ASK THE EXPERT: Mood-Boosting Music + Mental Health with Award-Winning International DJ Cassandra
Our new Supercharged: Female Founder Series spotlights extraordinary women who are both experts in their field and are at the helm of successful businesses. With each spotlight, we dig deeper on a topic our founder + community is curious about while also gathering tips from travel and books to recipes and mindfulness.
Mood-Boosting Music + Mental Health with Award-Winning International DJ Cassandra Shankman
If you're like us, listening to music plays a major role in your daily routines and rituals. From setting the tone of the work day with a relaxing coffeehouse jazz playlist to turning up the summer vibes with a 2000's beach party set, music is a major mood-booster and has an overall positive impact on your mental health.
While we know that listening to your fav songs can help release endorphins (natural painkillers that can make you feel happy), I turned to DJ Cassandra, one of our fav Austin-based, award-winning DJs, to learn how music can be used to heal and what exactly goes into the art of curating the perfect mood-altering playlists. DJ Cassandra is a DJ/sound curator, composer/producer, educator, and all-around creative. She's been recognized for orchestration, composition, and music preparation work in award-winning films featuring directors and actors such as Terrence Malick, Martin Sheen, and Natalie Portman as well as DJ'd events for global clients like Teen Vogue, Google, Bumble, Adidas, Facebook, SXSW, Virgin, Tito’s Vodka, and Soho House (she knows her stuff).
STEPHANIE: The past few years have really required us all to rewire and reset. You strongly believe in the connection of music and mental health (as do I!). Can you share any perhaps unexpected tips with our community on simple ways to use or listen to music for positive mental health impact.
DJ CASSANDRA: It’s been awesome to see the world continue to open back up and people to start to trust and connect in person, safely of course. It’s really cool to see common interests bring strangers or best friends together. We all know and have witnessed the power of music within our body and our minds. You have witnessed this as a kid, from being soothed to the rhythmic sounds of our mothers’ bodies to learning the ABCs to a memorable melody and rhythm to watching a movie and feeling different emotions because of the music. Music can help you relax, sleep, wake up, heal, and more. Some surgeons play music in the operating room to focus! Here are a few tips I can give from my own experience with music to help with mental health:
- I really enjoy moments of what one might consider “silence.” However, there are sounds and rhythms everywhere, even in “silence”. If you’re walking your dog, you have the sounds of nature, your dog's steps, your house keys jingling, people talking as you walk by… it’s all a form of music. So sometimes going on a walk without (what most consider) music is really helpful for me. In fact, there is a piece called 4’33” by John Cage; it’s a 3-movement composition for any instrument and any combination of instruments where performers do not play for the entire piece! It’s amazing because it’s music, too – the sounds of the environment that audiences hear while it’s being “performed.” Highly recommend checking out videos of it on YouTube or experiencing it live if you get the chance.
- Explore different music for different emotions. If you always listen to pop music, try exploring country or jazz or nu-disco. You’ll be surprised what you find and the different feelings it brings out! Our lives are constantly changing and so is that music that complements it. Maybe go back and listen to songs you used to listen to as a teen – it’ll bring up some fun memories and therefore different emotions you can explore.
- Music is one of the most powerful tools you can use to get through pretty much anything – whether hiking up a mountain or getting through a hard task at work, music can do a lot for your mood. So next time you’re not feeling well or need motivation, put on your favorite music and notice what it does to your heart beat, your mind and the rest of your day!
STEPHANIE: You designed, created and trademarked “Biomedical Music™ ”; it’s fascinating to me, can you please share more about this with our community?
DJ CASSANDRA: Yes! Back in 2015 or so I ran into a woman named Hope Young at a music industry event. She was the founder of The Center for Music Therapy here in Austin. I had volunteered there during my freshman year in college. We re-connected and she had said that she had this idea for original music to help people walk again (or re-learn how to walk). That year we started working on this project called “Movement Tracks Project” and then in 2017 it became a company “Biomedical Music Solutions” and my full time job until 2019.
