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Daniel Levitin

Background information
Birth name Daniel Joseph Levitin
Born December 27, 1957 (1957-12-27) (age 52)
Origin San Francisco, California, U.S.
Genres Rock
New Wave
Folk rock
Occupations Producer, Cognitive Neuroscientist, Writer
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
The Grateful Dead
Chris Isaak
Steely Dan
Joe Satriani
The Mortals
The Alsea River Band
Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers

Professor Daniel J. Levitin, Ph.D. (born December 27, 1957, San Francisco) is an American cognitive psychologist, neuroscientist, record producer, musician, and writer.[1] He is currently 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.

He has published scientific articles on absolute pitch, music cognition and neuroscience[2][3] and is more widely known as the author of two best-selling books, This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, (Dutton/Penguin, 2006; Atlantic [UK] 2007)[4][5][6] and The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature (Dutton/Penguin U.S. and Viking/Penguin Canada, 2008). He worked as a producer and sound designer on albums by Blue Öyster Cult, Chris Isaak, and Joe Satriani[7] as a consultant to Steely Dan and Stevie Wonder;[8][9] and as a recording engineer for Santana and The Grateful Dead.[10] Records and CDs to which he has contributed have sold in excess of 30 million copies.[9][11] From September, 2006 to April 2007 he served as a weekly commentator on the CBC Radio One show Freestyle, and he has appeared frequently on NPR.


Biography and education

Born in San Francisco, California 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.[12] 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 (he received his B.A. in 1992 with honors and highest university distinction) and then the University of Oregon where he received his M.Sc. (1993) and Ph.D. (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.[12] 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 with fundamentally changing the way that scientists think about auditory memory, showing that long-term memory preserves many of the details of perceptual experience that previous theorists regarded as lost during the encoding process,[13][14] and with drawing attention to the role of cerebellum in music listening, including tracking the beat and distinguishing familiar from unfamiliar music.[14]

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). Throughout this eclectic career, he has also worked professionally as an automobile mechanic, graphic designer, typographer, chauffeur, product manager, data analyst, dishwasher, computer operator, television repairman, fry cook, door-to-door salesman, camp counselor and wood stove salesman.

Music producing, consulting, and e-music career

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. 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.[12] 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.[15] 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, and others.[16] 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.

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. As a consultant for Warner Bros. Records he planned the marketing campaigns for such albums as Eric Clapton's Unplugged and k.d. lang's Ingénue. He was a music consultant on feature films such as Good Will Hunting and The Crow: City of Angels, and served as a compilation consultant to Stevie Wonder's "Song Review ~ A Greatest Hits Collection," and to "As Time Goes By" and "Interpretations" 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 Canadian Blues album. In 2006 mixed and co-produced tracks for Diane Nalini's "Songs of Sweet Fire" CD. He has performed on saxophone with Mel Tormé and Sting, and on guitar with Rosanne Cash, Blue Öyster Cult, Rodney Crowell, Michael Brook, Gary Lucas, members of the Steve Miller Band, Norton Buffalo, Whitney Houston's band, and David Byrne .

In 1998 he helped to found (and its sister companies, and, the first internet music recommendation company, sold in 2006 to Allmusic group. He currently 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.

Writing career

Levitin worked as a reporter for the Palos Verdes View Newspaper (circ. 100,000) while still in high school, and served as its temporary editor during the summers of 1975 and 1976. After leaving 415 Records in 1989, he began writing commercial articles for music industry magazines Billboard, Grammy, EQ, Mix, Music Connection, and Electronic Musician, and became a contributing writer to Billboard's Reviews section from 1992–1997. He has published more than 350 commercial articles.

He is the author of This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, (Dutton/Penguin 2006; reissued in paperback by Plume/Penguin 2007) which spent more than 12 months on the New York Times Bestseller List[17] and the Globe and Mail Bestseller list. 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,[18] and has been translated into 14 languages including Italian, French, Portuguese, Korean, Japanese, Spanish and Romanian. "The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature" (Dutton/Penguin 2008) was released in August, 2008 and debuted on the Canadian and the New York Times bestseller lists,[19] and named by the Boston Herald and by Seed Magazine as one of the best books of 2008 and nominated for the World Technology Awards.

