[00:00:52] Podcast Sponsors
[00:03:12] Guests Introduction
[00:05:39] What Is Brain.fm And How Dan Got Involved With The Company
[00:13:38] The science behind Brain.fm and what differentiates it from other focus apps
[00:24:01] How the Brain.fm music tracks are developed
[00:30:51] Podcast Sponsors
[00:36:13] How Brain.fm is different from binaural beats
[00:38:47] Slow-wave sleep and long-term memory
[00:41:52] About the “Focus mode” on Brain.fm
[00:50:55] Why It's Not Advisable To Combine Brain.Fm With Popular Music
[00:55:28] How To Maximize The Brain.Fm Experience
[01:03:46] Closing the Podcast
[01:04:51] Legal Disclaimer
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Alright, folks. Well, I'm pretty excited about today's show because I had a men's mastermind at my house a few months ago in which I bring together a whole bunch of like-minded friends in the online and offline entrepreneurial community, a bunch of guys who are part of so-called Mastermind With, which makes us sound all toot and flute and fancy pants important folks, but we generally just hang out at my house and play like kids for a few days and have some meaningful chats.
And, the first night, I think we had a salmon burger dinner, I sat down with one of the guys who I briefly met in the past but hadn't connected with in some time. And, his name is Dan Clark and Dan started talking to me about binaural beats and using so-called entrainment to shift the brain into specific states like alpha, or beta, or theta, or delta brainwave states. And, he started talking to me about how technology can be used to shift the brain in these ways for focus, or for creativity, for relaxation, or for sleep. And, I was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah I know it's binaural beats, there's a billion million apps out there that do this.” And, he's like, “No, this is different. It's got artificial intelligence, some crazy technology, and some very interesting academic research studies behind how these actual sounds work.”
So, what Dan introduced me to then was this app called Brain.fm. and, I'm like, “Oh, I've used this. I had downloaded a couple years ago and messed around with it.” And, just kind of come back to it a few times, and apparently, they have been behind the scenes since Dan came on as CEO of the company absolutely transforming that thing and doing some really cool stuff with it.
So, Dan's here on the podcast with me and he actually has a really cool story about how he even came to be involved with Brain.fm, so I'm going to let him tell that to you shortly. But then, I have a two for one because my second podcast guest on today's show is Kevin Woods who's a Ph.D. and the director of science at Brain.fm. So, anything that might require putting on a white lab coat and talking with big multi-syllable words that the rest of us may or may not be able to understand, we'll leave to Kevin.
So, Dan, Kevin, thanks for coming on the show, men.
Dan: Yeah, happy to be here.
Kevin: Thanks so much for having us, Ben.
Ben: Yeah, yeah, for sure. And, like I said, Dan, Brain.fm has been around for a long time. I remember messing with years ago and then not using it for a while, and then we we're having dinner, and you talk to me about how things have changed.
So, bring me up to speed. I'd love to hear the story about how you even became connected, kind of your unconventional journey to becoming CEO of Brain.fm, and then what exactly it is? I'm asking a two-part question I realized, but we got time.
Dan: Yeah, sure. Let's dive right in. So, for me to answer the question fully, let me go back to where I started. So, I started making websites when I was 13, and I'm actually second-degree black belt in martial arts, and I was teaching martial arts at the same time. And, I remember making my first website for the martial arts school, and that basically transformed that dojo's business from getting 30 leads a month to 130. And, what I really liked in martial arts was a tool to empower people to be the best version of themselves. It teaches confidence. It teaches all these things because people find something they're really good at. And then, I had this luxury of being able to use technology to accelerate that. And, before I knew it, I had a lead generation business for martial arts schools. I ended up getting out of that when I was 21. And then, for my rest of my young 20s, I was basically creating a career leveraging technology and then scaling businesses. And, I started doing that and optimizing for financials. And, it wasn't until I became digital–
Ben: You mean, you were the guy who just made the websites work properly or you were more like the marketing lead gen, stuff like that?
Dan: Yeah. So actually, I went into business, mostly businesses that were hitting a certain level first at that time. And, I would go in with marketing, with automation, with technology, and I say, “Hey, let's triple this business.” And, I'm going to take a percentage of that growth, right?
Dan: So, I would do that and say, “Hey, let's do this.” And, especially being in my young 20s, I'd go to someone and they'd be like, “There's no way you're going to double my business.” I've been doing this for 10 years, but with the internet, and this is when Facebook marketing was happening, and this is before HubSpot when you could automate emails. And, we had a lot of fun helping people transform their businesses and it really started with operating with businesses that had a mission and wanted to empower or change the world. Some of it was through martial arts. One was electric dog fence company actually and he just wanted to help save all the dogs to make sure they didn't get hit by cars. And, I kept doing that, and I kept doing more and bigger and bigger challenges, but then, I found myself where I was no longer really helping people's missions and goals, I was actually just selling advertising.
And, for maybe another story for another time, I actually had a gun pointed at my face outside of a club with some of my clients. And, it's funny, they say that your life flashes before your eyes and mine didn't. I actually was like, “This is a waste, I could have helped so many more people and done so many more things.” And, I actually was just focused on making all this money.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. So, it's all kind of income versus impact type of question.
Dan: Totally, yeah. On the outside looking in, I was, I don't know, 26 at the time, my parents, everyone around me were like, “You made it, congratulations.” And, I just felt empty. And, I remember just thinking like, “How can I make impact?” And then, that situation happened. I remember quitting my job and saying, “You know what, I just got to find something that I can leverage technology and leverage helping people.” And, it was about three months later, I actually came across Brain.fm for the first time. And, I'll dig into Brain.fm and our whole mission statement and our thesis. But, I remember as someone who was a developer, someone was very intentional with my focus time, I used to work from 10:00 pm to 4:00 am in the morning about five days a week because I found that it was this magic state where if I had two cups of coffee, and it was 2:00 in the morning, I feel like it could fly.
