There are songs that can cause one’s head to hurt … no matter how softly they’re played. There are plenty of songs about pain, and a few about pain relief (“Mother’s Little Helper” by The Rolling Stones). Music has long been used as a therapeutic tool to take one’s mind off of an illness or affliction. And now there’s a song specifically written and recorded for the sole purpose of relieving pain. Should pharmaceutical companies be worried?
“This track reduced both pain intensity and unpleasantness and to achieve an effect of this size for a completely unfamiliar track, really underscores the potential of creating specific pieces of music for pain management.”
The song ’Tune Out Pain’ is the brainchild of Dr. Claire Howlin, a psychology researcher at University College Dublin, music producer Anatole (aka Jonathan Baker), an Australian conservatory-trained trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist, and the makers of Nurofen, an over-the-counter pain medication. Dr. Howlin began by selecting a group of 286 participants who were currently experiencing acute pains such as back pain, headache, menstrual pain and others. The volunteers listened to the sounds of string instruments, pianos, bells and vocal samples and then graded their pain before and after hearing the sounds. Those with the highest sensation of pain relief were given to Anatole to develop a song.
“For me, this was a unique experience to produce a track that is driven by science. It’s almost like creating a new language.”
After Anatole recorded two versions of ‘All of Us’, the tracks were divided between the volunteers to listen to at home, then fill out a questionnaire on how the music affected their pains. The study found that both versions worked well at pain relief, reducing the intensity and unpleasantness. in a statistically significant way. They chose one and made it available on the Nurofen website. (Listen to it here or on Spotify.)
“We’re proud to be collaborating with Nurofen on creating unconventional services like this – a music track scientifically engineered to help with acute pain – all in a quest to help it find interesting and effective new ways to put people in charge of their pain management.”
The last two strange bedfellows in the collaboration to create ‘All of Us’ are the advertising agency McCann London and the artist Nicholas Rougeux, who assigned each instrument a color, mapped the music by instrument’s notes and created a custom cover for the song. (See it here on Spotify.) The entire package of song, cover and research will be submitted to an academic journal for publication.
The Nurofen Tune Out Pain project was conceived in response to surveys which showed pain sufferers wanted more holistic treatments but few considered music to be a potential pain reliever. Nurofen and McCann had worked on a similar project in 2019 called the ‘Swear Labs’ campaign where they tested swearing for short-term pain relief – that works too, but is less pleasant to those around you. As one might suspect based on the players involved, another goal of the Tune Out Pain project is using brand-appropriate sounds to convince consumers to buy certain products.
Profits from pain relief may sound crass but if the pain reliever is music, perhaps it will put a welcome dent into today’s addiction crisis -- and The Rolling Stones can finally retire “Mother’s Little Helper.”
"Life's just much too hard today, " I hear every mother say
The pursuit of happiness just seems a bore
And if you take more of those, you will get an overdose
No more running for the shelter of a mother's little helper
They just helped you on your way, through your busy dying day
(Mother’s Little Helper – The Rolling Stones)