Levitin, Daniel J. 1957-

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Levitin, Daniel J. 1957-


Born December 27, 1957, in San Francisco, CA; son of Lloyd A. (a business executive, attorney, and professor) and Sonia (a novelist) Levitin; married Caroline A. Traube, 1999. Education: Harvard University, certificate in professional management, 1985; Stanford University, A.B. (with distinction), 1992; University of Oregon, M.Sc., 1993, Ph.D., 1996.


Office—Department of Psychology, McGill University, 1205 Avenue Penfield, Montreal, Quebec H3A 1B1, Canada. E-mail—dan[email protected]


Pacific Bell, San Francisco, CA, data analysis manager, 1981-84; Columbia Records, staff engineer, arranger, and producer, 1984-85, director of artists and repertory in San Francisco and New York, NY, 1985-88; Daniel Levitin Production, San Francisco and Los Angeles, CA, president; Stanford University, Stanford, CA, instructor, 1992-93, lecturer in music, 1993-2000, visiting lecturer in departments of psychology and computer science, 1998, visiting scholar at Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, 1998-99; McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, assistant professor of psychology 2000-04, associate professor, 2004—, and associate member of School of the Environment and department of music theory, 2000—, Bell Professor of Psychology of Electronic Communication, 2002—, member of executive committee for Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology, 2002—. University of Oregon, instructor, 1995; Interval Research Corp., postdoctoral research fellow, 1996-98; University of California at Berkeley, visiting assistant professor, 1999; guest speaker at other institutions, including University of Rochester, University of California at Berkeley, University of Keele, University of Toronto, and Princeton University. Independent audio engineer, music producer, and marketing consultant, 1982-92, including producer and engineer for numerous record albums; tenor saxophonist; producer of television programs, including William's Syndrome, broadcast by Discovery Channel Canada, 2001; MoodLogic, Inc., member of corporate advisory board, 1999—; consultant to National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, U.S. Naval Underwater Weapons Center, and Pareto Partners; also production consultant on record albums.


International Computer Music Association, European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music, Acoustical Society of America, American Psychological Association, American Psychological Society, American Statistical Association, Audio Engineering Society, Cognitive Neuroscience Society, Center for Interuniversity Research and Analysis on Organizations (fellow), National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (voting member), Psychonomic Society (associate), Society for Music Perception and Cognition (member of board of directors, 1999-2002), Society for Research in Psychology of Music and Music Education, Psi-Chi.


Gold medal, Venice Film Festival, and Sundance Film Festival Award, both for best film soundtrack production, 1985, for Architects of Victory; Recording Industry Association of America, gold records for contributions to promotion, marketing, engineering, or production, 1988, for Diesel and Dust by Midnight Oil, 1990, for Flying in a Blue Dream by Joe Satriani, and 1992, for Ingenue by K.D. Lang; Recording Industry Association of America, platinum records for contributions to remastering, promotion, marketing, production, or liner notes, 1994, for Can't Buy a Thrill, Aja, Decade, and Gaucho, all by Steely Dan, 1996, for The Crow: City of Angels Soundtrack, and 1997, for Stevie Wonder Song Review: A Greatest Hits Collection; Young Psychologists Award, U.S. National Academy of Sciences and National Science Foundation, 1996; best paper award, International Conference on Computing and Anticipatory Systems, 1998-99; Canadian Foundation for Innovation, New Opportunities Award, 2000-01, and grant, 2000; Science in Society Journalism Award for television news or magazine items less than fifteen minutes, Canadian Science Writers Association, 2002, for producing William's Syndrome; grants from Westlake Audio Corp., Miller & Kreisel Sound Corp., Mackie Designs, Shure Brothers, AKG Acoustics, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Fonds pour la Formation de Chercheurs et l'Aide la Recherche, National Institutes of Health, and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada; Academy Award nominations for best original score and for best song (with others), both for Good Will Hunting.


From Demo to Deal, Alfred Publishing (Sherman Oaks, CA), 1992.

Foundations of Cognitive Psychology, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.

This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, Dutton (New York, NY), 2006.

Author of "Fresh Tracks" (column), for Recording Engineer-Producer, 1989-92. Author of album liner notes for various recording artists, including the Carpenters and Stevie Wonder. Joke writer for the syndicated comic strip ‘Bizarro,’ by Dan Piraro.