Ben: Yeah. It's almost the exact same as me, except I'm 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
Dan: Yeah, right? So, you find that state, and then you optimize your time around that. And, people now call it flow state. And, it's about finding that flow state. So, that's what I was naturally able to do at late at night. And, I remember using Brain.fm for the first time, putting headphones on, and I like to think of myself as a biohacker or a light biohacker maybe back then. And, I've done the nootropics, I've done the different binaural beats. It's like, “Oh, this is probably just another one of those companies.” And, I remember putting these headphones in and getting into that flow state in five minutes. I worked for two hours and I took my headphones out, and I was blown away. I was like, “What is this?” And, I remember actually thinking that it was maybe placebo, I was super skeptical.
Ben: And, a quick a quick question, by the way. Up to that point, had you messed around with white noise, focus tracks, like that whole concept?
Dan: All of it. Yeah, Brian Eno, pink/brown noise, different mixing of different things, isochronic tones. I was very into that space. And, I remember trying this and it was, I could feel the difference, the pulsing. I could feel me driving forward and even afterwards. I took those headphones out, I still felt in that zone. And, I actually was like, “Okay, this might be my diet.” I knew there was other things that could affect it, so I actually for that first week try to break it. So, I stayed up 24 hours and then tried to do it, still worked. I remember taking different nootropics, still worked. I remember trying different times a day. And, at the end of the day, I was like, “Okay, this has to be different. What is this?” And, I started digging into some of the science that we had at the time. And, I was, whoa, this is a unique way. And, Kevin will explain it in a second, but this is a unique way and it checks out. I want to be part of this rocket ship. And, I don't even care. I'll work for free.
Dan: So, I actually called the company 12 times and I would follow up with them every three days. And, I'm like, “I need to jump on a call with the founders.” Eventually jumped on the call with the founders, shared with what I did. And, I said, “I'll work for free, and I'll show, and I provide value.” So, I worked for free for about three months, ended up starting, leading tech and becoming lead engineer, started doing marketing, building out different parts beyond tech. About a year and a half later, I became CEO actually. And then, about two years after that, I ended up acquiring the majority of the business. And now, we're really setting the company up for how can we enable everyone to have that same feeling to unite science and the things that people have been doing and having some success already with sound but blast it to a whole another degree of ability and really allow this to be the switch in your pocket that lets you go into focus, into relax or into sleep and then stay there as long as you want no matter who you are.
Ben: Right. Because those are the three; focus, relax and sleep. And then, after we chatted at dinner, because I already had the app, at some point, I think a long time ago, we actually even did a podcast about Brain.fm, and I've been gifted with a free lifetime membership or something like that. So, it was on my phone. And, I started messing around with it and I'm like, “Oh, you're right.” Something's kind of changed with it or it seemed to be working a lot differently when I had initially messed around with it and that it was 5, 10, 15, 30, 60-minute sessions for sleep and for relaxation, you wake up at 3:00 am and you want to doze again. And, I realize everybody needs another app like they need another hole in the head.
And so, of course, my question to you I asked is that dinner, you did a good job explaining. Maybe you or Kevin want to explain is, how is this any different than binaural beats, or white noise, or headspace, or column, or any of these other billion apps out there that exist for relaxation? So, which one do you guys want to dive into the science of this stuff?
Dan: So, why don't I start it off and then I'll switch it to Kevin, and he can go into detail.
So, I think the first thing before we get into science is actually the application. So, it's really unique about Brain.fm and because the method is listening to music while you're doing the activity, what's unique is that you're actually able to do it and just start immediately where if you're doing meditation or some kind of other kind of practice beforehand, you actually have to meditate for maybe 15 to 30 minutes and then jump into work. So, what's really unique about this is it's inactive, you just put it on, and you're ready, and it's already going to start working in about five minutes. And, it's about that way we're doing it. So, that's the first part that sets us uniquely.
Ben: Okay, okay. And, by the way, yeah, it makes sense. And, before we dive into the science, I already know people's brains are going to be humming away in the background. What I think is really cool is stacking. So, for example, this is sound but the body and the brain wave states can also be shifted into altered states or different states by two things in addition to sound primarily. And, that would be light and haptic sensations like vibration, even including like the frequencies you might feel for music, as well as the frequencies that you might receive from some type of vibrating device. And so, what's super interesting, what I've found messing around with this is you can take the Brain.fm and you can play that. But, at the same time you can, for example, have an Apollo wearable around your ankle or your wristband, which is vibratory haptic sensation to shift you into an altered state. And then, you can also use magnetic stimulation using something like the Hapbee, which is a Focus mode that'll simulate nicotine, caffeine, anything else that you would want to shift you into this state. And then, as far as the light is concerned, even something like red light therapy, one of these wearable red-light devices for the head like the Vielight or whatever. And, holy cow, it's crazy that we live in this cool era where we can do what normally someone would have had to have sat in meditation for three to four hours to get themselves shifted into that state or take some crazy plant medicine or something like that. We can literally using technology make these shifts extremely quickly. It's almost like a cheat code for life.
Dan: Totally. Yeah. And, what's exciting about that is we get to learn from people like yourself, Ben, who's actually investigating all that stuff to be able to stack. One of my favorite things is also caffeine and l-theanine, having that as part of the practice.
So yeah, let's dive into science. We can come back to maybe best practices. But yeah, I want to let Kevin kind of jump in here.
Ben: Alright, geek out time. Kevin, explain to us how this technology is actually working, why it's different.
Kevin: Yeah. So, the term we like to use right is non-invasive neuromodulation. And, if you're expecting multi-syllabic words for me, I will give them to you. Non-invasive neuromodulation. It's that you're guiding the brain states without drugs, injections, whatever it is. Even if you want to talk about magnetic fields or electrical fields, this is an even less invasive way to be doing it just through the body's sense organs. And, you're right that light and vibration are two other ways to do it. That's three out of the five senses. The other two senses; smell and taste are excluded basically because they're too slow. You can't really oscillate smell and expect anybody to get anything out of it. But, any of the senses that can be modulated can cause the brain to modulate in kind. And, we're taking advantage of a principle called neural entrainment in which you're essentially setting up the brain waves to respond to the environment.
