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Apps We Love: Brain.fm

In this Mindfulness Monday post, we look at how to sustain focus using Brain.fm.

In college, all my roommates thought I was weird. Not because I was socially awkward, but because I found that I focused better with background noise. So whenever I needed to study for an important exam, I would put on a movie.

I never understood why it worked for me. I just knew that for some reason the background noise helped me to focus, and the roughly two hour length of a movie helped me to hold my focus for longer periods of time.

For many, the ability to focus and do deep work is a necessary skill. Many achieve the same effect I did with streaming music or white noise, and not just when they have an exam to study for. One of the more interesting approaches to facilitating a focused work habit in recent history is the ability of companies like Brain.fm to develop functional music optimized for its effects on our behavior. The result is not just an algorithm, but real music created by real musicians who are empowered with patented tools and techniques to apply science to the music they create in order to achieve a desired effect for the user when they listen.

What Brain.fm Does

Brain.fm is a special kind of music service designed for the brain to enhance focus and relaxation within only 10 to 15 minutes of use. It does this by having real musicians “engineer” music to help you do what you need to do. They use a patented A.I. engine to create music specifically designed to help you do things like focus, relax, or fall sleep.


This is fundamentally different than most music that we listen to. Most music is made to grab your attention or express emotion, making it less than ideal for focusing. But Brain.fm takes a different approach. They start with your desired outcome, then figure out how to help you achieve that state with minimal effort. For example, if you really need to focus, you can listen to music that is specifically created to help you do so. As a result, Brain.fm sounds different – and affects your brain differently – than almost any other music out there.

This can be extremely useful when applied to intentional focus. For example, let’s say you want to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November. You might need a little help to sit down and focus on your writing every day. You might find that you don’t have trouble showing up every day, but you get distracted by everything else on your device. Brain.fm can help you focus on your writing during your daily writing sessions. Just put on your headphones, fire up the app, select how long your focus session needs to be, and hit play. The focus benefits of Brain.fm kick in after a few minutes, and pretty soon the words start flowing. Best of all, the music tracks (and the benefits attached to them) are designed to be sustained over long periods of time.

How Brain.fm Works

Brain.fm is a collaboration between scientists, musicians and developers to craft functional music. They do this through patented technology designed to elicit strong neural phase locking, which when activated allows you to “lock in” on the task at hand and block any potential distractions. Basically, the music in Brain.fm acts as a sheepdog for the neurons in your brain, getting them to move in the same direction and engage in various kinds of coordinated activity like focus or sleep.

If you’ve ever tried to use sheer willpower to focus on a task, you know how difficult (or even impossible) it can be. What Brain.fm does is steer you into your desired mental state by creating music that helps you do what you need to do.

Here’s an excerpt from the FAQ section of their website:

“The music is designed to have effects on neurophysiology via unique acoustic features woven into the music (Brain.fm holds patents for key aspects of this process). Examples include modulations optimized to evoke entrainment of neural oscillations, filtering to exclude distracting sound events, or smooth movement in virtual space to direct attention or avoid habituation.”

There are also lots of different styles of music in Brain.fm to choose from. From classical to electronic to nature sounds, even people with eclectic tastes in music are likely to find something they enjoy in Brain.fm’s extensive library. Once you find something you like, you can favorite it so that you can find it again easily. And if you subscribe, you can download any of the tracks to the mobile app for offline use.

Brain.fm Library

If you’re skeptical about how effective it really is, there’s a ton of science behind the service. You can dive deeper on the science via a dedicated page on their website, which contains links to several white papers on how it all works. They’ve even been recognized by the National Science Foundation with a grant to support their work.

Personally, I’m a big fan of Brain.fm (I’m using it right now as I write this post). It may not work for everyone, but it definitely does for me. I don’t use it all the time, but it’s a great tool for whenever I need a little extra help to sit down and write.

You can download Brain.fm on the iOS App Store for free. The app gives you 5 sessions for free to see if it works for you, and if you decide to subscribe it’s $6.99/month or $49.99/year.

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