The Apple Watch app of the year in 2020 wasn’t foodie fodder or a crypto play. It was Endel, a personalized adaptive soundscape that mixes musical and atmospheric elements and creates comforting music on the fly based on factors like the user’s location, heart rate and activity level.
Thanks to a revealing conversation with Apple CEO Tim Cook a year ago, Endel is taking its AI-generated soundscapes to a bigger screen. Its debut Apple TV activation Wind Down, a collaboration with Grammy- and Mercury Prize-winning music artist James Blake, debuts March 18 to mark World Sleep Day.
Cook called Endel co-founder and CEO Oleg Stavitsky a year ago after the company won the company accolade.
“I thought it would be a quick call, where he says congratulations and doesn’t really know who we are, but we ended up talking for an hour,” Stavitsky says. “He came very prepared and knew all the nuances and the details of how our tech works. And one of the first things he asked was, I noticed Endel is not available on Apple TV, when is this coming to Apple TV and what are your thoughts for creating a soundscape for an in-house experience?”
Cook’s comments struck a chord. Despite its immersion in a suite of individualized music for moods like relaxation, sleep and meditation, Endel was originally conceived as music for public places, Stavitsky says. The full circle moment brings the company into the communal experience of a household as its members wind down for bed.
The Berlin-based company isn’t the first to bring a relaxation play to the television. HBO Max collaborated with sleep/meditation app Calm to debut a series in October 2020, and Headspace brought guided, animated meditations and relaxation techniques to Netflix in January 2021.
But Wind Down’s offering—which combines elegant visuals, music and evidence-based insights in conjunction with SleepScore Labs—is unique in that at its core, it is scientific. The app accesses data such as preferred sleep time and location if a user gives permission to do so, or users can input select information the app will read and incorporate into the soundscape. During the day the offering is generally relaxing; as it gets closer to bedtime it will automatically segue to a two-hour sleep arc.
“This is the first experience we’ve created that goes beyond personal use. It’s meant to expand into your entire home,” explains Stavitsky. “Many people drift off with the TV on, and we wanted to turn that experience into one that supports good sleep, instead of interfering with it.”
The app is free, and will live across the Apple ecosystem as Endel moves away from it is initial subscription business plan to a freemium model where only a small portion of its soundscapes are behind a paywall. “We’re also building a whole new product, an addition to the Apple ecosystem, which is our TV app, which is the first time we built around soundscape,” he says.
The choice of Blake, who’s collaborated with Bon Iver, Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, and Frank Ocean, was a natural. He’s associated with ambient sound and has spoken openly about his own challenges with mental health and insomnia.
“James was literally finishing the sentences I was starting” about the project, Stavitsky says. Not to mention he considers himself a disciple of Stavitsky’s musical hero, Brian Eno.
Wind Down arrives on the heels of Endel’s functional sound collaborations with Grimes, with whom the company recently paired on AI-fueled lullabies, as well Plastikman, Miguel, Ian Isiah, Nailah Hunter, Yialmelic Frequencies and Simon on the Moon.
“Our next artist is going to be a scientist,” Stavitsky says. “We would love to co-design a soundscape with wellness experts, breath work experts, sleep scientists. We think scientists are the new celebrities. We see that shift and we want to amplify some of the voices in the wellness and mental health community and their input is going to be very interesting.”
Endel’s Expanding DSP Play
The TV activation coincides with the Dream Series release, five “static” artist-driven albums available on streaming music services worldwide featuring artists FACESOUL, Dmitri Evgrafov, anaiis, ANNA and monte booker.
It’s a move that sees Endel embracing a streaming strategy on its own terms after the company made headlines in 2019 when it signed a deal with Warner Music for 20 albums; Endel services its music now through indie distributor Platoon.
“Initially we were very hesitant. Why would we generate static music to put on Spotify and Apple Music when the whole point of Endel is that it is real time adaptive,” Stavitsky says. “But we did the deal with Warner, and it was the craziest months of my life. I didn’t expect it to blow up like it did. Then all the headlines came that an algorithm signed a deal with a major music company. People were both impressed and terrified that an AI can take over and replace artists, which was never our intention in the first place. Thankfully that narrative has changed.”
Stavitsky says he and his peers didn’t pay much attention to the DSP trajectory, but while working with Grimes they decided to take a look—and were stunned. “Turns out our content has been growing on the DSPs, 10s of millions of plays a month, and functional music market is exploding like crazy. We now actually have a few offers to be bought on the table.”
The offers, at least for the near term, are for naught.
“We are not engineering Endel for acquisition,” he says. “Exactly because of these conversations we’ve had with potential admirers, we know the market is massive and we are in the unique position to be a category-defining company, to be basically the Spotify for functional audio.”