And, a way I like to explain neural entrainment is that the rhythms in the brain reflect the rhythms in the world. And, I'll say that again that the rhythms in the brain reflect the rhythms in the world. Now, it also turns out that the rhythms in the brain do all sorts of things from getting you to the memory processes in sleep, to getting you in a focused state. All these things are mediated by neural oscillations as well. So, you have this constantly fluctuating set of oscillatory circuits in the brain that are both impacted by the outside and also are causing things to happen in the brain. Well, that's a perfect system for influencing the one thing with the other thing. And so, again, no electricity or magnets required, you can just do it through sound, light, and touch.
But, you're right that a lot of these systems have the same target. And, I don't know what particular magnetic device you're talking about, but I would bet that it has a similar purpose as Brain.fm, which is, again, brain entrainment. And, it's something that's been investigated from all sorts of angles. But–
Ben: And, if I could interrupt you real quick because you've used the word “entrainment” a couple times. This is important for people to understand because this concept of entrainment dictates that the brain, and correct me if I'm wrong, Kevin, becomes more receptive to these signals and more tuned and able to respond more quickly it seems when one engages in repetitive use. Meaning, the first few times I use the Apollo vibratory wearable or the Hapbee magnetic wearable, I didn't notice that much. And then, I kept using it and kept using it, and eventually, it seems after about one to two weeks, seems to me seven to fourteen days, it's kind of the sweet spot where you begin to shift very rapidly.
I have another machine that's a light sound machine called the BrainTap. Not to be confused with Brain.fm, but very similar. The first few times I used it, because it almost hypnotizes you into an altered state of consciousness for anything from weight loss to sleep or insomnia, to breaking habits, to building habits, et cetera. And, I went from not noticing anything to within about eight consecutive uses finding myself within two minutes shifted into a deep state of hypnosis. And, it was one of those things where I didn't think it worked, I didn't think it worked, I didn't think it worked. And then, after a short period of time was like, boom, all of a sudden based on this concept of entrainment, it was working.
Dan: And, really quick and then I'll let Kevin come back is what's really unique about the music is that actually the entrainment works within five minutes. If you ever hear a song that you want to dance to, how fast you want to dance to it, that's actually the functions in our head where actually a lot of the stuff that science has been able to uncover or is known in science is how the brain looks in focus, how the brain looks and relax, how all these different kinds of states. What's really unique is that our whole body is so tuned to hearing because of the way we've evolved. And, what we're doing is we're able to add in these music in these different patterns to basically shift the brain into them very quickly and then have them stay there.
Kevin, do you have anything to add on that?
Kevin: Yeah. I just want to highlight the example of entrainment you just threw it out there because it's extremely accessible and everyone will realize what entrainment is if they think about dancing. And, it's that the brain is receiving a sound that's rhythmic and repetitive, and that your neural processing is being aligned to the rhythms and the sound. And, in the case of dancing, you end up moving your body. But, there are all sorts of other processes that are not moving your body with the music where entrainment also matters in the brain. But, dancing is a great example and it's the same underlying neural process involved in dancing. And so, if you want to think about time scales, we often get asked how long does Brain.fm take to work. And, that's a great example, how long does it take for you to feel dancing after you hear dance music.
And, by the way, dance music is a great example of what we like to call functional music. Inside Brain.fm, we make this great distinction between art music with a capital A and functional music with a capital F to highlight the fact that Brain.fm is doing something categorically different than 99% of music, which is art music and dance music is a particular case where there's plenty of music that sounds terrible but still makes you want to move your body. And, isn't that a funny thing? And so, it just shows the functional aspect of music outside of aesthetics. And, that's basically Brain.fm is capturing that and using it to help you do all sorts of other things as well.
Ben: Yeah. And, what's interesting is that when we take these senses, you mentioned smell or we look at taste or hearing or even eyesight. You can actually use these as hacks. From a neuroscientific standpoint, you can, for example, when you're studying for an exam, or studying certain material, or learning certain material, diffuse let's say peppermint essential oil. And then, when needing to spit that material back out on a test, or a quiz, or whatever, you could literally have peppermint oil applied to your upper lip and have the olfactory triggers be able to better recall memories because they've associated that memory with that smell. Very similar for hearing, you can study with a specific say Focus track on Brain.fm, replay that track when you need to recall that information. And, it's very interesting how the brain will actually chunk certain forms of sensation with memories. And, research has shown that hearing certain words, hearing certain sounds can actually aid memory in that state. So, if you're listening to a soundtrack when you're studying for a test, then you play that same soundtrack say during the test. If you're able to, you'll actually be able to have better recall.
Kevin: Yeah. I think it's called context-dependent learning. And, it's always best to do your studying in the same room where you're going to have the exam if you have the option to do so. Any students out there.
Yeah. No, you're absolutely right.
Ben: Okay. So, as far as the technology itself, explain to me how the actual tracks are developed? Because Dan was explaining to me this concept at dinner, I thought was fascinating, this whole idea of the way that you guys develop these tracks. So, can you walk me through that?
Kevin: So, one of the interesting things about Brand.fm is that we don't have pieces of music that are normal radio length music; three, four, five minutes. We make much longer pieces of music because you don't want to be constantly interrupted. If you're listening to the radio, listening to Spotify while you're doing your work, every couple minutes you have a track change, and when the track changes, most people, and we've done polls basically, majority of people will get distracted by these track changes, it'll pop them out. Sometimes it's a welcome respite. But, if it happens every couple of minutes, that's really bad news. So, we make these things that are 20, 30 minutes, maybe sometimes an hour long. And, that requires a different style of composition. So, our composers have to be trained. Well, how do you make something that's interesting enough yet isn't going to draw someone's attention away from their task yet has this kind of–it's easily background-able yet not boring?
So, our composers are specially trained in doing that kind of thing. They do have intelligent tools that help them create those long pieces of music, so they might compose a melody and then basically what you might call AI creates variations of that, spreads it out over time, does different things with it, recombination of elements, that kind of thing. So, we always have that sort of human warmth part of it. At the most basic layer, it's always people that are doing the composition, but then with a little bit of robot help to make things spread over time and be sort of repetitive. And, that's just the music layer.
