For lots of neurodivergent folk, including myself, environmental noise can be a huge distraction.
I can’t work in silence, or I zone out too often.
But I can’t work to my favorite Spotify playlists either, or I’ll just end up dancing.
Earlier this year I went on a search for an app with sounds to help me focus.
And after trying about 4 different services, the one I decided to keep using after the experiment was Brain.fm.
Note: Some of these links are affiliate links. So if you decide to buy anything, I'll receive a commission. Most creators say something like "100% of this goes back into the business," but I'm not most creators. Some months it goes into the business, others it will be used to buy inappropriate amounts of chocolate. Remember, working brighter is about balance!
What is Brain.fm?
Brain.fm is an app that algorithmically generates sound to help you focus on different kinds of activities.
The company uses a combination of human touch and AI to generate music or other sounds that help you more quickly get in the zone and stay there.
The result is focus-encouraging sounds that can range from lofi music to nature sounds with settings that let you fine-tune the noise to whatever works best for you.
How Brain.fm Works
Let’s talk a little bit more about how Brain.fm works, so you can understand why it’s so much more effective than whatever random study music shows up in your YouTube suggested videos.
Real humans design and compose the base sounds used in the app. But then, Brain.fm’s patented algorithms tweak and optimize them so they can better influence brain activity and encourage a flow state.
Finally, before those tracks are actually added to the app, they’re tested against placebos in large-scale experiments to make sure they encourage the desired effect.
That means by the time a track makes it into the app, you can trust it’s legit. You can also trust that they take their science seriously, with all the important info laid out here.
Why I Tried Brain.fm
I need a very specific kind of background noise while I work: distracting enough to keep my brain from daydreaming constantly, but not so distracting that it also pulls me away from my work.
It helps if it’s familiar, too.
I often use my favorite sitcoms (shows where I’ve seen every episode so many times I don’t need to pay attention) as “background noise,” and it works weirdly well.
But this year, I wanted find some other options.
I’ve struggled with productivity and focus more than usual this year, so I was finding myself actually getting distracted by the TV more frequently, which didn’t happen before.
I was also experimenting with working from different environments more, like writing from my balcony or reading in my apartment’s courtyard. Places where streaming video would just make things complicated.
So I decided to start trying focus music.
I have a few other apps with focus music built in, like Headspace and Forest, so I tried those first.
But since those companies don’t specialize in (or should I say…focus on) focus music, it wasn’t the best experience. The selection was narrow, and while the music was less distracting than silence, I didn’t notice it improving my focus any more than other music.
Then I tried free YouTube videos.
You know the ones…lofi music played over animations of cozy study scenes.
But again, trying to use a non-specialized tool just wasn’t the best experience. An ad would pop up right when I was in a flow state, the algorithm only recommended me “study music” instead of a mix of entertainment and education videos, etc.
So a specialized app it was.
I definitely work best having dedicated apps for dedicated purposes, and the customization options offered in Brain.fm lets you sort of be your own DJ to create the most effective mix for your brain.
Ways to Use Brain.fm
Brain.fm has four “modes” to choose from, for different kinds of activities:
You can use the focus mode for things like:
- Writing, strategizing, creating, or other deep work
The relax mode is for things like:
- Recharging in between work sessions
- Destressing and chilling out after work sessions
The sleep and meditate modes are a bit different, offering both sounds and guided mindfulness sessions.
How to Use Brain.fm
1. When you first log into the app, you’re prompted to select a “mode:” focus, relax, sleep, or meditate. (Once you’ve been using Brain.fm for awhile, the home page will also have a section with shortcuts to frequently used app settings that you can tap to skip the rest of the instructions).
2. Once you’ve selected a mode or mood, you can select how long you want to focus for, and the kind of activity you’ll be doing.
- The options for Focus are deep work, creative flow, study & read, and light work
- The options for Relax are chill, recharge, destress, and unwind
- The options for Sleep are deep sleep music, guided sleep assistance, sleep & wake cycle, and wind down.
- The options for Meditate are unguided or guided meditation.
3. At this point, the focus session will begin but you can further fine-tune settings.
4. You can adjust the timer at any point, including turning it off with “infinite” mode.
5. You can adjust the genre, choosing from a range of music styles (acoustic, cinematic, electronic, piano, post-rock) and environmental sounds (beach, forest, rain, river, thunder, wind).
6. You can adjust the neural effect, tuning it lower if you’re prone to headaches or have auditory sensitivities, or higher if you have ADHD (this is the setting I normally use when working).
That’s all you need to know about using the app! You can also turn on push notifications that remind you to use the app, but I haven’t tested those.
The only thing I wish it had, but it doesn’t, is deeper integration with iOS and MacOS features. I’d love to be able to use Brain.fm with homescreen widgets, Shortcuts, and Apple’s own Focus Modes.
FAQs About Brain.fm
What devices can you use Brain.fm on?
You can use the app on any desktop or laptop computer, and there are also apps for both iOS and Android devices.
How much does Brain.fm cost?
After the free trial, the app normally costs $6.99/month or $47.94/year.
But Work Brighter readers can actually take 20% off your subscription by using the code work-brighter.
Is Brain.fm binaural beats?
No, Brain.fm is not binaural beats. From what I understand, the extreme benefits of binaural beats are anecdotal, biohacky pseudoscience.
Here’s what they have to say about the difference in a knowledgebase article:
“Binaural beats use stereo separation to create ‘phantom’ modulation, which means the left and right ear are each fed slightly different frequencies with the hopes that your brain will perceive it as a single tone. It’s not music (unless you have robot blood in your lineage, that is), and, most importantly, there aren’t any studies to prove its efficacy with anything.
Brain.fm music, on the other hand, has undergone intensive experiential testing. In addition to its research-backed neural phase-locking tech, Brain.fm utilizes other proprietary sound features to help you reach particular cognitive states.”
Is Brain.fm proven to help with ADHD?
No, it hasn’t been proven in an experiment up to Brain.fm’s own scientific rigor. They take claims like that very seriously, which is one more reason I trust them over alternatives I’ve seen.
Anything I share in this post is my own experience and should only be seen as anecdotal evidence, not scientific proof. That said, I have noticed an improvement in how long I can focus on one task using Brain.fm, and they are currently looking into making the app and music more ADHD-friendly.
Try It for Yourself
If you want to try Brain.fm for yourself, whether or not you have ADHD, I definitely recommend at least playing with the free trial. And don't forget that you can take 20% off your subscription through this link.