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  • Writer's pictureDave Sorbara

The Future of Prescription Music: My Doctor Prescribed me a Shawn Mendes Concert.

Updated: Sep 30, 2021

We all know exercise is important for our well-being. Everyone knows proper nutrition is crucially important to live a healthy life. We are also coming to realize that our minds play a massive role in setting an intention towards healthy living and mindfulness. And these things are now pretty much hardwired.

So, what if we decided to think about music in the same way we think about exercise, nutrition, and mindfulness? Imagine that you greet your wife at home after a long day at the office and she responds with the usual, “How was your day?” And you respond with, “Well, I had my appointment today with Doctor Carter. Get this… he says I need to go to a Shawn Mendes concert as part of my prescription to deal with these elevated stress and cortisol levels I’ve been trying to deal with?!?”

Most of us would just laugh at the idea. Well, believe it or not, this is exactly where we are heading. Imagine a doctor prescribing a Shawn Mendes concert. As an unusual method of medical intervention, it’s not an easy thing to picture. It’s a whole new paradigm for music, and culturally, we just don’t think about it that way. This chasm between music as entertainment and music as medicine is mentally and culturally massive. Trying to bridge that gap seems preposterous.

This chasm between music as entertainment and music as medicine is mentally and culturally massive and trying to bridge that gap seems preposterous.

Why Isn’t Music Considered Healthcare?

We connect with music on so many different levels. Yet, at the heart of it, music is our universal entertainment and has been for the last several hundred or so years. I mean, the truth is that it hasn’t always been the case. In earlier societies music was such a powerful tool in maintaining the well-being of people. But that is more of an anthropological story.

Let’s break this down for you a little bit more. First off, why are nutrition, exercise, and mindfulness synonymous with well-being? The human body, mind, and brain are a black box that we connect with through our experience of our physical existence, where our senses make up the interface. Then we use this experience to build a simple narrative that becomes our foundation for our belief system and is hardwired into our subconscious.

Those experiences of our physical selves and our outer world are then interlaced with information about what we know about our biology from modern science and our governments, doctors, media, etc. We have studied nutrition and exercise and so many biological systems of the body that we now take this as the truth. For the most part, we’ve come to accept the things that have been studied and proven. Nutrition and exercise are important to maintain a healthy mind and body. Proven. Accepted. Integrated. My kids know it’s important to exercise and eat vegetables.

So, why hasn’t music become as important as nutrition and exercise in our daily lives while a growing body of evidence says it is? Most people would say that it’s not a fundamental pillar of well-being, but through study and research, we are starting to realize that it is. And I’ve come to believe that there are two major reasons music isn’t yet regarded as healthcare.

  1. So much of the effect of music happens in the brain and subconscious and this area of study is relatively new compared to the more mechanical system of the body. It’s still somewhat of a black box. This is changing rapidly as technology is allowing us to study the brain and consciousness itself in a much deeper way.

  2. We just don’t have the right kind of clinical data to support the idea and the right system to integrate and deliver music as medicine or well-being. The effect of music is well studied but trying to figure out how to prescribe it is complicated. The problem to overcome is that music is so personal and each of us have different tastes. Until now, we’ve been unable to deliver individualized music therapy at any sort of scale. Music tech for health and well-being is changing all of that.

How is Technology Allowing Us to Do This?

All of a sudden technology can figure out the perfect soundtrack to help manage our health without requiring any of our analytical input.

Enter the world of biosensors and AI. The quantified self. The ability to measure so many different biosignals so cheaply and then collect so much of that data per individual and store it in a cloud where AI can’t wait to dig in and provide insight. When we are able to monitor the body’s mental, emotional, and physiological states through metrics collected via a host of biosensors packed into wearable music tech for health and well-being like an Apple Watch or simply by analyzing the quality of our voice, we get this super-efficient way to measure the real-time effect of what music is doing to us as individuals. The data will show us how our own musical preferences affect our stress levels, energy, and ability to focus and concentrate, or our ability to relax and sleep. All of a sudden music tech for health and well-being can figure out the perfect soundtrack to help manage our health without requiring any of our analytical input.

What Does That Look Like?

We now have an entirely new soundtrack to our lives curated by our body and it’s deep subconscious and physiological needs - Not by our mental guesswork

Imagine you are heading home after a stressful day at work, and to add to your misery, it’s pouring rain and you’re soaked. You walk in the door, remove your wet clothing, and immediately crank some tunes on your SONOS or hearables. Yup—it’s time for a Daft Punk pick-me-up dance party, and within minutes the tension of the day is washed away. We all know how efficient and effective this casual music therapy is!

Well, the future of medicinal music is Daft Punk automatically playing at the first sign of stress in the middle of your workday and you no longer bathe in that condition for hours before you are able to get home and start to use music as an intervention. Your body knows well before your mind that you are not in an optimal state. The biosensors or other biometric inputs can initiate the intervention almost immediately and music literally becomes personalized medicine.

Think about this: we now have an entirely new soundtrack to our lives curated by our body and its deep subconscious and physiological needs—not by our mental guesswork as to what we should listen to in order to shift us into higher states of being.

Today, Spotify playlist algorithms for suggestions are based on choices that we make with our minds. What happens to musical suggestions when they are curated by our body and its needs—the needs that today we cannot see clearly? We are entering an era where we will feed ourselves music and our bodies will let us know which selections are the most potent to help us thrive. We will finally accept the idea that music is there to entertain and to heal. The soundtrack to our lives will be forever changed. Music will be built to serve us in the deepest and most meaningful way ever. That will be a wonderful thing for all of humanity.

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