Contributor to books, including Mind and Brain Sciences in the Twenty-first Century, edited by R.L. Solso, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1997; Music, Cognition, and Computerized Sound: An Introduction to Psychoacoustics, edited by P.R. Cook, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1999; Finding Consciousness in the Brain: A Neurocognitive Approach, edited by P.G. Grossenbacher, John Benjamins (Philadelphia, PA), 2001; Audio Anecdotes, edited by K. Greenbaum, A.K. Peters (Natick, MA), 2004; and Williams-Beuren Syndrome: Research and Clinical Perspectives, edited by C. Morris, H. Lenhoff, and P. Wang, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 2005.

Contributor of articles and reviews to professional journals, including NeuroImage, Organized Sound, International Journal of Computing and Anticipatory Systems, Music Perception, and Perception and Psychophysics; contributor of articles and reviews to music journals, including Grammy, Electronic Musician, Billboard, Audio, and Recording Engineer-Producer.


Author Daniel J. Levitin has had a long and diverse career as a scholar, educator, musician, consultant, and producer. He has played saxophone, guitar, and bass with musicians including Nancy Wilson and Santana, and he held upper management positions with Columbia Records. For his contributions to the music industry, Levitin received two Oscar nominations and twelve gold or platinum records. He is the author of a number of books on psychology and music, including 1992's From Demo to Deal and 2002's Foundations of Cognitive Psychology.

In 2006 Levitin published This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. In this work, he examines the relationship between music and the human brain. Levitin details how we experience music scientifically and why it has such an effect on us; he also touches on the basics of music theory and the origins of music. Other topics include how we develop musical preferences, why emotion plays into our interpretation of music, and if talent is inherent or learned.

Overall, critics responded favorably to This Is Your Brain on Music, noting especially that Levitin offers new insights into an art form that carries a multitude of meanings and connections for many people. The book is a "worthy exploration of what we know about how and why music is such an integral part of the human experience," wrote Tim Gebhart in a review for Blogcritics. Other reviewers pointed out that Levitin has both the professional experience and the skill as a writer to clarify complex subjects and their relationships. The author "explains the intricacies of two difficult subjects—neuroscience and music theory—without ever losing the reader," remarked Farhad Manjoo in a review for Salon.com.

Levitin once told CA: "I've been writing my whole life. This was a perfectly natural thing for me to do, since my mother is a novelist with thirty-five books published. During the summers while I was in high school, I worked for our community newspaper, the Palos Verde View, a small weekly tabloid that covered local events, arts, entertainment, and so on. I wrote articles and took photographs, and also did some typesetting (which included cleaning up the grammar and style of other writers). I also worked there the summer after my first year of college, but when I showed up for work on the first day, the publisher told me he had fired the editor and asked me to be editor for the summer. I had been the features editor of my high school paper, so I knew something about it. Of course, at a small paper like this there wasn't a large staff, so I did a lot of the writing myself. I liked it so much that I stayed on during the following fall before going back to college in mid-year.

"I eventually left college without a degree in order to play music (my other love). Although I was writing music during this time and occasionally lyrics, I didn't really write from 1980 to 1988 while I worked as a record producer, engineer, and artists and repertory executive. Then in 1989 a recording engineer I knew became the editor of an important recording industry trade magazine, Recording Engineer-Producer, and asked if I would like to be the music editor. That propelled me into writing about music. I had often considered the quotation that is attributed to the composer-musician Laurie Anderson that music journalism is inherently troublesome, that ‘writing about music is like dancing about architecture.’ But I strove to bring a new angle to music journalism: I would interview leading recording artists, producers, and engineers as an insider ‘talking shop’ with them and getting them to reveal their craft.

"The column in that magazine led to freelance work for other magazines. Some of the interviews that were most fun were with heroes of mine, such as Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, George Martin, Paul Simon, and Lindsey Buckingham. I hope to compile all of these into a book someday. The column also led to an occasional writing job that is a bit funny to contemplate, just because the average person wouldn't think that one could get hired to do this: I write some of the scripts for the Grammy Awards show, so that presenters know what to say when they present the more technical awards, and some of the text gets etched onto the awards themselves.

"The music journalism and interviews led to other work. A few months after my Stevie Wonder interview came out, he telephoned to say how pleased he was with it and asked if I would write the liner notes for his next release. That led to other liner-notes jobs as well.