And then, on top of that, we put the science layer, which is our core technology which is amplitude modulation at different depths and different rates, where the depth of amplitude modulation is how loud is that the pulsing, which is our entrainment signal. So, how loud is that will vary over time. And, the rate of the amplitude modulation, of course, is super important and that may also vary over time. We add those on top of the music in a way that they sync up with the music, yet they're providing an effect that isn't available in the music directly.
Yeah, sometimes it's a bit tricky because music is intrinsically rhythmic and you're overlaying rhythms on top of rhythms, and you have to make sure everything fits. But again, they have “robot help” to do that stuff as well.
Ben: Right. So, basically what's happening is that for, let's say, Focus, which I assume would be a track that is designed to shift you into a 8 to 13 hertz-ish alpha wave zone. When you're playing something like that, these beats are overlaid with the actual music. So, the music is steering you into your desired mental state. Is it some kind of a binaural beat esque type of thing going on in the background that's making subtle shifts using your guys' AI tools to kind of keep the brain in that state? How's that working exactly?
Kevin: Yeah. So, I'll clear up the binaural beats thing in a second. And, just for the record, for Focus, we actually use beta 12 to 20 hertz.
Ben: Okay, got it.
Kevin: But yeah, we're often in the region 14 to 16, something like that, but very, very similar to high alpha. Yeah. So, the binaural beats thing is interesting. So first, for the audience, definition of binaural beats is when you put pure tones that is sine tones of slightly different frequencies in the left and right ear. And, what happens when you do that is that in the brain stem, those two pure tones are combined. And, what you hear is amplitude modulation. In other words, a change of loudness that's equivalent to the difference of those two frequencies.
So, for example, I put 410 hertz in my left ear, and I put 420 hertz in my right ear, and each ear individually just sounds like a tone. And, again this has to happen over headphones. Because they're in my two ears separately, when they're combined in the brain stem, what you end up hearing is [tone] so you hear this change of loudness that's like [tone] that is at 10 hertz with 10 being the difference between 410, 420. And, obviously, if the difference was 410 to 450, you would hear 40-hertz beating which would sound more a buzzy fuzzy thing rather than grumpy.
So, that's what binaural beats is. It's an amplitude modulation that's created by the brain stem as an illusion due to different tones from the right and left ears. What's the point of it? Well, it's the same thing that Brain.fm does, and it's entrainment. It's that you're trying to get the higher levels of the brain, the cortex, to themselves have activity at that rate; 10 hertz or 40 hertz or whatever it is.
So, what's the point of using binaural beats instead of putting that modulation in each individually? The point of using binaural beats is that people think it's cool because it's this illusion. And, I can't find any reason other than that basically. It's that when binaural beats was discovered, it was this magical thing that, “Oh, I can't hear it in my left ear. I can't hear it in my right ear. But, when I put them together over headphones, magically you get this beating sensation. Isn't that cool? So, it must have magical properties.” Well, no, not really. And–
Dan: Hey, Kevin. Let me jump in here real quick. So, what I think, Kevin's trying to say is binaural beats, they have a different effect. And, Kevin's job actually and his first job, which is the reason why he's here is how can we create a reproducible effect for all individuals that use the service. And, binaural beats in the past, some people may be listening to this and have had their life change on binaural beats. And, what happens is that the way it does, and as you heard Kevin's explain is it goes right to the brain stem, it creates its amplitude. And, through process of entrainment, it basically spreads throughout your brain. And, what we've done is we've actually tried to take the same theory on whys when we do binaural beats to be able to add a different kind of pattern to the brain to shift their state. And, we say, “Hey, what if we actually created the amplitude directly in the music rather than in your brain itself?”
Dan: So, by doing that, we're able to directly entrain your higher cortical functions to skip your reptilian part of your brain and be able to actually entrain the entire brain much quicker.
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This is different than binaural beats because what you're saying is binaural beats produce this type of, I think, it's called a neural synchrony where you have the modulation applied in each stereo channel like the signal go into one ear and the signal go into the other ear. But, you guys are using a different form to help people reach their mental states like a non-binaural modulation that uses what, from what I understand, almost these subtle oscillations that occur overlaid underneath the music that are shifting the state more effectively than something like a binaural beat would.
Kevin: That's right. So, there are three main advantages to doing it the way we do rather than doing binaural beats. One is that with binaural beats, the depth of amplitude modulation is limited by the brainstem. The actual AM is being created in the brainstem, and so it's limited in how “loud” it can be and how heavy that signal is that's being sent up to cortex. The second reason is headphones versus speakers. The binaural beats necessarily only work over headphones because once they're in the air, the sound is basically destroyed or heavily depends on your position in the room relative to speakers and other stuff like that. With Brain.fm, we recommend that people use headphones for the cleanest crispest experience, but it doesn't, not work if you use it over speakers. And, the third thing is music itself. So, the way that Brain.fm is created, we're applying these amplitude modulations directly to the music. Binaural beats has nothing to do with music. And, if you do hear “binaural beast music” like on YouTube or whatever, it's music overlaid on top of binaural beats where really one thing is getting in the way of another. It's like they made binaural beats with just these pure tones, but it sounded too boring, so they threw some music on top of that and now it's getting in the way of the binaural beats, which is not what you want. With Brain.fm they're going hand in hand. It's the rhythms and the music are being enforced by the science later that we put on top of it and everything's working together. So, you get a stronger effect, it's intrinsically part of the music, and it can work over free field as well as headphones.
Ben: Right, which is why, for example, I can have my phone in airplane mode rather than having to fuss around with wearing headphones, I can literally pump this into my bedroom's speakers or out of my phone at night and be getting what I'd be looking for from binaural beats without actually needing to wear the headphones to get that. Which is also kind of cool because you can play it as background noise in your office, for example, but not necessarily have to be tied down to wearing headphones in your office.
