Neal Sarin was working as a music executive in the mid-2010s when he became intrigued by the possibility that music could bring about the same mental health benefits he’d gotten from his years of meditation. Over the next several years, he worked with everyone from scientists to yogis to fine-tune his vision, ultimately launching Sona Labs in 2019, an enterprise that aims to share music with therapeutic benefits.
Today, July 29, Sona is releasing its first proper album, Music as Medicine. The project comprises 10 tracks — including one, “Orchids,” by Sarin — and serves as a bit of a sampler of the music available on the Sona app. The tracks were created by producers in six different countries, mixed and mastered by Grammy winners Warren Riker and Rick St. Hilaire, and crafted under the guidance of neuroscientists at the University of California Berkeley.
“We chose songs from the catalogue and selected composers who we believe represent the global and sonically diverse talent we’ve collaborated with over the years,” Sarin tells Rolling Stone in an email. “It’s been really fun.”
As for the science, Sarin credits UC Berkeley neuroscience professor Dr. Robert Knight — who’s still a research advisor for Sona — with introducing the idea of “music as a prescription-based treatment” to him. Running with that, Sarin says, the music Sona releases is “designed to increase alpha brain wave activity, and helps listeners efficiently achieve a relaxed state.”
He cites one EEG (Electroencephalography) study done with Nielsen Neuroscience that showed participants who listened to Sona’s music saw an increase in alpha brainwaves most associated with relaxed, idle states; meanwhile, the control group listening to relaxing pop music saw an increase in beta brain wave activity, which occurs in regular waking states. Sarin also cites another study with UC Berkeley that showed “our music’s ability to significantly reduce corticosterone levels in mice in comparison to white noise and reggae.”
Sona is still awaiting official FDA approval, but Sarin says the company’s experience with the agency has so far been “very good.” An exact timeline for approval isn’t available yet, but he adds, “The research we’ve conducted and Sona’s efficacy serve as the foundation for the progress we’ve made… I can say we’re fortunate to have seasoned mentors in the science community who have helped us.”