"These days most of my writing is scientific and technical, writing up the results of the scientific research I conduct on auditory processes and theories of how our brains process sound and music. I also write occasional syntheses of these for the educated lay audience. I work hard at conveying scientific and technical work in as clear a way as possible. I once had a memorable disagreement with a coauthor over this issue. It seemed as though he wanted our article to be impenetrable to anyone who didn't have a doctorate in neuroscience. I tried to persuade him that no detail or rigor would be lost if we used plain language wherever possible, avoiding jargon and defining terms as we went. He was the first author, and so he won the argument. But I do strive to make things transparent, to present science as a story to be told (often a mystery), and to pay attention to literary devices such as transitions, context-setting, and so on.

"I also continue to write songs, and my biggest influences for lyrics are Guy Clark and Neil Young. Both somehow manage to convey their thoughts with a sleek and wonderfully simple style. I have not come even close to their economy. I'm not sure I ever will.

"I write short stories and took several fiction writing courses in school. I've not had success in publishing the stories (yet). More recently I've been writing jokes for the syndicated comic strip "Bizarro," distributed by the King Features Syndicate for the talented artist and comic Dan Piraro. This is a fascinating collaboration that I hope to write about someday.

"Of contemporary novelists, I think that John Irving is amazing. His writing seems so effortless and personal; he really makes it look easy. He told me once that it takes him five years to finish a novel! All that feeling of spontaneity takes time and many, many edits. From my mother I learned that one must not be afraid to jettison material, even if it is one's favorite passage. If it doesn't move the story forward, it has no business being there (in science, journalism, or fiction), no matter how much the writer might like it.

"I like Charles Dickens and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., too. For scientific writing, I've been very much inspired by John Pierce and Roger Shepard; they make very complicated topics seem very clear.

"My motivation for my scientific writing is to convey what I've learned, through the course of systematic and controlled experiments, so that it will be available to the rest of the scientific community. My motivation for songwriting is more personal, I think; I'm usually just writing for myself and my own enjoyment. I think of my music journalism as motivationally similar to my scientific writing: interviewing a great producer like Phil Ramon (Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra) gave me the opportunity to share with the recording community some of the ideas that he had discovered. As the journalist, I became a conduit for the information. This is really how I approach my science writing: as a journalist trying to convey the information in as accurate and compelling a way as possible."



Booklist, July 1, 2006, Alan Hirsch, review of This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, p. 18.

California Bookwatch, October, 2006, review of This Is Your Brain on Music.

Choice, April, 2003, R. Compton, review of Foundations of Cognitive Psychology, p. 1446.

Globe & Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), July 29, 2006, review of This Is Your Brain on Music, p. 8.

Guitar Player, April, 2007, Matt Blackett, review of This Is Your Brain on Music, p. 69.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2006, review of This Is Your Brain on Music, p. 559.

Library Journal, July 1, 2006, James E. Lieberman, review of This Is Your Brain on Music, p. 96.

New Scientist, July 29, 2006, Michael Bond, review of This Is Your Brain on Music, p. 52.

Publishers Weekly, May 15, 2006, review of This Is Your Brain on Music, p. 58; June 5, 2006, Josh Greenberg, "Looking ‘Under the Hood,’" p. 49.

Reference & Research Book News, November, 2006, review of This Is Your Brain on Music.

Science News, September 9, 2006, review of This Is Your Brain on Music, p. 175.

Skeptical Inquirer, November-December, 2006, Austin Dacey, review of This Is Your Brain on Music, p. 61.


Blogcritics,http://www.blogcritics.org/ (November 26, 2006), Tim Gebhart, review of This Is Your Brain on Music.

Daniel J. Levitin Home Page,http://www.yourbrainonmusic.com (April 8, 2007).

Future of Music Policy Summit: 2006,http://www.futureofmusic.org/ (April 8, 2007), biographical information on Daniel J. Levitin.

Litmus,http://litmuszine.com/ (March 5, 2007), Rob Mitchum, review of This Is Your Brain on Music.

McGill University Web site,http://www.psych.mcgill.ca/ (April 8, 2007), biographical information on Daniel J. Levitin.

Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (September 5, 2006), Farhad Manjoo, review of This Is Your Brain on Music.

San Francisco Classical Voice,http://www.sfcv.org/ (February 20, 2007), Marianne Lipanovich, review of This Is Your Brain on Music.

Undress Me Robot,http://www.undressmerobot.com/ (April 8, 2007), Mordechai Shinefield, review of This Is Your Brain on Music.