Daniel Levitin

Daniel J. Levitin

Levitin in 2015
Born (1957-12-27) December 27, 1957
San Francisco
Nationality American
Fields Music cognition, cognitive neuroscience of music, cognitive psychology
Alma mater Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Berklee College of Music
Stanford University (B.A., 1992)
University of Oregon (MSc, 1993; PhD, 1996).
Academic advisors Roger Shepard, Michael Posner, Douglas Hintzman, John R. Pierce, Stephen Palmer
Notable students Catherine Guastavino, Susan Rogers, Parag Chordia
Known for Levitin effect, This Is Your Brain on Music, The World in Six Songs, The Organized Mind, A Field Guide to Lies
Notable awards See "Awards" section
Spouse Heather Bortfeld
daniellevitin.com http://www.levitinlab.com

Daniel Joseph Levitin, FRSC (born December 27, 1957) is an American cognitive psychologist, neuroscientist, writer, musician, and record producer.[1] He is James McGill Professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, with additional appointments in music theory, computer science, and education; Director of the Laboratory for Music Perception, Cognition, and Expertise at McGill,[2] and Dean of Social Sciences at The Minerva Schools at KGI. His TED talks have been viewed more than 8 million times. He is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (FRSC). He has appeared frequently as a guest commentator on NPR and CBC.

Levitin is the author of four consecutive best-selling books, This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession (2006),[3][4][5] The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature (2008), The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload (2014) and A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age (2016). He has published scientific articles on absolute pitch, music cognition, and neuroscience.[6][7]

Levitin worked as a music consultant, producer and sound designer on albums by Blue Öyster Cult, Chris Isaak, The Afflicted, and Joe Satriani among others;[8] as a consultant on albums by artists including Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, and Michael Brook;[9][10] and as a recording engineer for Santana, Jonathan Richman, O.J. Ekemode and the Nigerian Allstars, and The Grateful Dead.[11] Records and CDs to which he has contributed have sold in excess of 30 million copies.[10][12]

Biography and education

Born in San Francisco to a Jewish family,[13] the son of Lloyd Levitin, a businessman and professor, and Sonia Levitin, a novelist, Levitin was raised in Daly City, Moraga, and Palos Verdes, California.[14] He studied electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and music at the Berklee College of Music before dropping out of college to join a succession of bands. He returned to school in his thirties, studying cognitive psychology/cognitive science first at Stanford University where he received a BA degree in 1992 (with honors and highest university distinction) and then to the University of Oregon where he received an MSc degree in 1993 and a PhD degree in 1996. He completed post-doctoral fellowships at Paul Allen's Silicon Valley think-tank Interval Research, at the Stanford University Medical School, and at the University of California, Berkeley.[14] His scientific mentors included Roger Shepard, Michael Posner, Douglas Hintzman, John R. Pierce, and Stephen Palmer. He has been a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University, Dartmouth College, and Oregon Health Sciences University.

As a cognitive neuroscientist specializing in music perception and cognition, he is credited for fundamentally changing the way that scientists think about auditory memory, showing through the Levitin Effect, that long-term memory preserves many of the details of musical experience that previous theorists regarded as lost during the encoding process.[15][16][17][18] He is also known for drawing attention to the role of cerebellum in music listening, including tracking the beat and distinguishing familiar from unfamiliar music.[16]

Outside of his academic pursuits, Levitin has worked on and off as a stand-up comedian and joke writer, performing at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco with Robin Williams in 1984, and at comedy clubs in California; he placed second in the National Lampoon stand-up comedy competition regionals in San Francisco in 1989, and has contributed jokes to Jay Leno, Arsenio Hall, as well as the nationally syndicated comic strip Bizarro, some of which were included in the 2006 compilation "Bizarro and Other Strange Manifestations of the Art of Dan Piraro" (Andrews McMeel).

Music producing, consulting, and e-music career

Daniel Levitin
Background information
Birth name Daniel Joseph Levitin
Born (1957-12-27) December 27, 1957
Origin San Francisco
Genres Rock, new wave, punk, jazz, folk rock, country
Occupation(s) Producer
Instruments Tenor saxophone, guitar, bass, vocals
Years active 1980 to present
Labels 415 Records, Columbia Records, Sony Music, Warner Bros. Records, Infrasonic Records, TwinTone Records
Associated acts Blue Öyster Cult, The Afflicted, Santana, The Grateful Dead, Chris Isaak, Steely Dan, Joe Satriani, The Mortals, The Alsea River Band, Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers

In the late 1970s, Levitin consulted for M&K Sound as an expert listener assisting in the design of the first commercial satellite and subwoofer loudspeaker systems, an early version of which were used by Steely Dan for mixing their album Pretzel Logic (1974). Following that, he worked at A Broun Sound in San Rafael, California, building speaker cabinets for The Grateful Dead, for whom he later worked as a consulting record producer. Levitin was one of the golden ears used in the first Dolby AC audio compression tests, a precursor to MP3 audio compression.[14] From 1984–1988, he worked as Director and then Vice President of A&R for 415 Records in San Francisco, becoming President of the label in 1989 before the label was sold to Sony Music.[19] Notable achievements during that time included producing the punk classic Here Come the Cops by The Afflicted (named among the Top 10 records of 1985 by GQ magazine); engineering records by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Santana, and the Grateful Dead; and producing tracks for Blue Öyster Cult, the soundtrack to Repo Man (1984), and others.[20] Two highlights of his tenure in A&R were discovering the band The Big Race (which later became the well-known soundtrack band Pray for Rain); and for having had the chance to, but not signing M.C. Hammer.[21]

After leaving 415, he formed his own production and business consulting company, with a list of clients including AT&T, several venture capital firms, and every major record label.[22] As a consultant for Warner Bros. Records he planned the marketing campaigns for such albums as Eric Clapton's Unplugged (1992) and k.d. lang's Ingénue (1992). He was a music consultant on feature films such as Good Will Hunting (1997) and The Crow: City of Angels (1996), and served as a compilation consultant to Stevie Wonder's Song Review: A Greatest Hits Collection (1996), and to As Time Goes By (2003) and Interpretations: A 25th Anniversary Celebration (1995; updated and released as a DVD in 2003) by The Carpenters. Levitin returned to the studio in 2002, producing three albums for Quebec blues musician Dale Boyle: String Slinger Blues (2002), A Dog Day for the Purists (2004), and In My Rearview Mirror: A Story From A Small Gaspé Town (2005), the latter two of which won the annual Lys Blues Award for best Blues album.[23] He has performed on saxophone with Mel Tormé, Sting, Ben Sidran, and Bobby McFerrin, and on guitar with Rosanne Cash, Blue Öyster Cult, Rodney Crowell, Michael Brook, Gary Lucas, Victor Wooten, Steve Bailey, Peter Case, Lenny Kaye, Jessie Farrell, and David Byrne.[24][25]

In 1998, Levitin helped to found MoodLogic.com (and its sister companies, Emotioneering.com and jaboom.com), the first Internet music recommendation company, sold in 2006 to Allmusic group. He serves on the Science team for Signal Patterns, leading the development of its online music preferences survey. He has also consulted for the United States Navy on underwater sound source separation, for Philips Electronics, and AT&T.[26] He served as an occasional script consultant to The Mentalist from 2007–2009.

Writing career

Levitin began writing articles in 1988 for music industry magazines Billboard, Grammy, EQ, Mix, Music Connection, and Electronic Musician, and was named contributing writer to Billboard′s Reviews section from 1992 to 1997. He has also written op-eds, reviews and essays for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic.[27]

Levitin is the author of This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, (Dutton/Penguin 2006; Plume/Penguin 2007) which spent more than 12 months on the New York Times[28] and the Globe and Mail bestseller lists. It was nominated for two awards (The Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Outstanding Science & Technology Writing and the Quill Award for the Best Debut Author of 2006), named one of the top books of the year by Canada's Globe and Mail and by The Independent and The Guardian,[29] and has been translated into 16 languages.

The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature (Dutton/Penguin 2008) debuted on the Canadian and the New York Times bestseller lists,[30] and was named by the Boston Herald and by Seed Magazine as one of the best books of 2008; it was also nominated for the World Technology Awards. His book sales have made Levitin the #1 bestselling scientist of the last ten years.[31]

The Organized Mind was published by Dutton/Penguin Random House in 2014[32] debuting at #2 on the New York Times Best Seller List[33] and reaching #1 on the Canadian best-seller lists.[34]

In popular culture

In The Listener TV series, actor Colm Feore says his performance of the character Ray is based on Daniel Levitin.[35]

Media appearances

From September 2006 to April 2007 he served as a weekly commentator on the CBC Radio One show Freestyle.

Two documentary films were based on This Is Your Brain on Music, The Music Instinct (2009, PBS), which Levitin co-hosted with Bobby McFerrin, and The Musical Brain (2009, CTV/National Geographic Television) which he co-hosted with Sting. He appeared in Artifact (film), a 2012 documentary film directed by Jared Leto. His television and film appearances have reached more than 50 million viewers worldwide.[36]

Levitin had a cameo appearance in The Big Bang Theory at the invitation of the producers, in Season 8, Episode 5, "The Focus Attenuation," during the opening scene, sitting at a table in the Caltech cafeteria over Sheldon's right shoulder.