In popular culture

In The Listener (TV series), actor Colm Feore says his performance of the character Ray is based on Daniel Levitin[20]

Levitin has an Erdős number of 4 (through separate academic papers with Roger Shepard and with James Ramsay). He was a music advisor for Good Will Hunting giving him a Bacon number of 2 and thus an Erdős–Bacon number of 6. (Minnie Driver appeared in Good Will Hunting and in Sleepers with Kevin Bacon, yielding Levitin's Bacon number of 2).


  • Finalist, Los Angeles Times Book Prize (2006), "This Is Your Brain on Music," Best Book on Science and Technology.
  • Nominee, Quill Award, Best Debut Author (2006), "This Is Your Brain on Music."
  • Awarded fourteen RIAA gold and platinum records.[21]
  • Best Film Soundtrack award, Sundance Film Festival, 1985, for Architects of Victory
  • Gold Medal, Venice Film Festival, 1985, Film Soundtrack Production, for Architects of Victory
  • Lys Award, Best Blues Album, 2005, Dale Boyle: In My Rearview Mirror: A Story From A Small Gaspé Town
  • Lys Award, Best Blues Album 2004, Dale Boyle and the Barburners: A Dog Day for Purists
  • "Top 100 Papers in Cognitive Science" by the Millennium Project for "Absolute Memory for Musical Pitch," Perception and Psychophysics, 1994.

Selected publications



  • "The Billboard Encyclopedia of Record Producers" (1999). New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, E. Olsen, C. Wolff, P. Verna, Editors; D. J. Levitin, Associate Editor.
  • "Foundations of Cognitive Psychology: Core Readings" (2002), Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press
  • 'This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, (2006), New York: Dutton/Penguin. (Released in the U.K. and Commonwealth territories by Atlantic, 2007). (Appeared on the New York Times Bestseller List both in hardcover and paperback)
  • "The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature" (2008), New York: Dutton/Penguin and Toronto: Viking/Penguin. (New York Times Bestseller)

Scientific articles (selected)

  • Langford, D. J., Crager, S. E., Shehzad, Z., Smith, S. B., Sotocinal, S. G., Levenstadt, J. S., Chanda, M. L., Levitin, D. J. and Mogil, J. S. (2006). Social Modulation of Pain as Evidence for Empathy in Mice. Science, 312, (June 30, 2006), 1967– 1970.
  • Vines, B.W., Krumhansl, C. L., Wanderley, M, & Levitin, D. J. (2006). Cross-Modal Interactions in the Perception of Musical Performance. Cognition, 101, 80–113.
  • Levitin, D. J. (2005). Musical behavior in a neurogenetic developmental disorder: Evidence from Williams syndrome. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1060(27), 325–334.
  • Levitin, D. J. (2000). In search of the musical mind. Cerebrum, 2(4), 1 – 24.
  • Levitin, D. J., & Cook, P. R. (1996). Absolute memory for musical tempo: Additional evidence that auditory memory is absolute. Perception & Psychophysics, 58, 927–935.


