The Future of Music As Medicine

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To some degree or another, we all self-medicate with music, by choosing tunes not just to suit our mood but also to influence it. And now, Boston-based company The Sync Project is setting out to learn just how far that effect can be pushed—"to figure out if music can truly be used as medicine," CEO and co-founder Alexis Kopikis told The Atlantic.

The project uses modern technology to crowd-source information about how specific songs impact our physical function by combining data from users' music-streaming services and their wearable body monitors, like Fitbit.

"There's some really good research out there indicating that music has the potential to bring about significant benefits in many health conditions, but not all the studies were well-designed," says Ketki Karanam, the co-founder and head of science innovation at The Sync Project. "The evaluations of what music does in the body were based on subjective responses and lacked the objective real-time measurements of physiology."

The Sync Project is looking to correct that by letting participants do exactly what they would do otherwise: listen to the music that moves them throughout the day. The data won't just benefit the researchers. After allowing the mobile app associated with The Sync Project to track how music matches up with different physical states, users will be able to access that information to hack their own lives by cueing up the perfect song for sleeping, focusing, or whatever else.

Unveiled just a few months ago at South by Southwest, The Sync Project is still in its infancy, with the data right now only available to a small group of researchers. But they have plans to grow quickly.

"Our focus right now is to get as many people to use the product for the purpose of gathering as much information as possible," Kopikis told Fast Company. Once they've collected and analyzed enough data, the team will try to develop musical remedies for a range of conditions, including depression, fatigue, insomnia, and autism.

"In the last 10 years, there's been enormous advancement in the technologies of analyzing music, for the purpose of making you listen to more music while you're on Spotify or any one of these platforms," Kopikis says. "We're taking that depth of knowledge and marrying it with deep analysis of what is going on in your physiology, for the purpose of improving people's lives."