Now, what I think is interesting is some of the stuff that you guys looked at regarding, for example, speaking of sleep like slow-wave sleep with this idea with slow-wave sleep just for people listening in, that's the part where you store new memories. That's where memories are kind of encoded into long-term memory. And then, that's what we would associate with deep sleep. Slow-wave sleep is where Alzheimer's related peptides like beta amyloids are flushed from the brain. That's where a lot of that so-called glymphatic drainage occurs. There's a lot of things that we're looking for in slow-wave sleep, and I know a lot of people who will use wearables. They sometimes get a little bit disappointed in their deep sleep or their so-called slow-wave sleep scores.
So, tell me what Brain.fm would be doing, for example, when it comes to the enhancement of something like deep sleep and what you guys have found?
Kevin: Yeah, it's essentially driving the slow waves that you're talking about. So, the slow waves in slow-wave sleep are approximately the speed of think of waves on a beach; one wave every two seconds, which is half hertz-ish, so [tone]. About that speed. And so, the Brain.fm sleep music that you'll hear has essentially heavy dominant modulation rate at that speed of waves on a beach no matter what the sound is. So, it might be the sound of crickets and wind through the trees, or music itself. But, whatever it is, there are these very slow half a hertz or even less sort of long-time scale modulations. And, those are, as with the Focus and training your brain into those states, it basically deepens the, how do I say it? Heightens the oscillatory cycle. Yeah, if you like, the size of the neural population that's engaged in that slow wave should be expanded by that auditory input as well.
Ben: Right. Yeah, the actual spindle activity, I think, is what it's called in sleep talk and fancy scientific sleep talk. You would be basically inducing greater spindle activity if you were increasing slow-wave sleep. And, the way you would induce the spindle activity would be via these sounds.
Kevin: That's exactly right.
Ben: Okay. Interesting. Have you guys actually studied this?
Kevin: I was about to mention actually. Just before I came on, I've been with the company three years, and just before I came on, they did a pilot sleep study. It was a little bit underpowered. And, I want to get back to it as soon as possible. But, in the participants that they did run, they did find greater spindle activity with the Brain.fm condition. Yeah, yeah. So, that actually worked out really, really well because it was before I came on. I'd have to replicate it myself.
Ben: Have you guys done other studies on this like when it comes to brain or behavior?
Kevin: For sleep, it was just that one, which is why I do want to get back to it. But, what we've done while I've been here has been mostly focused.
Ben: And, what have you found regarding focus? Yeah.
Kevin: We're diving into the focus studies?
Ben: Yeah, sure.
Kevin: Oh, amazing. Let's go.
First off, we got a grant from the National Science Foundation to do this work. In particular, was a remit was to look into how to make music to support people with ADHD and attentional challenges. And so, we took this money, we teamed up with an excellent academic team at Northeastern University here. They have access to the scanners, fMRI, EEG. And, what we did is we did a series of studies with brain and behavior.
Let me first describe the task that we used. Okay. So, we used something called the Sustained Attention to Responses Task, response times task, and it takes the form of a very simple video game. So, imagine you're sitting there in front of a screen, numbers are flashing up on the screen one by one; 0, 3, 5, 9, and you hit the Space Bar on every single number except one of them. Let's imagine the special number is 3. So, 90% of the time, you're hitting the space bar, but only when you see a 3, withhold your response. Now, that sounds the most boring video game in the world because it's meant to be. And so, this is a task that is basically mind-numbing, people say you're doing it for 10, 20 minutes is about the length of our experiment while we play them different background music conditions.
And, I'll talk about what the music is in a second.
But, the idea is that when your mind wanders, you get fatigued, you sustain the tension, you lose your motivation to the task, you start making errors. You start hitting the space bar when you're not supposed to or not hitting space bar when you are supposed to. And, that's just it. So, it's just a very simple well-controlled video game for doing this kind of thing. And, by the way, it's a gold standard test in psychology. This is used all over the place to test to sustained attention in particular.
And so, what music do we play in the background? Well, we've done it a couple different ways. One that we do is just our competition. Spotify music. We'll go on Spotify, we'll go on YouTube, we'll look at what's the best-focused music to listen to and use that in comparison to Brain.fm. That's fine. But, an even better task that I'm proud of having done is the super-controlled version of taking Brain.fm's underlying music without our science layer versus Brain.fm music with our science layer. So, you're purely just testing that added amplitude modulation and we find that test works as well. And so, in behavior, obviously we find improvement in the SART task over time over the course of the block with Brain.fm versus the other things, either no Brain.fm technology or Spotify. But, perhaps more interestingly, we find these effects in the brain that really jump out at you.
So, the first thing is in EEG, you find much stronger entrainment with Brain.fm music versus other music even though all music is rhythmic. So, to be clear, any rhythmic stimulus will entrain the brain, all music, vast majority of music is rhythmic. Also in trans brain, the question is, how strong can you get that entrainment to be? And, can you get it to be useful entrainment as in in the right regime of rates? And, it's important to point out that the beta rate of things, 12 to 20 hertz or even alpha-like 13 hertz, that's a weird speed of things to happen in the world. If you think about what 13 hertz actually sounds like, it kind of sounds like a helicopter, or a pulsing, or a thrumming like [vibrating sound].
And, in normal music, that rate of stuff doesn't really happen. In normal music, you have things that are drum beats or singing that are much slower, generally under 8 hertz, 5, 6, 7 hertz. And then, you have really fast things are like distortion, roughness, fuzziness, fizziness. But, there's very little stuff in natural music that's at a helicoptery sort of speed. So, it's a really unique thing that we're doing. And, it turns out that when you create music that is dominated by that stuff, the brain does respond really strongly to it. So, that's partially a sanity check but also partially a really cool result. So, that's EEG. You're looking at the brain's response over time to these stimuli.
And then, importantly you look at fMRI. So, you're looking now at the functional networks in the brain. What is the attention network doing? What is the salience network doing? And, basically what you find is that there's a much stronger response in the people getting Brain.fm obviously. But then, in the people particularly the half of the population with attentional challenges, or the half that would need this product most, they have particular greater activity in exactly the regions that you would expect to be less functional in ADHD. And, if it matters to anyone, this is the inferior cingulate gyrus and some parts of the insula. It's a really cool thing to see that direct correspondence between brain regions–
Ben: Right. Directly reducing the, hey, look a squirrel mentality. And, you use the placebo control like comparing what happens if you just use the music versus the music with the Brain.fm technology applied to it.
