Music for Psychedelic Therapy: Can I use Playlists?

Music for Psychedelic Therapy: Can I use Playlists?

The arrangement and delivery of music in the form of playlists has been used to support psychedelic therapy sessions since the conception of the field in the mid 20th century. 

The use of playlists as a medium has enduring value among therapy and research communities today, who commonly rely on popular music streaming services to organise and deliver music during therapeutic sessions.

While streamed music playlists open up countless avenues of experience for the modern listener and are lauded for their accessibility, they present certain challenges for a professional therapeutic setting or psychedelic therapy service centre:

  1. Legal: Using consumer music streaming services such as Spotify in your clinic or private practice violates the Terms and Conditions and puts your clinic at risk of being sanctioned if audited.
  2. Reciprocal: Using consumer music streaming services such as Spotify offer’s very little reimbursement to the artists behind the chosen music, whose work is pivotal to your client’s healing process.
  3. Therapeutic: A standardised or bespoke music playlist may not be best suited to the highly dynamic, profoundly personal and often unpredictable experiences of each individual during a given therapy session.

Read on to learn more about what to consider when selecting the most optimal music and streaming service for your therapeutic practice.

A brief homage to the psychedelic playlist

Prior to founding Wavepaths, our own Mendel Kaelen earned a reputation for his intuitive playlist designs, created for landmark clinical trials including the 2016 psilocybin for depression study at Imperial College London

His playlists continue to resound through both the research settings and private spaces that to use them.

Playlists live on in our hearts as an important and relevant medium, which has defined the modern history of psychedelic therapy in musical terms and continue to inspire the personal transformation of those undergoing psychedelic experiences today, both at-home and in therapy settings.

The legality of streaming services in professional therapeutic settings

A recent blog post by the law firm Harris Bricken outlines the legislative reality of using consumer music streaming services in the context of psychedelic therapy.

“Unfortunately, a psilocybin service center cannot merely play music for its clients. These service centers are businesses and operate under the same rules as bars and restaurants. The songs belong to the musical artists who created them (or perhaps a third party, if the artists has sold off any of the rights), and copyright law requires businesses to obtain a licence and pay royalties for each song before playing it for their customers.”

As professional psychedelic therapy services continue to be integrated into existing public health frameworks as a viable treatment option, the need for licensed music for therapeutic use is becoming increasingly evident.

Wavepaths offers fully licensed music for therapeutic use and has an evolving repertoire of music that is exclusively reserved for the therapeutic container, fully adaptive and intentionally composed to support dynamic subjective states of consciousness and therapeutic processes.

Promoting reciprocity between artist and experiencer

The popularity of using playlists in psychedelic therapy relates to the abundance of conventional consumer streaming services in our modern lives as well as their affordability and broadly accessible music libraries. 

Unfortunately, this model does not always favour the artists, who receive for example between $0.003 – $0.005 per stream (with Spotify) and $0.01 per stream (with Apple Music). Spotify in particular is receiving increasing criticism for exploiting its artist base, with outspoken support from musicians such as Radiohead´s Thom Yorke, REM´s Mike Mills and others.

The use of consumer streaming services in therapy practices not only violates their terms of use (i.e. the licensing being only consumer-based), but also does not acknowledge the significant contribution made by artists to the therapeutic experience and outcomes of the sessions, to put it politely.

Music in psychedelic therapies is no background music, but rather plays an active therapeutic role.  Currently, care-seekers can expect to pay anything ranging from $400 and $800 for a single Ketamine therapy session. Based on these figures, the musician´s contribution to the patient’s therapeutic process is worth little more than 0.001% to 0.0005% of the session fee.

Wavepaths pays significant up-front fees for the commissioning of bespoke music, intentionally composed for psychedelic therapy, and operates a royalty scheme whereby musicians gain direct financial benefit alongside the growth in revenue of the company. We work to create an ecosystem where musicians receive ongoing remunerations for their invaluable work, alongside the growth of the psychedelic industry.

The therapeutic implications of standardised playlists

Aside from being legally and ethically ill-advised in professional therapeutic settings, the use of consumer music streaming services in psychedelic therapy also present a number of therapeutic implications.

These can be summarised as follows:

  • Experiential dis-continuity: the music may be felt to end too soon or change too quickly
  • Unintended associations: familiar music may distract a client away from a potentially constructive therapeutic process
  • Varied music intentionality: Some commercially available songs may lack the direct intentionality and compositional care that can benefit the psychedelic experience.
  • Limited personalisation: in contrast to live music, with static songs you do not have the capacity to adapt music to support the dynamic patient experience in-the-moment.

While playlists have time-honoured value in supporting psychedelic therapies, they may not always be best suited to the highly dynamic and often unpredictable experience of each individual during a session.

In conclusion

Wavepaths irrevocably supports the value that playlists can offer in the context of personal use, however, the use of playlists in professional therapeutic settings:

  1. Violate the terms of use of consumer music streaming services 
  2. Overlook the value and significance of artist contributions to the therapeutic experience
  3. May have certain implications for the therapeutic potential of the session.

Wavepaths is fully licenced for therapeutic use, rewards artists fairly and has an evolving repertoire of music that is reserved for the therapeutic container, fully adaptive and intentionally composed to support dynamic subjective states of consciousness.



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