She brought a team of music therapists, neurologists, musicians, engineers, medical researchers, medical equipment manufacturers, and myself to create what we ended up trademarking as Biomedical Music(™). It’s music that essentially targets certain areas of the brain responsible for walking and balance in people with neurologic conditions such as Parkinsons or cerebral palsy, strokes, MS, and more. The music I composed (and continue to compose) is created with each instrument, melody, harmony and more having a specific use towards a patient's gait. The music is built to become customized for each patient. It can be used stand alone or integrated with medical devices like medical treadmills.
For example, if there is a child who is 8 years old with cerebral palsy, we would customize a certain composition through patented technology for them to work on in a clinic or hospital and then take that home to work on as a sort of prescribed medicine. As the patient progresses, so does the customized music. A trombone sliding upwards might be great for an adult with Parkinsons who is trying to lift their arm high, while a trombone sliding upwards for someone with a brain injury might be jarring. So the technology helps customize that music that I have written to help people all over the world. It is currently being used by over 250,000 patients globally.
STEPHANIE: Your playlists are renowned! Some of the biggest resorts, clubs and brands are using them. An impactful playlist isn’t just about putting all your favorite tunes on a single list, it’s about curating for mood and mindfulness. Can you share any pro tips on how to create a mood altering playlists at home?
DJ CASSANDRA: Mood altering playlists are all about the way you build them. When I’m building for myself, friends, and so I ask the following questions: How do you feel now? How do you want to feel? I begin to create a playlist by doing research on the overall vibe I want and throw all the music I think might be good into a playlist. Then I weed out the songs and curate in sections. I move all the songs that would be good in the beginning of the playlist to the top and songs that would be good for the end towards the bottom. The rest remains in the middle section. Then within each section, curate from there. That way it makes it easier to curate! Curate based on BPM and harmony (make sure things sound good transitioning and not too jarring!).
I believe that an impactful playlist is whatever makes you feel good. However, I can definitely agree that an impactful playlist for a certain brand or event that I’m curating definitely can’t just have just my favorite tunes in a random order!
I do quite a bit of extensive research as do I with a live DJ set. Most of the music is all about heartbeat (rhythm) and harmony (the general feel). And then lyrics (usually melody) if it’s a workout class. For example: if I am curating a playlist for a spin class, I will ask the instructor for the general layout of the class and the theme or vision. So for Soul Cycle some of their classes would start with a warm up, a run (high cardio), then a push (up a hill), and back and forth, then a 6-8 minute arm series, a inspo song, and then cool-down. A vinyasa yoga playlist would start with usually a meditation stretch into a slow building movement and then back down to mat stretching and a little meditation at the end, like when I work with Collette Hill (one of my longest yoga collaborators). A barre class pretty much stays at a very high BPM so I like to find songs that stick with that BPM but also sound different so that it keeps attendees engaged instead of having to focus on the “pain”.
If I am working with a brand to curate an in-store playlist, then that is also different! I create to keep people in the store and feeling good so that they associate good vibes with the brand. It’s all different for different instructors / clients.
STEPHANIE: In addition to your successful business, career as a pro DJ and working with movies and TV, you also are bringing music education to all through your platform, Picardy. Can you tell us about how you came to create that? And also, any tips you have for fellow entrepreneurs to manage all the pieces?
DJ CASSANDRA: Yes! Picardy is an online web app that myself and some other fellow UT music composition graduates decided to create back around 2013 or 2014, I think. We were like, “I wish there was something more affordable and accessible to learn music theory.” So that’s basically what we did. We created the content and built the technology to make it happen! I was working on it pretty heavily when we first started it, but now it’s able to be managed on its own! It was really fun to be part of and I learned a lot about running a business and owning the marketing sides of a business through that company with my co-founders.
In regards to tips for fellow entrepreneurs to manage multiple moving parts – I have no idea how I do it, to be honest. I think I have a little energizer bunny attached to me. I also love what I do ultimately and I think that keeps me coming back for more.
My whole life I’ve generally just followed what will make me happy, knowing that it will be hard and that I will have mental health challenges, but overall “What do I want to do?” We are given such little time on this planet and this is your story, this is your picture to paint. No one else’s. My parents always taught me that taking the easy way isn’t always worth it. It’s better to challenge yourself and see what happens than to not even try.