Kevin: Exactly right. And, that's the contrast in fMRI that's being set up is between the control and the Brain.fm test condition.
Ben: I think it I think it was Dan who was describing to me how there's actual 3D effects that are laid into the tracks to where when you sleep, you would want to be–if you look at this from maybe an ancestral or evolutionary standpoint, we respond very well to being rocked. My wife used to swim when she was pregnant because the babies just love that rocking side-to-side sensation of the water kind of sloshing around as the babies are there in the uterus, and mom's swimming back and forth. And then, of course, when they're born, you might rock them in a rocking chair or swaddle them and rock them back and forth to soothe them. And then, there's also this idea, and kind of a two-part question, I suppose, of the sound events that would grab your attention during Focus. If you're listening to focus music, a lot of times, there are certain sound events that happen during music that would distract you. And, I think Dan said that there's a reduction filter in there to keep those from occurring. So, tell me about the rocking and then also this, I think it's called salience reduction that's worked into these tracks?
Dan: Yeah. So, let me jump in and actually kind of maybe restate some of the stuff that Kevin is because I know we're going super deep. I think the first thing is that if you think of us as a camera, as a technology, what we're doing with the different kinds of pulses that we're adding to music like these rhythmic pulses, we're able to do is directly have a higher resolution camera. So, this is one of those professional cameras directly doing the amplitude. But, what's cool about it is because we have this fancy camera, we're also doing exactly those things, Ben. So, we're doing these salience reductions. That's part of our smart, like our AI tools that make sure we're creating this music in the right way. We're doing the 3D sound. So Kevin, feel free to jump in on the 3D sound. But, what's unique about, I think the Brain.fm and really what we're getting at, is what we're taking is all of these things that is known in audio to help someone focus and combining it all together. So, it's not just the frequencies, it's frequencies in the best-known way in science and we're putting that. That's step one. And then, we do salience, and then we're doing 3D sound, and then we're doing the genre selection. And, all of this is combined to then make that focus switch in your pocket.
Ben: Right. And, just a second before Kevin jumps back in. I'm going to grab my phone here. I'm sure a lot of people are like, “What the heck does it sound like?” So, here's one. This is Focus. This one's called Happy Swim. This is Focus music. I'm just going to hold this up to the microphone so people can hear. If you guys hear that.
Okay. Cool, cool. So, people can just hear this for like 10 seconds.
And, you could literally set something like that to go for, I mean like your sleep tracks. You could suddenly go for 12 hours. I suppose, if you had a really, really long international flight, you just want to crush an amazing night of sleep to catch up on sleep or something like, these are not just 15-minute tracks. You could literally play them all day.
Dan: And, we have thousands and thousands of these tracks too. So, what's cool about the technology is as Kevin was saying, it's not just tones, it's actually genre-agnostic. So, we can do this to lo-fi music. We can do this to classical. We can do this to country if we wanted to. You can listen to the music you normally would like to listen to, but then you can have all these amplified effects of the best science to make sure that you're always getting into the zone and getting from better sleep to better focus continuously every time.
Ben: That's pretty cool.
And, you can maybe tell me if you guys are actually looking into this as far as wide-open opportunities in the music space. Could I take my current favorite Spotify playlist, let's say, for workout and somehow tie that into Brain.fm Focus to still be listening to my track during a workout but then have the Focus technology overlaid on top of that? Or, do you guys have to actually get the royalty rights to be able to use the music and then download them to your app and do it that way? How would this actually look?
Dan: Yeah. So, right now we make all of the music in-house. And, that's specifically because you can almost think that in the music, we have these gaps. And, that's where we apply these different amplitude modulations. But, what's really unique about us is we can actually tune it to knowing if you have ADHD, or other different neurodiversity, or different activities like workout. So, we've been trying to crack workout for a really long time. We can't disclose some of the advancements we've been making there yet publicly, but we're starting to understand what that is.
And, right now, no we can't. And, Kevin can tell you why we can't just take Christina Aguilera and make it Focus. And, maybe–
Ben: That was going to be my pick, by the way, Christine Aguilera.
Dan: Yeah, right. I'll let Kevin answer that why. But, I think what's really unique about what we're currently doing is we take composers that some of our composers toured the world with Ozzy Osbourne and other kinds of great musicians, and they're like, “I just want to make music that impacts people.” And then, we basically give them the science, the ruleset on how to make music that does, and then we measure to make sure it does work. And then, we find out it works, how can we improve it further?
So, right now, it's music that we create that's specifically made for intention. And eventually, there might be opportunities for us to do some of the things that you were saying. But Kevin, do you want to go why we can't just take a Taylor Swift song or Christina Aguilera song and make it the best Focus for them? What are all the things that are standing in their way?
Kevin: Yeah, yeah. So, this is a great point that people need to understand that the majority of music is made specifically to distract them. And, that's so important that I'm going to say it again. If you're a great music producer, your job is to distract people.
Dan: Or, grab their attention is probably even a better way of saying it, right?
Kevin: Those things are equivalent. Yeah, exactly. Thank you for the clarification. Grabbing someone's attention, distracting them, pulling them away from whatever they're doing so they sit up and listen to the radio and request that song again. That's your job if you're a good music producer. And, they use words like punchy, or make that drum hit harder, or whatever it is. It's all about grabbing people's attention, and more so in pop than other genres, but all music tries to do this.
So, at Brain.fm, the point is to flip the script on that. So, we look at all the tricks that producers use to make things pop out. And, we say, “Let's roll that back. Let's actually not do that. Let's do the opposite. Let's do something to make the music sit in the background more comfortably and not distract people.” So, if you were trying to go from Christina Aguilera to the best Focus music, you'd have a lot of undoing to do for a start.
Now, could we overlay heavy focus rate modulations on pop music and get it more focusy than it is right now? Probably. And, there there's all sorts of legal licensing issues and that kind of thing. But, at its core, you'd be fighting upstream if you started with something like pop music.
