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Exclusive – Gen Zer Brian Femminella is in the vanguard of social impact

Fuelled by a dedication to serve others, Gen Z entrepreneur Brian Femminella founded SoundMind, a company combining the power of music therapy with technology to help those suffering from trauma, anxiety, and depression.

‘My niche seems to be doing something that immediately assists the public in one way or another,’ says Brian Femminella.

A Gen Z entrepreneur at just 21-years-old, Brian has a profound understanding of mental health and feels an urgent need to destigmatise it. He has undertaken numerous ventures throughout his life purely to help others, working with fire departments, EMT services, the military, and the LGBTQ+ community.

His awareness of human struggle has helped guide Brian throughout his career, from teenage soldier to political science and digital forensics student at USC.

SoundMind is his latest project, a start-up company that’s combining the power of music therapy with technology to help those suffering from trauma, anxiety, and depression. He’s the co-founder and CEO, too. Not bad for a 21-year-old.

The road to advocacy

‘I’ve wanted to do something for the greater good for as long as I can remember,’ says Brian, speaking to me virtually from a room you’d expect of someone with a such a packed CV.

Posters quoting Steve Jobs and Obama line the walls, alongside a whiteboard that offers a brief glimpse of his jam-packed schedule.

‘Joining the military at seventeen is when this passion escalated,’ he adds, having witnessed first-hand the emotional toll that military personnel face.

The catalyst for his philanthropy, he explains that this commitment taught him a great deal about people, specifically the importance of fostering a community absent of materialistic expectations and societal divides.

‘When you’re in the same uniform, from different backgrounds, on the same mission, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or what you look like, you’re all contributing to a unified goal. This humbled me significantly and opened my eyes to the strength of collective empowerment.’

Brian Femminella on Twitter: "I can not believe this was 3 years ago today. Time truly flies, and life changes so quickly. I love you all. #Bootcamp #USArmy" / Twitter

In highlighting the value of ensuring we aren’t left to cope alone, this environment of inclusivity and acceptance also led Brian to question why male mental health is so often removed from the wider conversation.

Particularly given that three times as many men as women die from suicide every year and are, on average, much less likely to seek therapy.

‘The hyper-masculinity complex sees men chasing an unrealistic ideal of strength in which they must supress their emotions,’ he says, telling me he’s still – and always will be – grappling with his own identity.

‘With any deviation from this deemed weak, I’ve watched as many of my closest friends have isolated themselves and self-destructed as a result. We should strive to abolish these preconceptions, break down defence mechanisms, and embrace vulnerability. This is what I’m looking to fix.’

Fortunately the tide is turning, slowly but surely. Take the extraordinary medical potential of psychedelic drugs, for example, which is increasingly being recognised by prolific figures working in the mental health space across the globe.

Brian Femminella Firmly Stands for His Advocacies Pushing for Policies and Legislation Through His Platform

Referencing existing treatments which he deems revolutionary (administered in a controlled setting, of course) Brian says this is symbolic of a broader shift.

‘It’s incredible to see the effects of mindset transformation,’ he says. ‘This applies to a lot of things – organisations rarely addressed mental health pre-Covid and now it’s relevant – it all ties into the notion that having these discussions will ultimately push change forward.’

And, with inspiring openness more essential than ever before following a pandemic that brought with it a tsunami of psychological problems and drew attention to how much we rely on human connection to function, Brian stresses that we should be using social media in our favour. To ensure no one has to suffer in silence again, responsibility lies in the hands of those with a platform.

‘You need to use what you have to represent how you’re actually able to listen to and influence the people who support you. Issues that impact all of us can be dealt with by letting individuals be vocal about their personal troubles.’

So, how is Brian using his?

Advancing the field of mental health research with music & tech

Inspired by seeing people’s mental health in the worst possible conditions, Brian co-founded SoundMind with Travis Chen, who shares the same dream of championing impactful practices to make a difference.

‘The idea stems from my never-ending dissatisfaction with being unable to help friends going through severe trauma,’ says Brian. ‘I always try to offer a solution; I hate not having one.’

The product of their action, which took over two years of research and studies on thanatosonics (the relationship between violence and sound), cognitive feedback, and binaural beats to develop, is a mobile application that takes a commendably unique approach to guiding users through their healing process. How? With music.

‘SoundMind is an audio and visual wellness app using the power of sound,’ says Brian.

‘It includes a personalised audio soundscape composer for users to mitigate their auditory triggers, 3D visual therapy, mood tracking, and more to help users create a journey that is able to best suit their individual preferences.’

To navigate the 3,500+ sounds and 100+ curated musical pieces – all created in house and immediately available – users can swipe right on what they enjoy and left on what they don’t. The more they engage with this interactive machine learning feature, the more SoundMind can understand their needs.

Brain, Beats, and Battles: How the Mind Responds to and Copes with Trauma through Music Therapy | by Brian Femminella | SoundMind | Medium

‘We’re spreading awareness of how thanatosonics can be linked to certain triggers or memories that disrupt parts of the brain and what music actually does to calm you. Through innovative software backed by research driven from human experiences and emotions, we think we can make the usage of mental health resources a trend.’

Confronted with the pandemic-induced mental health crisis (exacerbated by our damaging online habits), Brian also explains that sound therapy has proved to be a familiar and welcome form of healing for a fast-paced generation that may need it even more desperately in the future.

Upon our return to normalcy, he believes it can provide the additional relief that people are seeking. ‘I am fascinated by music’s ability to affect change in ways that almost anything virtually in the world cannot,’ he says. ‘SoundMind is more than an app, it’s a movement. A community being driven by those willing to speak on the issues that many shy away from.’

Looking ahead, Brian’s vision is to build SoundMind into one of the most reliable and accessible interactive user experience brands of the 21st Century.

‘When people feel alone or are in need of a resource, I want SoundMind to be something that comes to mind in everyone’s mind,’ he says. ‘And, if we can turn around and say that it can help people, even in the slightest, we have succeeded.’

Well, given that his project is taking sizeable strides towards tackling a much bigger problem, it may well go on to be just that. In the time being, there’s no question that SoundMind is set to become a valuable tool in the overall mental healthcare industry. This up-and-coming platform not only serves as the much-needed voice for those who are feeling unheard and unseen, but shows how much of an impact the efforts of young visionaries can make on the world.

Advice for Gen Z

With 54% of Gen Z saying they want to start their own company and CEOs seemingly getting younger by the day, I thought it apt to end our conversation by asking Brian for some guidance on how to get started.

He was more than happy to leave me with a slew of sage advice for those daunted by the notion of turning a simple idea into a prolific business venture.

‘I am young, there is no doubt in that, and it has allowed me to bring a diverse perspective to my entrepreneurial career. I learned quickly that every day you are in competition with who you were yesterday, and as long as you continue to learn and grow from your experiences, you are becoming a more aware and mature leader.’ he says.

As a founder, Brian emphasises that you must have an unparalleled passion that never dies. If you’re passionate, the starting point is to love the idea so much that no one can deter you from it.

Though many assume that revenue is the powerhouse behind a business – which is true to a degree – he is firm in his confidence that a team’s passion and willingness to think outside the box is what separates the companies that shatter expectations and those that sink.

On this note, he tells me that you’re only as strong as you empower yourself and your team to be, and that without passion, there is no spark.

‘Knowing that one day people are going to walk up to me and say thank you, look what you were able to do just because you didn’t sleep, stop, or give up,’ he finishes.

‘That feeling is worth more than any pay check. That’s why I keep going.’