There’s no melody, no lyrics, and you can’t dance to it. Don’t be put off: white noise is the next big thing in the music industry. Streaming services have seen an explosion of tracks over the past year consisting entirely of hiss, buzz, fizz and other varieties of static radio, as well as recordings of rainfall, ocean waves and wildfires. crackling joy.
Some of the recordings have earned their creators millions of pounds. Record labels and tech companies have taken notice. Apple is including background noise as an option in its upcoming Mac operating system, and TikTok influencers have been promoting pink noise and brown noise — sounds with lower frequencies that resemble wind or rustle sheets – as a concentration aid for students at the start of the school year.
Noise fans say study, sleep, and meditation are all enhanced by listening to these sounds at modest levels. The economy of streaming music means that noisemakers can take advantage of it. Someone who falls asleep to White Noise Baby Sleep’s 90-second track, Clean White Noise – Loopable With No Fade, repeated for seven hours, will log 280 plays. As of Friday, it had been played 837 million times, worth an estimated $2.5 million in royalties. The lead track from Spotify’s own Rain Sounds playlist, Two Minutes of Rain, has over 100 million plays.
In contrast, Laura Mvula only has 541,000 Spotify streams for the title track from Ivor Novello’s winning album this year, pink noise — not a sleepy slice but a melodious, lyrical 80s dance-pop that took him three years to make.
“What I’ve always criticized is that all streams are treated the same,” said Tom Gray, Gomez guitarist and founder of BrokenRecord, a campaign to get more streaming revenue to people. artists. “It seems democratic on some level, but it doesn’t take into account the real value the listener gets.”
Gray compared the practice to an incident in 2018 when a Bulgarian operation created around 1,200 premium Spotify accounts and used them to loop 500 tracks. The music industry around the world calculated that the operation cost $12,000 per month to generate revenue of $415,000 per month for one of the playlists until Spotify removed most of the tracks.
“There are amazing artists working in sound design, but a lot of the stuff we’re talking about isn’t that, it’s just someone sticking a mic out the window,” Gray said.
Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Deezer, Tidal, and other streaming services pay royalties in much the same way. They set aside a total pot for royalties, which is then split between distributors, record labels, recording artists, and songwriters. This means that Mvula will get a smaller slice of the Spotify pie than White Noise Baby Sleep, although most of it will go to the big labels.
“It just drains money from things that have cultural value because it all comes from the same pool,” Gray said. “There should be a different pool of money for this stuff.”
It is difficult to determine who is making ambient noise. Spotify lists the songwriting credits of White Noise Baby Sleep as belonging to one Erik Eriksson, whose other credits on the platform include Industrial Fan Sound and Best Rain Sounds. It’s unclear who Eriksson is or if he’s part of a larger organization, but website Medium OneZero established last year that many artist names are pseudonyms used by companies. .
Most ambient noise or functional music producers have preferred not to speak publicly about their work, but Patrick Zajda, co-founder of Lullify Music Group in Nashville, said the company grew out of more traditional music pursuits.
“I used to make dance music and hip-hop beats and my partner was in metal bands. When I hit 30, I knew all that DJ stuff wasn’t happening. We saw a niche where people were looking for music and we started curating playlists.
Playlists are the entry points for artists looking for exposure on Spotify. Zajda said they were inundated with submissions and started branching out. He realized that someone who wanted to take a relaxing bath didn’t care where the music was coming from. “They’ll just say, ‘Alexa, play me some relaxing music’.” The trick then is to market the playlist using search engine optimization techniques.
Zajda said it “can be as easy” to just stick a mic out the window during a rainstorm, “but I’m a perfectionist and we try to give people the best user experience possible, so we mix and master every track just like we would if we were trying to make a Grammy winning record.
“My philosophy is that it’s not about volume, we’re looking for quality.”
Catherine Loveday, Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Westminster, said: “Music can be a powerful way to control the brain’s complex attention system. When we are deeply engrossed in a task, there is a secondary attention system that continually scans our surroundings for anything new, interesting, or unpredictable. [such as] a nearby conversation or someone coughing. Low noise levels can help mask these sounds, she said.
“Ambient music is particularly good for this – regular repetitive sounds with enough variation to keep our alertness system engaged but not alerted, and wide frequency ranges that mask other distracting sounds while leaving space for our very important inner voice.”
A Spotify spokesperson said: “We don’t pass judgment on what listeners choose. We know there is a demand from our listeners for music specially created to suit certain occasions or activities. This music, like all other music on Spotify, is licensed by the rights holders and we pay them licensing fees for their music.