Universal Music Group (UMG) has entered into “a first-of-its-kind strategic relationship” with generative AI sound wellness startup Endel to create what they call “AI-powered, artist-driven functional music”.
According to Endel, so-called functional music (e.g. music for sleep, running, relaxation etc) “represents one of the largest sub-categories of music listening worldwide, encompassing an estimated 15 billion streams a month across all music platforms”.
Under this “groundbreaking” agreement, the two companies will use Endel’s proprietary AI technology to let UMG artists “reimagine” their music and create “science-backed soundscapes designed to enhance listeners’ wellness” using both new music and new versions of catalog music.
Berlin-based Endel runs a cross-platform “ecosystem” of AI-powered apps that produce personalized sounds to help people focus, relax, and sleep.
It uses personal inputs from the user’s movement, time of day, weather, heart rate, location, and other factors to produce personalized soundscapes.
Last year, Endel raised $15 million from its series B funding round led by Roku investor Waverley Capital and True Ventures, an investor in Fitbit, Peloton, Blue Bottle Coffee, and Ring. It also has backing from the likes of Amazon Alexa and Avex Group.
In the coming months, UMG will announce the first wave of soundscapes under the new agreement with Endel.
Endel has previously worked with Republic Records’ artist James Blake, whose ambient Wind Down soundscape was released as an album in May 2022.
Other past collaborations include Miguel and Grimes, among other artists.
Endel says that it uses artist-provided stems to create soundscapes “driven by scientific insights into how music affects our mind-state”.
The announcement adds that these soundscapes “provide artists and rightsholders new opportunities to generate additional revenue for their catalogs”.
The press release from UMG and Endel adds that the functional music category “has been plagued with sub-par offerings”, and that “artists are now able to embrace functional music insights to further expand and reimagine their work utilizing AI technology that has been created ethically to enhance, rather than exploit copyrighted works to create derivative generative soundscapes”.
“We are excited to work together and utilize their patented AI technology to create new music soundscapes – anchored in our artist-centric philosophy.”
Michael Nash, Universal Music Group
“At UMG, we believe in the incredible potential of ethical AI as a tool to support and enhance the creativity of our artists, labels and songwriters, something that Endel has harnessed with impressive ingenuity and scientific innovation,” said Michael Nash, Universal Music Group’s EVP, Chief Digital Officer.
“We are excited to work together and utilize their patented AI technology to create new music soundscapes – anchored in our artist-centric philosophy – that are designed to enhance audience wellness, powered by AI that respects artists’ rights in its development.”
“It’s extremely exciting to see UMG embracing artist-driven AI. Endel allows music companies like UMG to draw on the astounding capabilities of AI and functional music while respecting their artists’ rights.”
Oleg Stavitsky, Endel
Oleg Stavitsky, Endel’s CEO, said: “Endel has been artist- and human-focused from day one. Our goal was always to help people focus, relax, and sleep with the power of sound.
“AI is the perfect tool for this. Today, seeing our technology being applied to turn your favorite music into functional soundscapes is a dream come true.
“We’re extremely excited to put Endel AI to work and help UMG build new and exciting offerings to promote wellness and banish the perceived threat around AI.”
Added Stavitsky: “It’s extremely exciting to see UMG embracing artist-driven AI. Endel allows music companies like UMG to draw on the astounding capabilities of AI and functional music while respecting their artists’ rights.
“In that way, Endel acts more as a collaborator than a tool, giving artists control and freedom while satisfying a real market need for more music that can support their wellbeing.”
UMG’s partnership with Endel follows a major music industry news story from last month involving generative AI: that a track featuring AI-replicated Drake and the Weekend ‘vocals’ had gone viral, not only on social media, but also on music streaming platforms. It was subsequently deleted by these platforms. Both Drake and The Weeknd release their (real life) records via UMG and its Republic Records.
On Universal Music Group’s quarterly Q1 2023 earnings call, UMG Chairman and CEO Sir Lucian Grainge was asked whether UMG would one day consider licensing some of its sound recordings to a company like OpenAI (creator of ChatGPT), so that creators could use such a platform legally build new music based on “derivative” copyrights.
“We’re open to, in terms of licensing, any business solution,” said Grainge. “Obviously [within that], you have to respect our artists and the integrity of their work.
“My philosophy for this company has always been [that] we should be, and can be, ‘the hostess with the mostest’.
“So yes, we’re open for business with [AI companies] which are legitimate, which are supportive, and [with] which we can create a partnership for growth.”Music Business Worldwide