Dan: Yeah. The goal is really how can we make the best background music in the world? And, instead of repurposing music that currently exists, it's like, “Listen, you're not even supposed to listen to the music, you're supposed to listen to it, find a track that you like that you want to zone into.” What's nice about it, eventually after five minutes, you no longer really thinking about what you're listening to, you're in work mode, or you're already asleep, or you're in this great meditation where you've never been able to have before. And, the whole goal is for this to actually just mesh in the background and then all of your thoughts or the activity you're doing becomes more and more foreground.
Ben: Yeah, yeah.
Dan: Does that make sense?
Ben: Yeah, it makes perfect sense.
One thing that I certainly run into when I've got an app like this at my fingertips and I open it up and I've got access to dozens of different grooves, and forest, and electronic, and classical, and drone, and rain, do you guys have a way for people to kind of know what the best of the best would be? Or, is it just kind of a choose your own adventure?
Dan: Yeah. So, this is actually the next. So, by the time this podcast comes out, we'll have that for everyone. So, we basically understand that depending on people's preferences and also neurodiversity, we can actually change the music and the intensity of those amplitude modulations. We call it the neural effect level. So, that's actually coming out. It's in our app right now, but it's coming out to all devices. And yeah, we want to be able to start creating a personalization system that is music that you want to listen to, but it's also music that affects you.
Ben: Well, how do you know? Are you saying I could have a wearable and it would sync with my wearable to know which of the tracks are shifting into the state that I desire the best?
Dan: Yeah. So, that's eventually where Brain.fm is heading. And, in the interest of moving towards that, what we do is we've tested this on thousands and thousands of individuals. We have a baseline where we can estimate based on actually just different kinds of questions in a questionnaire on where someone is most likely to be. And then, the next version of Brain.fm, which we're currently working on with wearables is able to look at different body markers and then adjust it in real-time to be able to change it for what you need.
Ben: So, I could tie it into like Apple Health, for example?
Dan: That's the path that we're moving towards. Correct.
Ben: Wow. Cool, cool.
Well, obviously the application of this is through the roof and I would encourage my listeners to start to experiment with this stuff because it's super cool. And, by the way, I'm going to link to everything that we talk about if you go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/BrainFMshow, as in BrainFMS-H-O-W, the BrainFMshow. And, if you go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/BrainFMshow, I'll link to some of the studies and some of the other things related to Brain.fm. As well as, I think you guys have some kind of a fat discount code for people because it's around, I think, 6, 7 bucks a month to access this, and then there's, I think, a 20 or 30% discount. But, is there anything else that you guys are up to that you wanted to touch on while I still have you on the call?
Dan: Yeah. So, I think what's interesting, we talked about some of the papers we're doing. We have a paper actually in Review Nature right now, which is very exciting talking about the things that we're doing. We're actually using the same kind of technology in hospitals, which I think is interesting. And, the reason why I bring that up is because the effects that we're talking about that we can measure in labs can actually be seen in wearables. They can be seen because they affect us on a physiological level. We're redistributing blood flow in your brain and temperature changes in your body. And, one of the really interesting things that we're currently working on is actually helping someone relax before surgery, before anesthesia, but also wake up after anesthesia very quick and being able to move. So, we're actually doing a clinical study. We're starting next week as of this recording, and we're looking to increase patient experience but also the efficiency of hospitals to help more people. So, it's actually all the same patented technology that we're using in our consumer app that we're also using and helping people in hospitals. And now, it's just about how can we continually create a product that works even faster, even better, but more personalized to you as an individual.
Ben: Yeah, which is super cool because I can roll out of bed now. I already have my Apollo wristbands scheduled to start on to its Focus vibratory mode typically around 5:45 am or so. And then, I can put on my light-producing glasses, the Re-Timer, or the in-ear human charger, slap Brain.fm on in Focus mode, and using kind of the similar concept of bringing a patient who's been under anesthetic out of anesthesia-induced stupor more readily. You can literally take yourself up from a sleep state and shift yourself into productivity and impact extremely quickly using, again, just sound vibration light as soon as you wake up. And, of course, you could do the opposite before you go to sleep. You could use magnetic or haptic technology to shift yourself into sleep state, put the Brain.fm into meditative or sleep mode, perhaps use blue light blocking glasses or some type of red-light glasses to induce your body into thinking that it's dark outside or that you're looking at torchlight or firelight. I mean, some sometimes people throw around the word “biohacking” I think a bit too much. But, I mean this is a perfect example like stacking a bunch of stuff to biohack. And, I just love the idea of throwing sound in there to shift the state even more readily.
Dan: Yeah. And, it's something that's accessible. So, personally, for me, I wake up and I actually throw on the headphones on the specific ones, the Aftershokz that are waterproof. And, I actually just put Brain.fm on and take a shower with them. I get ready for the day. I sit down in front with a coffee. And, by then, I'm already in the zone and ready to kick ass and conquer the day.
Ben: Yeah. And, those headphones, by the way, those are the ones that transmit sound through the bones in your face. Someone's like underwater, they make the underwater FINIS, the underwater swimming headphones. And, you could do the same thing. Again, you could be playing Brain.fm, still have your ears not have earbuds in them, still potentially be listening to or focus on something else but the sound is literally transmitted through the bones, which is super cool.
Dan: Yeah, right. So, just like you were saying, it's about stacking things. And, what's really cool about it is that everyone already has headphones or everyone already has phones. So, this is a great place to start. Or, if you're already doing this stuff, it's a great place to add. So, it's really approachable. So, our vision and mission why Brain.fm exists is how can we make everyone the best version of themselves, but it doesn't matter what language you speak, it doesn't matter where you are on the diversity spectrum, it's that we're all human and we're starting to figure out through really bleeding-edge science, the things that help us, and get to the next level. And, we're on the ride to help people do that in combination with all the other fun things that we can apply to our bodies in our minds.
Ben: Awesome. And, by the way, what were the bone-conducting headphones that you like to use?
Dan: I like the Aftershokz myself. Those are cool because they allow me to get started in the day and they're waterproof, so I can take a shower with them. But, I switch between the AirPods, different kinds of things. It's really about having headphones that are comfortable to you.
