Meditation apps want us to relax. The musicians are happy to help.
When Erykah Badu creates a new song, she begins with instruments that are usually treated as props, like bells, shakers, mallets, and tuning forks. It’s been like that since “Baduizm”, the singer and producer debut in 1997.
“What attracts me, you and anyone else, is that these frequencies and tones connect with our organs and cells,” she said from her home in Dallas. “You are able to cancel certain diseases. You vibrate the molecules apart.
Badu is a longtime believer and practitioner of what she calls the healing arts. She became a doula in 2001 and a reiki master in 2006. For her last trip, she built a 58-minute instrumental piece of “new age old futuristic medicine music “for the Headspace meditation app. Released as part of the company’s Focus Music series, it’s a gently undulating wave, sometimes punctuated with deep bass reverberations.
“I feel like life is a process of healing after healing after healing,” Badu said. “Everything I do is going to reflect this.”
Badu’s composition is part of the whirlwind of music and mindfulness that has only grown stronger during the pandemic. With no dance floors or concert halls to fill, many listeners turned to softer, more subdued music to help calm their restless spirits. In response, artists who may not have ventured publicly into this sometimes esoteric field land now feel emboldened to do so.
Last September, Diplo released their debut ambient album, “MMXX”, while at the beginning of May, Sufjan Stevens released a five-volume collection of keyboard music titled “Convocations”. Alicia Keys recently conducted a 21-day “meditation experience” with Deepak Chopra, available on her website.
Although new age artists have released music for meditation on cassette and CD for decades, now tech companies are happy to financially support musical experimentation that fits their own goals. In the past 15 anxious and uncertain months, wellness apps have mushroomed with new subscribers looking for different experiences. In the past, musicians could line up with initiatives related to Vans, Red Bull or Toyota – powerful brands willing to use their deep pockets to gain credibility with young consumers. Now mindfulness apps are playing a similar role, providing artistic opportunities at a precarious time for the music industry.
Headspace wanted to develop more music that helps people focus on a task, and last August the company announced the appointment of John Legend as Music Director. Legend kicked off the monthly Focus Music project with a licensed playlist of melodious jazz tracks. In addition to Badu’s contribution, subsequent installments featured original voiceless pieces by artists, including famous film music composer Hans Zimmer and rock band Arcade Fire.
“Musicians have always been there to convey a particular state of mind through a song or sound,” said William Fowler, content manager for material that appears in the Headspace app. He noted that Focus Music arrived “in a year where musicians who had other plans found themselves with time for a project like this,” giving the company access “to people who otherwise could do something else ”.
In March 2019, Moby released “Long Ambients Two”, an album of extended compositions meant to help listeners fall asleep, exclusively on Calm, which started out as a meditation app. Subsequently, the company was inundated with inquiries from other musicians. Calm had limited experience of this world and hired Courtney Phillips, the former director of brand partnerships at Universal Music Group, to become its chief music officer and grow its library.
She continued streaming premieres, but also commissioned artists like country star Keith Urban and genre-twister. Moses Sumney to create original pieces. Calm has also released a series of hour-long “sleep remixes” of songs from Universal artists, including “Circles” by Post Malone and “Breathin” by Ariana Grande.
“We’re a tech company, so we like to watch: why do people come here? What do they want? ”Says Phillips.“ Piano is the most popular genre of all time, according to Calm, so I want to make sure that I offer a variety of different piano music for people. And at the same time. , I want to work with artists and be like, let’s do something that people maybe don’t expect.
Endel, the Berlin-based tech company, has developed an approach to promote mental health through music that embraces European sophistication. Instead of the vivid colors and wellness iconography of its competitors, its app is strictly black and white with a minimalist interface. Oleg Stavitsky, the CEO of the company, is an avowed music enthusiast who, in our video interview, proudly released his Laurie Anderson and Ornette Coleman albums. He said he got interested in digging deep after checking out his parents’ vinyl collection.
“Once you start digging, you inevitably end up at Brian Eno’s at some point,” he said, referring to the producer and songwriter responsible for several landmark works of ambient music.
While the music in most meditation apps is looped or has preset start and end points, Endel’s output is more dynamic. The company has developed an algorithm that it claims takes into account factors such as time of day, weather, and a person’s heart rate to deliver a personalized sound experience every time.
Neoclassical composer Dmitry Evgrafov is one of the co-founders of Endel, and he provides the original musical roots that artificial intelligence incorporates, but understandably members of society wondered what would happen if the source material came from other artists. Grimes designed the “AI Lullaby” sleep aid and Endel recently released a productivity track called “Deep Focus” by Plastikman, the minimal techno alias of DJ and producer Richie Hawtin.
“When we talk to a lot of these artists, they either thought about doing something like this or they’ve done something like this before,” Stavitsky said. “They are looking for interesting and low risk ways to distribute this content.”
Hawtin signed up for a series of transcendental meditation classes shortly before the pandemic swept through Western Europe, where he resides. Now twice a day he takes 20 minutes to repeat his mantra. These experiences remind him of a DJ’s ability to guide and almost hypnotize a receptive crowd. “For all its beauty, the techno and electronic dance music community has been on this hamster wheel for so many years,” said Hawtin. “It was a real moment of introspection to reconnect with music, machines and alternative ways of thinking and producing.”
Other artists arrived at meditation music during America’s last moment of financial uncertainty, in 2008. Trevor Oswalt, who releases music as East Forest, spent the early 2000s in playing in bands in New York, hoping to sign. Then came the recession. “Things were falling apart on the outside, and that was reflected in my inner life as well,” Oswalt said from his current home in southern Utah. “It pushed me to find alternatives. “
He started making instrumental music to help him with his own meditation practice and to prepare himself mentally before taking psilocybin. Eventually he released the music for the public. Since 2011, he’s been producing an average of at least one new album a year, including a 2019 collaboration with spiritual teacher Ram Dass, who died in December. Years ago, Oswalt created music for apps like Happy and one developed by yoga and meditation instructor Elena Brower. He has since been involved in apps like Wavepaths, Mydelic, and Field Trip, which are designed to help during psychedelic therapy sessions.
Oswalt seems amused by the recent influx of artists creating music for mindfulness applications, comparing him to asking a painter trained in realism to do something abstract. He thinks they might have the skills to be successful, but they don’t have the experience to really know what they’re doing. But he respects the musicians’ willingness to try.
“It’s pretty clear at first glance that we’re going through a major shift as a civilization, and that shift has to do with letting go of ways that don’t work,” he said. “It’s like burning the fields, you have to do it to fertilize the soil.”