MassiveMusic's Music & Mind researcher Aifric Lennon on the neuroscience and psychology behind our love of music, and her route into sonic branding.

How would you describe what you do?

I might win the prize for one of the longest job titles out there - my official role at MassiveMusic is Music & Mind Researcher/Assistant Project Manager — what a mouthful! 

My role here at Massive is multifaceted, but I am primarily working with the sonic branding team — researching, project managing and helping the team deliver fresh, consistent sonic brands for a hugely varied list of clients. If you’re wondering what sonic branding is? Well, a sonic brand is an audible representation of a brand’s identity. While most brands are focussed on the visual aesthetics of their logo and communications, the sonic branding team at MassiveMusic are experts in identifying and crafting what a brand sounds like (it also happens to be super fun). 

The second arm of my role is focussed on my special area of interest and experience — music and the mind. Having begun my career studying applied biomedical science, and then specialising with an MSc in Music Mind and Brain at Goldsmiths here in London, I learned a lot about the neuroscience and psychology of music — how it affects the way we think, feel, behave and perceive the world. 

This has been such an interesting aspect of my role here at Massive, as it’s an area we hadn’t previously explored as a company, yet can prove to be extremely beneficial when thinking about creating memorable music for brands, specifically in the area of how we emotionally respond to music. The neuroscientific and psychological basis of music is an emerging field which is becoming more and more important in the world of sonic branding, and luckily for me, it’s something that Massive are paying attention to. 

"If you’re wondering what sonic branding is? Well, a sonic brand is an audible representation of a brand’s identity."

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What does a typical day at work look like?

My day always begins with a coffee (of course). 

I usually catch up with the sonic branding team — check my emails, calendar, and most importantly, for the sake of productivity/sanity, I make myself a timed daily schedule of actions. My days vary depending on what projects we are currently working on, but they generally involve a combination of brand and music research, meetings, sometimes academic research into music and the brain (if we are looking at a music strategy for a new brand), music review sessions (where as a team we review music that our composers are working on for brands), and anything and everything that comes in between. Things generally stay nice and chilled here on Curtain Road — sometimes we listen to dark banging techno out loud, other times we like to be silent and get our heads stuck into creative thinking. 

How did you land your position at MassiveMusic?

Quite unconventionally, to be honest.

I had been following Massive’s work for quite some time, and it was a bit of a dream to work for them. I knew they weren’t hiring, but I went ahead and sent my CV and quite an enthusiastic (maybe slightly aggressive!) email of intent. To my delight they got back to me to come in for a coffee — which turned into a great chat, and an interview! Once I got offered the job I knew I had to find a way to stay. 

"Once I got offered the job I knew I had to find a way to stay."

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You touched on your work on the scientific link between music and the mind at a recent panel talk hosted by YCN. How have you approached the shift from a non-arts background into a creative industry?

I knew I wanted to work for Massive for quite some time — and that I could have something to offer, but with my academic background I wasn’t sure if/where I would fit in and what exactly that would look like.

I’ve grown up in a family of musicians, and music played a huge role in my life as I was growing up. I play the violin and sing — and I studied music for the Irish equivalent of the A Levels — so I knew that would help, but I had very little experience in sonic branding and music production. I think crossing the bridge from a non-creative background to working in the creative industry has been an interesting exploration, although it has definitely reaffirmed my belief that it’s possible to combine passions and experience in unlikely ways to create something that works for you. 

For instance, although I studied applied biomedical science in Dublin before moving to London, I always knew that a solely academic career was not for me as I’m quite a social being and I think I would have struggled with the insular nature of academic research. To be able to use my scientific background and knowledge of neuroscience and psychology to reach people in the industry and inform projects like Music x Mind is honestly the closest to a dream come true I could imagine!

I’m learning to think differently about how I approach work with Massive, and I’m really enjoying the opportunity to create and generate ideas. It’s something I have never had the chance to do through my work and I am loving it. 

"Crossing the bridge from a non-creative background to working in the creative industry has definitely reaffirmed my belief that it’s possible to combine passions and experience in unlikely ways to create something that works for you."

What is the best piece of professional advice somebody has given you? 

I think the best piece of professional advice someone has ever given me was to do things that make me slightly uncomfortable. 

“As soon as you are totally comfortable you are not being challenged — that is the moment when something needs to change”.

I think when I was younger I sometimes viewed academic/career challenges as a negative thing — something to feel anxious about — but this piece of advice really changed the way I approached challenging times. Now I try and view any challenge as something positive, something I can learn from, and I try and embrace feeling uncomfortable. Usually being outside your comfort zone means positive change and progression. 

What’s one thing you wish you knew as a student?

An obvious one, but one thing I wish I knew was that my career didn’t have to have a straight trajectory. That I wasn’t going to have everything sussed by my mid-twenties. I had no idea during my undergraduate degree that I would be in the field I am today — and how happy I am — I could never have predicted any of it. If I could speak to my 18 year old self now I would tell her to chill out and enjoy life, not to feel defined by one ‘badge’ of identity, but to embrace all aspects of yourself and see where that takes you. 

"If I could speak to my 18 year old self now, I would tell her to embrace all aspects of yourself and see where that takes you."

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What do you hope to be the outcomes of your research into music and the mind?

Ideally, I would love to use my research (and the research of others in my field) to continue to educate people on the power of music on our minds. It is such an extraordinary tool for so many reasons, and it’s my goal to shout to as many people as possible about that!

This applies in the creative industry, for brands, advertising agencies who are thinking about audio- but also on a more holistic and personal level, for people to wake up to the incredible power of music and what it can do for us. 

What projects are you excited about?

I am excited for any and all projects that come my way — honestly (I know that sounds super nerdy) but what I love about my job is that every day brings something new. From creating music for large corporate brands to working with small non-profit organisations, every single project I have the pleasure of working on makes me excited! 


massivemusic.com / twitter.com/aifriclennon

"I would love to use my research to continue to educate people on the power of music on our minds."

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