girl on floor listening to headphones girl on floor listening to headphones We know that music has therapeutic benefits. A new startup aims to measure them. (Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

Record your heartbeat, and this company will tell you what music to listen to

A new startup is measuring the benefits of using music to treat all sorts of problems, from insomnia to Alzheimer's.

An insomniac wants to stop taking pills to sleep better. New parents feel like they've tried everything to calm down their fussy infant and nothing's working. A workaholic has trouble keeping job woes from affecting family life. A Parkinson's patient is struggling to walk and can't keep from freezing up.

What's the common denominator here? According to the folks at the Sync Project, a new Boston-based startup, it's music. And they've just launched an app that uses your body's heartbeat to find the perfect music to help with any or all of those problems.

“Music can be used for everyday wellness as well as for clinical applications,” says Sync Project co-founder Ketki Karanam. She and Yadid Ayzenberg, an Israeli computer engineer, started the project in the hopes of measuring the medicinal properties of music. “We decided to start by focusing on relaxation as we felt that was one area where people were using music to calm themselves down or relax."

Knowing that several studies have already been conducted on the benefits of music on physical and emotional health, the Sync team is going a step farther – by using artificial intelligence. It launched Unwind, a mobile site, which collects users' biometric data and measures heartbeat. Music from British ambient-music trio Marconi Union is used to deliver a customized experience.

So how would this work in medicine? Using the Parkinson's example, a patient could feed data into their smartphone or fitness watch, like a heartbeat, lifestyle routine, etc. and get accurate analyses of their physical responses to certain types of music. In turn, that data could help the patient – or their doctor – figure out what music would aid their movement and help them maintain optimal health.

unwind user interface from Sync ProjectUnwind helps users find the most relaxing music for them. (Photo: Sync Project)

"We're building a biometric recommendation engine for music," says Marko Ahtisaari, Sync Project's CEO and third co-founder who once ran product design at Nokia. He also tapped four musicians – former Genesis frontman and successful solo artist Peter Gabriel, indie darling St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark), electronic music producer Jon Hopkins and London Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Esa Pekka Salonen – as advisors to the project.

St. Vincent aka Annie Clark indie singer/songwriterAnnie Clark, who goes by the stage name St. Vincent, has signed on as an advisor to the Sync Project. (Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Tiffany & Co.)

“The Sync Project is uniquely positioned at the convergence of music and health,” said Ayzenberg, who is a graduate of MIT and Ben-Gurion University in Israel. “There is mounting evidence on the health benefits of music .... This is a huge opportunity.”

The project's organizers admit that attaching medicinal value to music is an uphill climb, as medical conditions and people's responses to them vary so widely. They're also not trying to replace medicine with music, but rather enhance one with the other. But listening to music with purpose, rather than just pleasure, is an idea Sync's founders say is worth pursuing.

"We as a species have long had an intuitive understanding that music has physical benefits, but now the science exists to back this up," producer Hopkins said. "The Sync Project is at the forefront of putting these findings into some kind of practical, usable form.”


Photos and SlideshowsPhotos and Slideshows

Related Topics: Apps, Music, Science

Record your heartbeat, and this company will tell you what music to listen to
Sync Project, a new startup out of Boston, is measuring the benefits of using music to treat all sorts of problems, from insomnia to Alzheimer's.