In January 2015 he was a guest on BBC Radio 4's Start the Week programme, alongside cognitive scientist Margaret Boden.[37]


Selected publications


Scientific articles (selected)



Year Film Role Notes
1984 Repo Man Self, musician
1997 Close To You: Remembering the Carpenters Self, Consultant to the producers PBS
1998 The Carpenters: Harmony and Heartbreak Consultant to the Producers A&E Biography
2009 The Music Instinct Self, writer, consultant PBS Nova
The Musical Brain Self, Writer; Consultant CTV/National Geographic
2012 Artifact Self
What Makes a Masterpiece Self BBC 4


  1. "Executive Turntable". Billboard. January 2000.
  2. Laboratory for Music Perception, Cognition and Expertise, daniellevitin.com
  3. "Oliver Sacks meets Jerry Garcia in 'This Is Your Brain on Music' by rocker-turned-neuroscientist Daniel Levitin'". Publishers Weekly. June 5, 2006.
  4. "Books: Bestsellers: Top selling fiction and non-fiction titles (week of September 21". Maclean's. September 21, 2006.
  5. "CHARTS Bestsellers (week ending Nov 05, 2006)". The Book Standard. November 5, 2006.
  6. Parncutt, R.; Levitin, D.J. (2001). "Absolute Pitch". In S. Sadie. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. New York: St. Martins Press. pp. 37–39.
  7. Levitin, D. J.; Rogers. S.E. (December 2005). "Absolute pitch: Perception, coding, and controversies". Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 9 (1): 26–33. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2004.11.007. PMID 15639438.
  8. "Flying in a Blue Dream credits". Allmusic. Retrieved January 1, 2013.
  9. James Sullivan (August 20, 2006). "He's Rocking the World of Neuroscience". Boston Globe. Retrieved August 22, 2011.
  10. 1 2 Ann McIlroy (March 12, 2001). "Dr. Rock 'n' Roll". Globe and Mail.
  11. Susan Dominus (March 18, 2007). "Rockin' Boffin". London Daily Telegraph, Seven Magazine.
  12. "La musique pour maître à penser". Découvrir. November–December 2002.
  13. "Levitin, Daniel J. 1957–". Contemporary Authors, 2005, at encyclopedia.com. Retrieved July 28, 2013.
  14. 1 2 3 "Levitin, Daniel J.". Marquis Who's Who in America. New Providence, NJ: Marquis Who's Who LLC. 2002.
  15. D. J. Levitin (1992). "Absolute memory for musical pitch: Evidence from the production of learned melodies". Perception & Psychophysics. 56: 414–423. doi:10.3758/bf03206733.
  16. 1 2 D. Huron (2006). "Exploring How Music Works Its Wonders". Cerebrum.
  17. "Common expressions: Levitin". Webster's Online Dictionary. Webster's. February 18, 2011. Archived from the original on July 24, 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
  18. James Martin (Summer 2004). "A Mind For Music". McGill News. pp. 1–2.
  19. 415 Records
  20. "Allmusic:Artist:Daniel Levitin". Retrieved 2006-09-14.
  21. http://www.amazon.com/gp/richpub/syltguides/fullview/R3ASQBLPAK1KEA retrieved August 31, 2014
  22. http://www.bic.mni.mcgill.ca/PeopleAffiliates/LevitinDan Retrieved August 31, 2014
  23. http://conductor1.wix.com/label#!affiliates Retrieved August 31, 2014
  24. http://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/node/14564
  25. http://www.berklee.edu/news/2360/alumni-profile-daniel-levitin-80 retrieved August 31, 2014
  26. http://www.apa.org/research/action/speaking-of-psychology/music-health.aspx Retrieved August 31, 2014
  27. "Amnesia and the Self That Remains When Memory Is Lost". Retrieved 2013-01-14.
  28. Feuer, Alan. "New York Times". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-11-15.
  29. "Pick of the paperbacks 2008". The Guardian. London. December 21, 2008. Retrieved April 30, 2010.
  30. "Vancouver Sun". Retrieved 2008-08-16.
  31. "Nielsen Bookscan". Retrieved 2010-04-10.
  32. "Deals: Week of February 4, 2013".
  33. http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/ retrieved August 31, 2014.
  34. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/bestsellers/bestsellers-hardcover-non-fiction-may-25-2013/article4226576/ retrieved August 31, 2014.
  35. Gayle MacDonald (June 3, 2008). "Listening for the Listener". Globe and Mail.
  36. "Nielsen Television Ratings". Retrieved 2010-04-10.
  37. Thompson, Clive (December 31, 2006). "Music of the Hemispheres". New York Times: Section 2 Arts & Leisure, Page 1.

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