Daniel Levitin

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Daniel J. Levitin
Daniel J. Levitin (cropped).jpg

Levitin in 2015
Born December 27, 1957 (age 60)

San Francisco
Nationality American, Canadian
Alma mater Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Berklee College of Music
Stanford University (B.A., 1992)
University of Oregon (MSc, 1993; PhD, 1996).
Known for Levitin effectThis Is Your Brain on MusicThe World in Six SongsThe Organized MindA Field Guide to Lies
Spouse(s) Heather Bortfeld
Awards See “Awards” section
Scientific career
Fields Music cognitioncognitive neuroscience of musiccognitive psychology
Academic advisors Roger ShepardMichael Posner, Douglas Hintzman, John R. Pierce, Stephen Palmer
Notable students Catherine Guastavino, Susan Rogers, Parag Chordia
Website daniellevitin.comhttp://www.levitinlab.com

Daniel Joseph LevitinFRSC (born December 27, 1957) is an American-Canadian cognitive psychologistneuroscientist, writer, musician, and record producer.[1] Levitin holds three academic appointments: he is James McGill Professor Emeritus of psychologyand behavioral neuroscience at McGill University in MontrealQuebec, Canada, where he is an Associate member in music theorycomputer science, neurology and neurosurgery, and education; Founding Dean of Arts & Humanities at The Minerva Schools at KGI; and a Distinguished Faculty Fellow at the Haas School of Business, University of California at Berkeley. From 2000 to 2017, he was Director of the Laboratory for Music Perception, Cognition, and Expertise at McGill.[2] An accomplished public speaker, his TED talk[3] has been viewed more than 16 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 #1 best-selling books, This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession(2006),[4][5][6] 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 pitchmusic cognition, and neuroscience.[7][8]

Levitin worked as a music consultant, producer and sound designer on albums by Blue Öyster CultChris IsaakJoni Mitchell and Joe Satriani among others;[9]produced punk bands including MDC and The Afflicted; and served as a consultant on albums by artists including Steely DanStevie Wonder, and Michael Brook;[10][11] and as a recording engineer for SantanaJonathan Richman, O.J. Ekemode and the Nigerian Allstars, and The Grateful Dead.[12] Records and CDs to which he has contributed have sold in excess of 30 million copies.[11][13]

Biography and education[edit]

Born in San Francisco,[14] the son of Lloyd Levitin, a businessman and professor, and Sonia Levitin, a novelist. Levitin was raised in Daly CityMoraga, and Palos Verdes, California.[15] He graduated after his junior year at Palos Verdes High School and attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he studied applied mathematics; he enrolled at the Berklee College of Music before dropping out of college to join a succession of bands, work as a record producer, and help found a record label, 415 Records. He returned to school in his thirties, studying cognitive psychology/cognitive science first at Stanford University where he received a BAdegree in 1992 (with honors and highest university distinction) and then to the University of Oregon where he received an MScdegree 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.[15] His scientific mentors included Roger ShepardMichael Posner, Douglas Hintzman, John R. Pierce, and Stephen Palmer. He has been a visiting professor at the University of California, BerkeleyStanford UniversityDartmouth 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.[16][17][18][19] 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.[17]

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 LenoArsenio 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).


