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New music streaming service hacks your brain to make you a better employee

Music is one of the great work day companions. Whether doing homework, blogging, or staring at a spreadsheet all day, we listen to music to fill that otherwise sonically-vacant space with something pleasing enough to inspire us to get some work done. One problem: It doesn’t actually make us any more productive. A new startup, focus@will, is trying to change that by introducing a streaming music service that encourages productivity instead of active listening.

Focus@will was designed with getting work done in mind, the culmination of two years of research and music curation that encourages concentration in lieu of distraction. According to CEO Will Henshall, the effect is creating a system for music not to be listened to.

“The idea of commercial music is that you listen to it,” Henshall said. “[But] this is not music for entertainment. This is something new. We’re creating a music service that specifically helps focus.”

To accomplish this, focus@will conducted studies on their patrons — work Henshall jokingly describes as, “sticking brain machines on people and seeing what happens.” What they found was that music interacts with the limbic system, the evolutionary center of the brain that controls the flight-or-fight response. In this case, the limbic system interrupts the concentration flow state in a typical productivity cycle.

The researchers found that instrument music — mainly jazz and classical music for the time  being — are particularly effective at quieting the flight-or-fight response. However, the team also discovered that instruments like the tenor saxophone and viola create similar interrupt responses in the brain because they resemble the human voice’s unique timbre. Complicating matters, instrumental music the subject already knows triggers a memory response that was also disruptive.

To counteract this, focus@will curate their own exclusive library of focus-friendly music while also commissioning and remixing the work of commercial artists to help build their system. Songs are then analyzed in their specially-designed cloud audio engine, which weighs the key, intensity, and emotional value of each track, arranging them in a way that’s both unfamiliar to the listener’s ear and soothes the limbic system so as to prevent an interruptive signal.

Henshall, a former member of British-based R&B group Londonbeat (unfamiliar? You must click here then), believes that the service, which is currently in private beta, will complement current music platforms. Will focus-enhancing tracks become a brand new genre of music? Stay tuned.