25 February 2020
The Endel algorithm promises to create several music albums per year, including a range of bespoke landscapes for listeners. Photo: iTunes
The Endel algorithm promises to create several music albums per year, including a range of bespoke landscapes for listeners. Photo: iTunes

The music deal of the future

What is the future of the music industry? Streaming has taken over as the irrefutable leader although the likes of Taylor Swift have raged against streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music. Other products such as Tidal purport to benefit artists and fans alike, but the relationship between labels, fans and artists is fraught with tension.

The decline of CD purchasing has created a void where many have wondered whether the industry can survive at all. HMV died, new MacBook’s don’t even have a CD player, and Walkmans just look silly.

In the new economic environment, most artists rely on merchandise, commercial sponsorship, and touring to pay the bills, whereas CDs and vinyl are more of a nice add-on, with figures showing they are heading towards niche status.

Luckily for the industry, streaming services are gaining in maturity. In the UK, British Phonographic Industry figures show subscriptions to streaming platforms from the likes of Spotify, Amazon Music and Apple Music made 54 percent of the £865.5 million total record label income in 2018.

Streaming subscription revenues have risen 220 percent in 3 years, while income from physical formats dropped by 22.5 percent in 2018. Of these, vinyl sales reached £57.1 million in 2018, double the 2015 total of £25.1 million, meanwhile revenue from CD sales of £176.8 million was down by 28.4 percent year-on-year in 2018.

The numbers are shaky, considering the post-millennium peak year of 2001 saw £1.2 billion made in the UK. That was 18 years ago, a reason why record labels are looking around for the next big thing. Artists? Meh. They are a pain, they overdose, and throw tantrums. Who wants to deal with them? So was it any surprise thus when Warner Music announced it has signed a record deal with an algorithm?

The app or algorithm in question is Endel, its team promises to create 20 albums per year, including a range of bespoke landscapes for listeners. It’s backed by the Amazon Alexa Fund and Japanese entertainment giant Avex Group, alongside the likes of Chris Leacock or “Jillionaire” from pop group Major Lazer.

Let’s face it, you probably won’t get the next Beatles or Rolling Stones from code, but you will get mood music for work or play. And in a bonus for the record labels, an algorithm will shut up and get to work whenever it is told, doesn’t complain, have a drugs problem, and works 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Unless it becomes Terminator, then ‘hasta la vista baby’.

The way Endel functions is it adapts in real-time to different personal inputs like location, weather, and heart rate gathered from wearables, working with circadian rhythms to fit into to its users’ lives. Available on smartphones and via Amazon Echo via subscription, the app already has four albums out, known as ‘modes’: Relax, Focus, On-the-Go, and Sleep.

I’m not particularly sold on any of it. Two be fair, Endel looks like it is going for an updated version of the ‘muzak’ model. It is geared towards people who want background music, with potential benefits such as reducing anxiety and improving mood, driven by tech and data science.

Call me a skeptic, but does that make it any different from your Spotify playlist, or albums? If you really need to get some sleep, opt for John Cage’s “Four minutes, thirty-three seconds” of silence on repeat, and don’t have any kids… that will do the trick. Or just take some sleeping pills.

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EJI contributor