Levitin began playing piano at age 4, and took up clarinet at age 8, and bass clarinet and saxophone at age 12[20]. From ages 12 – 14 he wrote arrangements for and conducted the school pep band, jazz band, and concert band at Joaquin Moraga Junior High School, in Moraga, CA, performing at civic functions and on the local CBS television affiliate, KPIX Channel 5. He continued playing saxophone (tenor and baritone) in high school, and at age 17 performed on baritone with the big band backing up Mel Tormé at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium[21]. Levitin took up guitar at age 16, and has been a member of a number of bands, including The Alsea River Band (lead guitar), The Mortals (bass), Judy Garland (bass), The Shingles (lead guitar), Slings & Arrows (bass), JD Buhl (bass and guitar) —and also played on recording sessions for Blue Öyster Cult, the soundtrack to Repo Man, and True West. He continues to perform regularly and has appeared on saxophone with StingBen Sidran, and Bobby McFerrin, on guitar with Rosanne CashBlue Öyster CultRodney CrowellMichael BrookGary LucasVictor WootenSteve BaileyPeter CasePeter HimmelmanLenny KayeJessie Farrell, and David Byrne; and on vocals with Renée FlemingNeil Young and Rosanne Cash.[22][23] In Fall 2017 he toured the West Coast with singer-songwriter Tom Brosseau. He began writing songs at age 17 and his songwriting has been praised by a number of top songwriters including Diane Warren, and Joni Mitchell who said of them “Dan is really good at what he does, and creates rich images with his words and music.”[24]

Music producing and engineering[edit]

Daniel Levitin
Background information
Birth name Daniel Joseph Levitin
Born December 27, 1957 (age 60)
Origin San Francisco
Genres Rock, new wavepunkjazzfolk rockcountry
Occupation(s) Producer
Instruments Tenor saxophone, guitar, bass, vocals
Years active 1980 to present
Labels 415 RecordsColumbia RecordsSony MusicWarner Bros. Records, Infrasonic Records, TwinTone Records
Associated acts Blue Öyster CultThe AfflictedSantanaThe Grateful DeadChris IsaakSteely DanJoe Satriani, The Mortals, The Alsea River Band, MDCJonathan Richman and The Modern LoversNeil YoungRenée Fleming

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.[15] 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.[25][citation needed]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 LoversSantana, and the Grateful Dead; and producing tracks for Blue Öyster Cult, the soundtrack to Repo Man (1984), and others.[26] 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.[27]

After 415 was sold, 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.[28] 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.[29] He helped Joni Mitchell with the production of her three most recent albums, Shine, Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, A Ballet, Waiting to Be Danced, and Starbuck’s Artist’s Choice: Joni Mitchell.

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 has also consulted for the United States Navy on underwater sound source separation, for Philips Electronics, and AT&T.[30] He served as an occasional script consultant to The Mentalist from 2007–2009.

Writing career[edit]

Levitin began writing articles in 1988 for music industry magazines BillboardGrammyEQMixMusic 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 TimesThe Wall Street JournalThe Washington Post, and The Atlantic.[31]

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[32] 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 The Globe and Mail and by The Independent and The Guardian,[33] 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,[34] 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.[35]

The Organized Mind was published by Dutton/Penguin Random House in 2014[36] debuting at #2 on the New York Times Best Seller List[37] and reaching #1 on the Canadian best-seller lists.[38]

A Field Guide to Lies was published by Dutton/Penguin Random House in 2016, and released in paperback in March 2017 under the revised title Weaponized Lies. It appeared on numerous best-seller lists in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. [39][40] and is the most acclaimed of Levitin’s four books, receiving the National Business Book Award [41], the Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction, the Axiom Business Book Award, and was a finalist for the Donner Prize.

In popular culture[edit]

In The Listener TV series, actor Colm Feore says his performance of the character Ray is based on Daniel Levitin.[42]

Media appearances[edit]

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 MusicThe 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.[43]

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.[44]


