AI is already making “functional music” for major label artists

The tech turns songs into soundscapes that help you sleep or focus.
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The biggest record label in the world has teamed up with a generative AI startup to transform its artists’ music into “soundscapes” designed to help listeners sleep, focus, and more.

The rise of soundscapes: Also known as “functional music,” soundscapes are audio tracks designed to alter your brain patterns, heart rate, breathing, and more in ways that prime you for specific activities, such as sleeping or studying — and they’re hugely popular on streaming platforms.

“Every day, hundreds of millions of people are self-medicating with sound,” Oleg Stavitsky, CEO of Endel, a company that uses generative AI to create soundscapes, wrote in Billboard. “If you look at the top 10 most popular playlists at any major streaming service, you’ll see at least 3-4 ‘functional’ playlists: meditation, studying, reading, relaxation, focus, sleep, and so on.”

“I think we’ve invented something not just beautiful or even meaningful, but truly practical.”

James Blake

AI collab: The music industry is keenly aware of the popularity of soundscapes and the threat they pose to mainstream artists — in January, Lucian Grainge, CEO of Universal Music Group (UMG), lamented the flood of “lower-quality functional content” stealing attention from artists on streaming platforms.

Now, rather than trying to fight these low-quality soundscapes for streams, UMG has decided it’s going to make its own functional music with the help of Endel’s AI. 

How it works: UMG artists will supply Endel with “stems” — the building blocks of a song, such as its drums or vocals — and Endel will then use its patented AI tech to turn the stems into functional music for sleep, relaxation, and more.

“These soundscapes provide artists and rights holders new opportunities to generate additional revenue for their catalogs, while expanding and enhancing their work into new areas and moments in fans’ lives, and aspiring to support wellness for the listener,” writes Endel.

Looking ahead: UMG is home to some of the biggest artists in the world, including Taylor Swift, Drake, and the Weeknd. As for which of its artists will be turning their tracks into soundscapes with Endel, the label says the “first wave” of releases will be announced in the coming months.

No word on how streaming revenue will break down between Endel, UMG, and the artists, but other musicians have seemingly found the collaboration to be worthwhile. Producer/pop artist Grimes, Grammy-winning artist Miguel, and English musician James Blake have all created soundscapes with the tech company.

“[The album] ‘Wind Down’ lets me explore the more ambient side of my music and create a project to support people in a new way,” Blake said of the collaboration. “It’s mesmerizing to hear how my music blends with the science-based sounds of Endel’s AI, and I think we’ve invented something not just beautiful or even meaningful, but truly practical.”

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