  • Diane Nalini, Songs of Sweeet Fire. 2006. (Mixing Engineer, Production Consultant).
  • Dale Boyle, In My Rearview Mirror: A Story From A Small Gaspé Town. 2005. (Production Consultant)
  • Dale Boyle and the Barburners, A Dog Day for the Purists. 2004. (Producer).
  • Dale Boyle and the Barburners, String Slinger Blues. 2002. (Producer).
  • The Carpenters. As Time Goes By. A&M Records/Universal, 2000. (Consultant on song selection, liner notes writer.)
  • Various Artists. Original motion picture soundtrack, Good Will Hunting. Hollywood/Miramax Records, 1998. (A&R Consultant. )
  • Stevie Wonder. Stevie Wonder Song Review: A Greatest Hits Collection. Motown, 1996. (Consultant on song selection. Liner notes writer.)
  • Steely Dan, Gold, Decade, Gaucho, Aja, The Royal Scam, Katy Lied, Pretzel Logic, Countdown to Ecstasy, Can't Buy A Thrill, MCA, 1992. (Consultant on CD Remastering.)
  • kd lang, Ingénue, Reprise, 1992. (Consultant.)
  • Eric Clapton, Unplugged, Reprise, 1992. (Consultant.)
  • Joe Satriani, Flying in a Blue Dream, Relativity/Combat/Ruthless, 1990 (Engineering (Asst), Sound Design (Contributed Guitar Sounds)).
  • Chris Isaak, Heart Shaped World, Warner Brothers, 1989. (Engineering (Asst), Sound Design (Contributed Guitar Sounds)).
  • Blue Öyster Cult, Imaginos, Columbia/C.B.S. Records, 1988. (Co-Producer).
  • Santana, Freedom, Columbia, 1987. (Engineering).
  • Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Rockin' and Romance, Twin/Tone (U.S), Sire (U.K.), 1986. (Engineer).
  • True West, Drifters, Passport/JEM Records, 1985. (Co-Producer).
  • The Big Race, "Happy Animals," from the Soundtrack of the Paramount Film Repo Man, 1985. (Producer, Engineer)
  • The Afflicted, Good News About Mental Health, Infrasonic, 1984. (Producer)
  • Blue Öyster Cult, The Revölution by Night, Columbia Records, 1983, (Co-producer).

External links


  1. ^ "Executive Turntable". Billboard. January 2000. 
  2. ^ Parncutt, R. and Levitin, D.J. (2001). "Absolute Pitch". in S. Sadie (Ed.). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. New York: St. Martins Press. pp. 37–39. 
  3. ^ Levitin, D. J. and Rogers. S.E. (December 2005). "Absolute pitch: Perception, coding, and controversies". Trends in Cognitive Sciences 9: 26–33. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2004.11.007. 
  4. ^ "Oliver Sacks meets Jerry Garcia in 'This Is Your Brain on Music' by rocker-turned-neuroscientist Daniel Levitin'". Publishers Weekly. June 5, 2006. 
  5. ^ "Books: Bestsellers: Top selling fiction and non-fiction titles (week of September 21". MacLeans. September 21 2006. 
  6. ^ "CHARTS Bestsellers (week ending Nov 05, 2006)". The Book Standard. November 5 2006. 
  7. ^ Evan Serpick (March 18, 2007). "Music Under the Microscope". Rolling Stone. 
  8. ^ James Sullivan (August 20, 2006). "He's Rocking the World of Neuroscience". Boston Globe 443: 818. doi:10.1038/nature05110. 
  9. ^ a b Ann McIlroy (March 12, 2001). "Dr. Rock 'n' Roll". Globe and Mail. 
  10. ^ Susan Dominus (March 18, 2007). "Rockin' Boffin". London Daily Telegraph, Seven Magazine. 
  11. ^ "La musique pour maître à penser". Découvrir. November/December. 
  12. ^ a b c "Levitin, Daniel J.". Marquis Who's Who in America. New Providence, NJ: Marquis Who's Who LLC. 2002. 
  13. ^ D. J. Levitin (1992). "Absolute memory for musical pitch: Evidence from the production of learned melodies". Perception & Psychophysics. 
  14. ^ a b D. Huron (2006). "Exploring How Music Works Its Wonders". Cerebrum. 
  15. ^ "415 Records". Wikipedia. Wikipedia. 2006-11-25. Retrieved 2006-11-25. 
  16. ^ "Allmusic:Artist:Daniel Levitin". Retrieved 2006-09-14. 
  17. ^ "New York Times". Retrieved 2007-11-15. 
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Vancouver Sun". Retrieved 2008-08-16. 
  20. ^ Gayle MacDonald (June 3, 2008). "Listening for the Listener". Globe and Mail. 
  21. ^ Thompson, Clive (December 31, 2006). "Music of the Hemispheres". New York Times: Section 2 Arts & Leisure, Page 1. 


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