  • Finalist, Donner Prize (2017), A Field Guide to Lies.
  • Winner, National Business Book Award (2017), A Field Guide to Lies.
  • Silver Medal, Axiom Business Book Awards, Ethics category (2017), A Field Guide to Lies.
  • Winner, Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction (2016), A Field Guide to Lies.
  • Finalist, Los Angeles Times Book Prize (2006), This Is Your Brain on Music, Best Book on Science and Technology.
  • Cine Special Jury Prize for Arts & Culture, The Music Instinct (Daniel Levitin, co-host, co-writer and Chief Scientific Consultant), 2010, Washington, D.C.
  • Banff World Television Festival, Rockie Award Nominee, The Music Instinct (Daniel Levitin, co-host, co-writer and Chief scientific Consultant), 2010.
  • First place, Pariscience Film Festival, The Music Instinct (Daniel Levitin, co-host, co-writer and Chief scientific Consultant), 2009.
  • Winner, Gemini Award, Best Sound in an Information/Documentary Program or Series, The Musical Brain (Daniel Levitin, Host and Scientific Consultant), 2009.
  • Hugo Television Award, Science/Nature Documentary, 45th Chicago International Film Festival, The Musical Brain (Daniel Levitin, Host and Scientific Consultant), 2009.
  • European Acoustics Association (EAA) Award for Outstanding Scientific Results Published in Acta Acustica United With Acustica (with co-recipients C. Guastavino, J-D Pollack, D. Dubois and B. Katz), 2008.
  • Nominee, Quill Award, Best Debut Author (2006), This Is Your Brain on Music.
  • Awarded sixteen RIAA gold and platinum records.[45]
  • 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[edit]


Scientific articles (selected)[edit]


  • J.D. Buhl, Remind Me. Driving Records/CD Baby, 2015. (Producer and Engineer).
  • 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, GoldDecadeGauchoAjaThe Royal ScamKaty LiedPretzel LogicCountdown to EcstasyCan’t Buy A Thrill, MCA, 1992. (Consultant on CD Remastering.)
  • kd lang, Ingénue, Reprise, 1992. (Consultant.)
  • Eric Clapton, Unplugged, Reprise, 1992. (Consultant.)
  • Chris Isaak, Heart Shaped World, Warner Brothers, 1989. (Engineering (Asst), Sound Design (Soundscape)).
  • Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Rockin’ and Romance, Twin/Tone (U.S), Sire (U.K.), 1986. (Engineer).
  • The Furies, Fun Around The World, Infrasonic, 1986
  • Rhythm Riot, Rhythm Riot, EP, Infrasonic, 1987*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)
  • International P.E.A.C.E. Benefit Compilation, R Radical Records, 1984 (Producer of tracks by The Afflicted and MDC), reissued 1997 New Red Archives/Lumberjack Mordam Music Group


