is doing concert-wise. What she's doing is putting the show in the middle of the stadium. All these decades of the shows being at the end of the stadium, like Live Aid and Woodstock, and she's performing in the middle of the stadium. So I've got to check this out. And I was thinking, "God, not only is it a great show, but also as a songwriter, it'd be amazing to have Taylor Swift sing on one of my songs." I like a challenge.
Using your wonderful technology, LALAL.AI, I separated her voice.
And then, at the end of June, Paul McCartney came out and said, "We've got a new Beatles song, and John's on it. Well, we've used AI, but it's still John's voice. We just took it off the old tape and separated the piano and his voice," and I was thinking I could just do that with a Taylor Swift song. And I used "Renegade," "Snow On The Beach," "Tolerate It"—it was back in the summer, and using your wonderful technology, LALAL.AI, I separated her voice, put it in Pro Tools, and basically, through the wonders of technology, got it in time and in tune to the melody that I wanted her to sing.
So, she's on it. She doesn't know she's on it, but she's on my single. And you never say that Taylor Swift is on your single until it's charted. You wait.
But we found out this week that the song's been taken down all over—YouTube, Apple, Amazon, iTunes. But it doesn't matter.
So they removed the song?
We had an email from Universal Music, which is her label, and it said the song was now off Spotify, off iTunes. It's never going to be released again due to copyright infringement. So it's gone, it's gone, it's gone.
Universal Music has removed it, but it's too late. There's a saying in England, "They've closed the door on the stable after the horse has run off." It's probably shorter to say they shut the door after the horse bolted, but that's true. So I don't worry about it not being there anymore, I did it. It's a bit like them closing off Everest after you've got to the top.
But it's done its job. It's got you guys out there, and it's got me out there. For a bit.
Have you tried to re-upload it?
I only tried once [to upload it again] on YouTube. And the guy at We Are RGM [distribution company] said, "You're insane. If you want to try uploading this, it's not going to be up there for five minutes."
I was speaking to my friend yesterday, and he was saying to me that the reason you won't upload those songs is because people such as Universal Music and the whole music industry spend billions on basically getting AI off their platforms.
So, the only way I got around it was by not saying Taylor Swift is on on the song. Otherwise, I would never have got as far as I did. And I think that AI is a really positive thing if you want to use people's vocals with permission, such as "Now and Then" has been done by The Beatles.
Was it the first time you've created something with AI?
Yes. Only because I've failed so much in the last two years. I've released 15 singles, thrown so much money at trying to get a record deal, trying to get a song on the radio, and trying to get on playlists on Spotify. And out of pure frustration, I thought, well, I'm going to get a big star to sing on my song and maybe get some press, and I did.
I mean, it's not across the globe, it's not massive. But we did all right, didn't we?
And did you expect it to climb that high in the UK charts?
We've got a really good team at the label and the distribution company I use, called We Are RGM. They are really hot on publicity and promotion when it comes to iTunes. So we've got a few singles on iTunes before, but not one that's ever really got this much attention. They're the geniuses for doing it.
What did you feel when you saw it in the charts & press across the UK?
I was crying so much that my partner thought we'd won EuroMillions, and I had to explain to her quite carefully that we hadn't actually won EuroMillions. I'd just gone in the charts, and then we started getting the press involved. They were interested because it's a hot topic. What were The Beatles doing? What they did and Paul McCartney's doing—it's a great time to be alive because you never thought you'd see a Beatles song at No 1. And they did it using AI.
And your software is really, really good.
Your tool is so good. It's like stepping into a pair of Adidas.
What feedback did you receive from the music industry and the music community in the UK and beyond?
My listeners, both of them, loved the song. One of them was my mum. She's a big fan of it. My brother actually works for a huge record label in London, and he was texting me straight away saying, "What have you done?! Get this down now, you're going to go to prison."
And the word on the street is in the music industry that you cannot have a bad word to say about Taylor Swift or say anything bad about Taylor Swift. And really, I'm not saying anything bad about Taylor Swift. I think she's great. I just wanted her to sing on my song, you know? She's brilliant. She's got some fantastic songs. I think she's got a big future. I only did it because I'm a fan, not because of anything bad, but the streams went up and up and up. Streaming was really good after the press. And, of course, now the streaming has gone really bad because no one can actually stream it apart from me here.
It still sounds good. I stream it once a day to myself.
How did you come across LALAL.AI?
I typed in "separating vocals using AI," and you guys are at the top. I don't think there are any other people apart from you out there unless you look deeper into it. But you're the only guys that were in English.
Your software is so good. It's like stepping into a pair of Adidas. Why go elsewhere? It works. It did a really good job clearing up. Well, not clearing up, her voice is fantastic. I didn't have to do anything to her voice but separate the stems. And if it can do that sort of work on a knackered old Lenovo, it can do it on an Apple Mac. I used the desktop version for Windows, by the way.
Could you walk us through the process? So you've uploaded the song to LALAL.AI, isolated the vocals. And then what?
So you put it in [LALAL.AI] and you get the track up you want. It's so good! It kind of guides you where you want to go with it, what you want to take out. I could have had Taylor Swift's drums on the song, but it wouldn't have got as much press. So I just went and got the vocals of four of her songs extracted. And then it's easy to export once you've used LALAL.AI.
It's easy to put it into Pro Tools and get it in time and tune, which took longer than actually extracting the vocals. But I quantized it all, and it came together pretty quickly. As long as you've got her in tune and in time, you just drop her in on the backing track of the song "Get Your Head On This," which is now available absolutely nowhere in the world.
I could send you a tape if you want. If anyone's interested, I can send you a tape. They're £10 each plus VAT.
I could have had Taylor Swift's drums on the song, but it wouldn't have got as much press.
And we mixed it in about two days. Without the software, you couldn't do that. Look at what Peter Jackson's done with that Beatles song. With your software being so easy to separate tracks, I could have had anything on there: synths or piano, but Taylor's voice is brilliant. So not only do you get a voice, you get her voice that sounds like it's been recorded in a state-of-the-art studio, which it has.
I think you guys are really great at trailblazing this technology, you're leading the way.
And I think [my song] is one of the first examples of AI being used and quickly being taken down, which kind of proves that the music business isn't lying when they say they spend $4 billion clamping down on it.
So I'm like the guinea pig. I'm like the fox that went out into the woods and got snared. If there's any vegetarians reading this, I'm so sorry. It's like I went over the top, so to speak, and I was like the spy in the camp that got caught.
I did it just to see if I could get away with it and to see how tight the AI security is. And it's pretty tight.
What other features would you like us to implement?
I'd like you to be able to get it like Pro Tools—get what you've extracted in time and in tune. That would be the next step. Kind of like garage bands where you can make it all in one place so that you don't have to take it to Pro Tools.
And every time you sell a license to that, I would like some money. You know, I could work for you guys. Think about it, I can do weekends.
What advice would you give to other songwriters & sound producers who want to incorporate AI into their music?
I would go for it. I think it's a brilliant thing, and even not for music, but for old interviews and stuff like that. If you went back to the Titanic, got some newsreel, and got some survivors talking, you could clear all that up. That would be fantastic. If the [Titanic survivors] were being interviewed and some of them had water in their mouths or something like that, you could get the water out of their mouths using AI.
That's an extreme case.
And in a music kind of way, AI is brilliant. I can see stuff like Led Zeppelin or what The Beatles are doing now, cleaning up old recordings and making them sound absolutely phenomenal. And you know, it will sound like Led Zeppelin are in your bedroom.
Don't do what I do. It was just an experiment, and it worked for about a week.