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‘Focus, Relax, and Sleep’: Universal’s New AI Endeavor Is About Mood Music, Not Pop Hits​

Universal Music Group is partnering with Endel to help its artists make AI-assisted functional music

UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP — the world’s largest record company — has entered into a partnership with artificial intelligence music company Endel, establishing a new deal which UMG says will help its artists create AI-assisted music.

Listeners likely shouldn’t be expecting tracks from this collaboration to become typical mainstream pop hits, though; Endel specializes in what’s called “functional music” — soundscapes intended for more passive listening experiences (sleeping, white noise, meditation). Endel makes these tracks by taking stems that artists provide and morphing them into perpetually-changing songs that fit to a listener’s desired feeling or vibe. Artists including James Blake and Grimes have used Endel in the past to make their own ambient tracks.

It’s the first partnership of this nature for UMG, a notable development given the company’s own public statements in recent weeks about moving with caution in embracing AI in the industry. UMG has repeatedly stated that it sees potential in AI to assist artists in the song-making process, but that the music business’s stakeholders should draw a hard line at practices that infringe on artists’ content and further floods the already-saturated market with songs that draw ears from real musicians. The companies said artists from Republic and Interscope Records are already working on tracks, which will surface in the next few months.

AI-generated voice cloning has led to multiple songs going viral showing off the tech’s potential. One anonymously-uploaded track called “Heart On My Sleeve” featuring the cloned vocals of UMG artists Drake and the Weeknd went viral last month before all the major streaming services removed the track within a few days. “These instances demonstrate why platforms have a fundamental legal and ethical responsibility to prevent the use of their services in ways that harm artists,” UMG said of the song after it was taken down in April.

Regarding the new partnership with Endel, UMG’s executive vice president and chief digital officer Michael Nash emphasized the “incredible potential of ethical AI as a tool to support and enhance the creativity of our artists, labels and songwriters” and added that Endel’s music is “designed to enhance audience wellness.”

“Our goal was always to help people focus, relax, and sleep with the power of sound. AI is the perfect tool for this,” Endel’s chief executive officer Oleg Stavitsky added.

The companies’ emphasis on bolstering and not replacing artists with AI reflects the broader music industry’s rhetoric on the technology so far, with many of music’s most prominent trade groups launching the Human Artistry Campaign in March.

“Human artistry is irreplicable. Recent developments in AI are remarkable, but we have seen the costs before of rushing heedlessly forward without real thought or respect for law and rights,” RIAA chairman and CEO Mitch Glazier said of AI when the campaign launched. “Our principles are designed to chart a healthy path for AI innovation that enhances and rewards human artistry, creativity, and performance.”