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. Jump up^ “Executive Turntable”. Billboard. January 2000.
  2. Jump up^ Laboratory for Music Perception, Cognition and Expertise, daniellevitin.com
  3. Jump up^http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_levitin_how_to_stay_calm_when_you_know_you_ll_be_stressed
  4. Jump up^ “Oliver Sacks meets Jerry Garcia in ‘This Is Your Brain on Music’ by rocker-turned-neuroscientist Daniel Levitin“. Publishers Weekly. June 5, 2006.
  5. Jump up^ “Books: Bestsellers: Top selling fiction and non-fiction titles (week of September 21”. Maclean’s. September 21, 2006.
  6. Jump up^ “CHARTS Bestsellers (week ending Nov 05, 2006)”. The Book Standard. November 5, 2006.
  7. Jump up^ 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.
  8. Jump up^ Levitin, D. J.; Rogers. S.E. (December 2005). “Absolute pitch: Perception, coding, and controversies”. Trends in Cognitive Sciences9 (1): 26–33. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2004.11.007PMID 15639438.
  9. Jump up^ “Flying in a Blue Dream credits”Allmusic. Retrieved January 1, 2013.
  10. Jump up^ James Sullivan (August 20, 2006). “He’s Rocking the World of Neuroscience”Boston Globe. Retrieved August 22, 2011.
  11. Jump up to:a b Ann McIlroy (March 12, 2001). “Dr. Rock ‘n’ Roll”. The Globe and Mail.
  12. Jump up^ Susan Dominus (March 18, 2007). “Rockin’ Boffin”. London Daily Telegraph, Seven Magazine.
  13. Jump up^ “La musique pour maître à penser”. Découvrir. November–December 2002.
  14. Jump up^ “Levitin, Daniel J. 1957–”Contemporary Authors, 2005, at encyclopedia.com. Retrieved July 28, 2013.
  15. Jump up to:a b c “Levitin, Daniel J.”. Marquis Who’s Who in America. New Providence, NJ: Marquis Who’s Who LLC. 2002.
  16. Jump up^ D. J. Levitin (1992). “Absolute memory for musical pitch: Evidence from the production of learned melodies”. Perception & Psychophysics56: 414–423. doi:10.3758/bf03206733PMID 7984397.
  17. Jump up to:a b D. Huron (2006). “Exploring How Music Works Its Wonders”. Cerebrum.
  18. Jump up^ “Common expressions: Levitin”Webster’s Online Dictionary. Webster’s. February 18, 2011. Archived from the original on July 24, 2011. Retrieved February 18, 2011.
  19. Jump up^ James Martin (Summer 2004). “A Mind For Music”. McGill News. pp. 1–2.
  20. Jump up^ Levitin, Daniel (2006). This Is Your Brain on Music. New York, Toronto, London: Dutton/Penguin Random House. ISBN 9780452288522.
  21. Jump up^ “Jazz Legend Mel Tormé to play Santa Monica Civic”. Palos Verdes Peninsula News. May 5, 1974.
  22. Jump up^ https://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/node/14564
  23. Jump up^ http://www.berklee.edu/news/2360/alumni-profile-daniel-levitin-80 retrieved August 31, 2014
  24. Jump up^ Spoken at McCabe’s, Santa Monica, Sept. 8, 2017, after Levitin & Brosseau show there.
  25. Jump up^ 415 Records
  26. Jump up^ “Allmusic:Artist:Daniel Levitin”. Retrieved 2006-09-14.
  27. Jump up^ https://www.amazon.com/gp/richpub/syltguides/fullview/R3ASQBLPAK1KEA retrieved August 31, 2014
  28. Jump up^ http://www.bic.mni.mcgill.ca/PeopleAffiliates/LevitinDan Retrieved August 31, 2014
  29. Jump up^ http://conductor1.wix.com/label#!affiliates Retrieved August 31, 2014
  30. Jump up^ http://www.apa.org/research/action/speaking-of-psychology/music-health.aspxRetrieved August 31, 2014
  31. Jump up^ “Amnesia and the Self That Remains When Memory Is Lost”. Retrieved 2013-01-14.
  32. Jump up^ Feuer, Alan. “New York Times”The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-11-15.
  33. Jump up^ “Pick of the paperbacks 2008”The Guardian. London. December 21, 2008. Retrieved April 30, 2010.
  34. Jump up^ “Vancouver Sun”. Archived from the original on November 4, 2012. Retrieved 2008-08-16.
  35. Jump up^ “Nielsen Bookscan”. Archived from the original on June 29, 2010. Retrieved 2010-04-10.
  36. Jump up^ “Deals: Week of February 4, 2013”.
  37. Jump up^ https://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/ retrieved August 31, 2014.
  38. Jump up^ https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/bestsellers/bestsellers-hardcover-non-fiction-may-25-2013/article4226576/ retrieved August 31, 2014.
  39. Jump up^ https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/books/2016/09/16/bestsellers.html
  40. Jump up^ http://www.prweb.com/releases/2016/10/prweb13806916.htm
  41. Jump up^ https://quillandquire.com/omni/award-winning-book-a-field-guide-to-lies-receives-a-new-title-post-trump/
  42. Jump up^ Gayle MacDonald (June 3, 2008). “Listening for the Listener”. Globe and Mail.
  43. Jump up^ “Nielsen Television Ratings”. Retrieved 2010-04-10.[permanent dead link]
  44. Jump up^ [1]
  45. Jump up^ Thompson, Clive (December 31, 2006). “Music of the Hemispheres”. New York Times: Section 2 Arts & Leisure, Page 1.

External links[edit]


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