I have multiple notes on my phone, post-it notes around my house, scribbled notes in numerous notebooks, notes on my desktop, in my email, on the back of receipts… It’s funny because even though I write everything down to remind myself to do it, it’s in the back of my head. It’s also kinda funny because every once in a while I’ll gather up all the notes and just check off what I have done, and it’s wild to see what I have remembered to do without ever re-looking at the note I made to do it.
I definitely wish I had started out organized and with a clean slate, but that’s just not how life works. You can’t wait until the perfect moment to try something, you have to just try it and figure it out later. That’s my motto, but some more organized less-risk-takers might say otherwise! There’s no right or wrong answer, just what feels right to you.
My tip is to find what you love and do. In my case, I said yes to everything musically that came my way and never really got organized, I just did. It can be overwhelming at times, but you know you’re working on things that make you happy ultimately.
STEPHANIE: For anyone who wants to catch you live in 2023, are there any events we should look out for?
DJ CASSANDRA: I just played Austin’s newest nightclub “Superstition,” so hopefully you’ll catch me at more nightclub shows. However, I don’t usually do too many public events, I’m working on doing more of that this year as my new goal is to tour and perform all over the world, and probably most of that will be in nightclubs! You might catch me here and there for a few public pop-ups. I’m about to do an all women’s conference in a few weeks and then a few weddings and then SXSW will be here! If you want to follow me at @djcassandra_ on instagram then you will be able to see what I am offering that’s public - a market, a dance party or yoga event!
STEPHANIE: You also offer classes and interactive workshops. Can you tell us more about those and can anyone with an interest in learning to compose or DJ apply?
DJ CASSANDRA: Yes, anyone can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and either myself or someone else will help you! I have been teaching a small private piano studio of students I absolutely adore and who have been studying with me for quite some time now, so I don’t have any more space to open that up, but I do have composition and DJ spots open for class packages or one-offs. You can also be on the lookout for online DJ lesson courses coming very soon this year :)
ASK THE EXPERT: FAST FACTS
DJ CASSANDRA, AWARD-WINNING DJ + FOUNDER, SOUNDS BY CASSANDRA AUDIO AGENCY + PICARDY
Favorite Wellness Practice or Beauty Ritual: Walking my dog
One Thing You Can't Live Without: My dog, my supportive friends and family :) Also, unfortunately, my phone.
What You're Reading / Watching Right Now:
- Reading: a very nerdy article on the latest release of Serato 3.0 with stems. Serato is my DJ software I use and late last year they released a new version (3.0) that is changing the face of DJing!
- Watching: everything… just finished White Lotus and Emily in Paris last month, now unfortunately caught in the drama of “New Amsterdam.”
Favorite Place You've DJ'd: Honestly too many to count! I really love DJing at the Line Hotel in Austin, and LOVED my latest gig at Superstition (the new Austin nightclub). I think Austin will always have my heart. But I did really enjoy DJing in Vail at Camp Hale and then in Baja at Bruma!
Predictable, but we’re dying to know! :) What’s your all time favorite song or artist right now? Of all time? Oh no! HA, this is probably the hardest question of all because it really depends what mood I’m in! “Expressing What Matters” by Disclosure is my latest jam, but also “Shake it out” by Austin artist and friends Beth James, “Coasting” by Kele, “Groupie love” by G-Unit, “Blindsided” by Hovvdy, “In too deep” by Jacob Collier (an artist who got me through 2021). Literally so many!
Favorite Local Restaurant/Cafe/Coffee Shop: Lately Hanks since they’re kinda all of the above HA. But I also love Flitch too.
Favorite Solara Product: I really love the Go! Mineral Defense SPORT Antioxidant Face Sunscreen, SPF 50! It’s such a cute bottle so I always remember to put it on after I’ve washed my face in the morning.
Note: Cassie is an Austin-based DJ/sound curator, composer/ producer, educator, and all-around creative. She’s curated sounds for top local and global brands including Hulu, Topo Chico, Athleta (Gap), Outdoor Voices + Lululemon. Ask the Expert tips are for informational purposes only and any product, supplement, medical or dietary recommendations are personal to those featured in this blog post only. Always consult your trusted medical, herbal or integrative practitioner to determine the best routine and supplements for you.
- Author: Stephanie DiPisa, Founder + CEO, Solara Suncare