- Janet Marlow is a performer and songwriter with a unique audience: pets.
- Marlow started making music for animals 20 years ago after realizing she could calm her animals with it.
- This helps Marlow associate his love of animals with “all the musical knowledge my brain is filled with”.
Music runs through the veins of fifth-generation performer Janet Marlow. The classical and jazz guitarist spent the first 35 years of her career composing, recording and performing on stages around the world.
Then, two decades ago, the Marlows began creating work for a new audience: pets.
Marlow started creating pet-centric music when she noticed her pets sat by her side while she was training and enjoyed her. Marlow began studying how sound influences animal behaviors and used her expertise as a musician to compose 150 tracks to help relieve stress in pets, which she releases through her company Pet Acoustics.
For pet owners, dealing with the anxiety of their furry friends can be stressful and costly. About 51% of dog and cat owners use some type of calming product, according to the American Pet Products Association’s National 2021-2022 Pet Owner Survey. Calming pet products range from medications and toys to calming treats, collars and shirts.
As life returns to near-normal after COVID-19 closures, homeowners worry about separation anxiety from their pets after spending so much time together. This makes appeasing pets – and Marlow’s approach to music – more important than ever.
“Music is a substance, and it has a profound influence on the movement of biological cells through vibration,” she said. “What’s exciting to me is that I can take all the knowledge I have about music and slice it to be specific to the needs of biology and influence it in positive health ways.”
In 1997, Marlow, who calls himself a “sound behaviorist”, began researching sound and its effects on animal behavior. More specifically, she explores the biology of the impact of sound on animals and the behavioral response to vibrations produced by sound. His scientific studies are peer-reviewed and published in veterinary scientific publications, and the results highlight the positive effects of species-specific music.
Using information about the hearing range of specific animals, Marlow digitally composes and alters music in a comfortable listening area for each species’ hearing range. Her last piece, Equine Relax Trax, is specially designed for horses. Horses are incredibly sensitive to stress, which leads to costly gastrointestinal issues. This particular track is a combination of beats that never exceeds the comfortable decibel level for horses.
“On the racetrack, 90% of horses have ulcers, and 75% to 80% of performance horses also have them, which can cost $1,000 to $2,000 to diagnose and treat,” said the veterinarian Sarah Ruess, equine technical manager. at Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health. “That doesn’t even take into account lost performance. Stress is a big part of those numbers. Creating a more positive environment through the use of music can help minimize the impact.”
Composing for pets is much different than for humans. One reason is that the human brain absorbs sound and analyzes it spatially, separately recognizing drummer and guitarist, other instruments and vocals. This does not happen for animals. Marlow said animals hear the music in its entirety and, within a second, decide on a behavioral response.
“We are analytical and animals are physical,” she said. “In horses, this is where the instinctive flight or fight reactions come in.”
Marlow said creating music is similar to baking a chocolate cake. Each selected sound is within the exact hearing range of each animal. She begins the arrangement by making sure that each track does not exceed or fall below a specific decibel level. She listens to every note of the melody to ensure that it follows a pattern based on a range of modifications that follow the proprietary frequency range she has developed.
After arranging, she scans the music and confirms that it does not exceed a certain level, which would trigger pressure in that animal’s ear. For horses, she has taken the studies a step further and is currently investigating which instruments in particular the species finds soothing.
“People who think classical music is boring assume it soothes their pets, and that’s not true,” she said. “Composing music that falls within each of these animals’ comfort zone helps them feel calm and relaxed.”
As a child, Marlow was not allowed to have her own pets. As an adult, she makes up for it by helping as many animals as possible.
“I couldn’t be around animals as a kid living in the city and that was always a hot part of my life,” she said. “It’s such a passion for me to get married that with all the knowledge of music, my brain is filled.”