Dan: The cool thing is we modulate mostly bass frequencies and stuff, so it's cool if you want to use the bone-conducting headphones but it's something that just if you can create almost a sound cocoon, like the better earphones, the ones that are comfortable, that's where you're going to get the best results. Because if you do this, Ben, more than I do, but if you do this once a month, you'll get some effects. But, if you do this as part of your habit where you're doing this every single day, that's when the effects really, really stack and you start seeing the results on a long-term basis.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. Cool. I'm actually going to need to get some new bone-conducting headphones to mess around with it using that as well because I've thought about trying the bone-conducting headphones for, for example, sleep instead of in-ear headphones just to analyze if I notice any effects.
So, I'll mess around with those too. And, this is just super cool stuff. I dig this. And, I'll open this up to everybody who's listening in to go and leave your own experience or questions you might have for Dan, or Kevin, or I, or anything else that you want to add. If you go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/BrainFMshow. I'll link to Brain.fm. I will also link to some of these other devices that I mentioned. And finally, I'll make sure that we've got our discount code in there for you guys who want to save somewhere in the range of 20 to 30 percent on this app.
And then, I should mention, by the way, for those of you concerned about whether or not your phone can be used in airplane mode with this. All the tracks are downloadable. And so, that's important too. You can use it in offline mode.
So, Kevin, Dan, thanks so much for coming on sharing this with us. It's just super cool technology. I've been getting a big kick out of experimenting with. And, I'm looking forward to after this discussion kind of diving in and trying out even more little tricks with this stuff. So, I appreciate you guys.
Dan: Yeah. This is fun. Thanks for having us.
Kevin: Yeah, thanks so much.
Ben: Well, I'm Ben Greenfield along with Dan Clark and Kevin Woods signing out from BenGreenfieldFitness.com. Have an amazing week.
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February 26, 2022
On this podcast episode, I was joined by Dan Clark and Kevin Woods, CEO and Director of Science, respectively, at Brain.fm.
Dan Clark previously worked as a website and app developer but switched careers when he came across Brain.fm. After his first session, he purchased an account, and after his first week of use, he knew he needed to be part of the company. After calling them a whopping twelve times, he was finally given a job and offered to work the first month for free. Fast forward a few years, and Dan is now the CEO of Brain.fm and recently made 2019's Forbes 30 under 30.
Kevin JP Woods, Ph.D. is the Director of Science at Brain.fm. He received a doctorate in auditory neuroscience from Harvard for work performed at MIT on how hearing in complex scenes is aided by attention and memory. Raised in Singapore and Hawaii, he enjoys playing guitar and being in the ocean.
Brain.fm uses non-invasive neurotechnology that can shift you into an altered or elevated state of consciousness, with no plant medicines, nootropics, or drugs required. The technology used involves patented key processes for creating functional music, including technology to elicit strong neural phase-locking—allowing populations of neurons to engage in various kinds of coordinated activity—and technology to remove distraction in sound. In other words, Brain.fm uses uniquely designed music that helps you do what you need to do.
Scientists at Brain.fm have recently worked with collaborators at academic institutions to run experiments, looking at the effects of their technology on the brain using fMRI and EEG, as well as running large-scale behavioral tests. In this podcast, you'll hear from Dan and Kevin on what their new studies have found.
During our discussion, you'll discover:
-What is Brain.fm and how Dan got involved with the company…05:40
- Made website for martial arts dojo which transformed its business
- Income vs. impact
- Find the magic zone where you can crush it, and work around that (flow state)
- Discovered Brain.fm and immediately wanted to be part of it; eventually became controlling owner of the company
-The science behind Brain.fm and what differentiates it from other focus apps…13:40
- Podcast on Brain.fm:
- Application: begin productivity immediately
- How to stack Brain.fm with other tech:
- “Non-invasive neuromodulation” – guiding the brain states without drugs
- “Neural entrainment” – rhythms in the brain reflect the rhythms in the world
- Repetitive use
- Art vs. Functional music
- Context-dependent learning
-How the Brain.fm music tracks are developed…24:00
- Pieces are much longer to avoid track changes
- AI creates variations on human compositions
- Aptitude modulation
-How Brain.fm is different from binaural beats…36:13
- Binaural beats produce “neural synchrony”
- Depth of amplitude modulation is limited by the brain stem
- Binaural beats can only be used with headphones
- Binaural beats has nothing to do with music
-Slow-wave sleep and long-term memory…38:56
- Slow waves are about the same speed as waves on the beach
- Pilot sleep study found greater spindle activity
-About the “focus mode” on Brain.fm…41:55
- May help to combat ADHD
- Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART)
- Sustained Responses to Tasks test
- A wandering mind leads to fatigue and mistakes
- Placebo control: with science track versus without
-Why it's not advisable to combine Brain.fm with popular music…50:54
- All Brain.fm music is currently done in-house
- The majority of popular music is made to distract, or grab attention
- The goal is to make “background” music that stays out of the listener's consciousness
-How to maximize the Brain.fm experience…55:40
- Neural effect level
- Re-Timer light therapy glasses
- Blue light blocking glasses (use code BEN10 to save 10%)
- Aftershokz bone-conducting headphones
-And much more…
- Six Senses Retreat Portugal (March 7 – 11, 2022)
- Keep up on Ben's LIVE appearances by following bengreenfieldfitness.com/calendar
Resources from this episode:
- Brain.fm (use code ben20 to save 20%)
- A Groundbreaking New Way To Combine Artificial Intelligence, Sound & Music To Boost Creativity, Focus, Sleep & More.
- How You Can Use Sound And Music To Change Your Brain Waves With Laser Accuracy And Achieve Huge Focus And Performance Gains.
– Other Resources:
- Apollo (15% discount automatically applied at checkout)
- JOOVV (use code BEN to save $50 off your first order)
- Re-Timer Light Therapy Glasses
- RaOptics Blue Light Blocking Glasses (use code BEN10 to save 10%)
- Aftershokz Bone Conducting Headphones
- EEG Analysis in Brain.fm
- Algorithmic Music Modulates Oscillatory Markers of Sustained Attention
- Context-Dependent Learning
- Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART)
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