This Is What It Sounds Like

What the Music You Love Says About You

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Pub Date 20 Sep 2022 | Archive Date 31 Aug 2022

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A legendary record-producer–turned–brain-scientist explains why you fall in love with music.

When you listen to music, do you prefer lyrics or melody? Intricate harmonies or driving rhythm? The “real” sounds of acoustic instruments or those of computerized synthesizers? Drawing from her successful career as a music producer (engineering hits like Prince’s “Purple Rain”), professor of cognitive neuroscience Susan Rogers reveals why your favorite songs move you. She explains that we each possess a unique “listener profile” based on our brain’s reaction to seven key dimensions of any record: authenticity, realism, novelty, melody, lyrics, rhythm, and timbre. Exploring this profile will deepen your connection to music, refresh your playlists, and uncover aspects of your personality. Rogers takes us behind the scenes of record-making, using her insider’s ear to illuminate the music of Prince, Frank Sinatra, Lana Del Rey, and many others. Told in a lively, inclusive style, This Is What It Sounds Like will change the way you listen to music.

About the Authors:

Susan Rogers, PhD, is a cognitive neuroscientist and a professor at Berklee College of Music, as well as a multiplatinum record producer. 

Ogi Ogas, PhD, was a Department of Homeland Security Fellow at the Department of Cognitive and Neural Systems at Boston University and a research fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He coauthored Dark Horse, The End of Average, and Shrinks, which was longlisted for the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.

A legendary record-producer–turned–brain-scientist explains why you fall in love with music.

When you listen to music, do you prefer lyrics or melody? Intricate harmonies or driving rhythm? The...

Advance Praise

"This Is What It Sounds Like is a revelation. Susan Rogers and Ogi Ogas offer extraordinary insights about music, emotion, and the brain and they deliver them with great flair and flow. For all I thought I knew about these subjects, I learned a lot from this book—and was entertained at every turn, both by the ideas and the poetry of their expression. An instant classic, This Is What It Sounds Like should be read by anyone who has ever been moved by a piece of music—in other words, everyone." - Dr. Daniel J. Levitin, New York Times bestselling author of This Is Your Brain on Music and The Organized Mind

"If you’ve ever wondered why you love a song and what that says about you this book will help you understand why. Susan is one of the smartest people in the world of music and this book will help you hear music more deeply and more thoughtfully. You can tell why Prince loved working with her." - Touré, author of I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon

"Why do we like the music we like? With a provocative blend of studio stories and fascinating neuroscience, celebrated producer and engineer Susan Rogers sets out to answer this eternal mystery—and, along the way, just might turn you into a better listener." - Alan Light, music journalist and author of Let's Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain

"This is What It Sounds Like is a groundbreaking study of great intervention. The immense value of the insights into tastes, preferences, and aesthetics on offer cannot be underestimated. Beautifully written, this is the book that scholars and fans of popular music across all disciplines have impatiently waited for. It is truly inspiring, the kind of book you fall in love with, that gets us to reflect over how and why records become a condition of the heart." - Stan Hawkins, Professor of Musicology, University of Oslo

"This is an essential music handbook – not only for its smart exploration of why we’re drawn to different genres and styles but for its joyous celebration of the art of listening. Susan Rogers’s words dance on the page with their sheer enthusiasm and eloquence. The way she illuminates what makes music so effective – from breaking down a Kanye West instrumental to the vocal skill of Frank Sinatra – will have you reconsidering songcraft and the way you process it. I wish I’d had a book like this when I was starting out as a music journalist. And, of course, I could read her personal stories about being in the studio with Prince forever. This Is What It Sounds Like is a triumph of the personal, technical and philosophical, fizzing with energy and insight, and a crucial addition to the canon of music must-reads." - Kate Hutchinson, journalist and broadcaster

"This Is What It Sounds Like is a revelation. Susan Rogers and Ogi Ogas offer extraordinary insights about music, emotion, and the brain and they deliver them with great flair and flow. For all I...

Available Editions

EDITION Hardcover
ISBN 9780393541250
PRICE $28.95 (USD)

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Featured Reviews

A engaging and fascinating look at why people's musical preferences exist for specific songs from a music producer turned neuroscientist.

Each section examines a different aspect of a record (authenticity, realism, novelty, melody, lyrics, rhythm, and timbre) and the different ways they appeal to the human brain and what that means for your musical taste. The authors make the topic easy to understand using a range of musical examples and scientific studies combined with a written tone that makes the topic accessible, and engaging. The authors clear passion for the topic makes the book even more charming.

The extra benefit of being able to hear about behind-the-scenes stories from Roger's experience in music producing (especially with Prince) is the icing on the cake of this illuminating book.

I highly recommend to anyone who loves reading about music or neuroscience.

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This guide to music and ourselves comes out on September 20, 2022. W.W. Norton and Company provided me an early galley for review.

Three things drew me immediately to this book: that glorious cover (I love the colors), a title drawn from lyrics by one of my favorite artists ever (the genius Prince) and one of the authors (Susan Rogers did amazing studio work with Prince during the 80's). I knew this one would be an interesting, enlightening read. You'll want to have a listening device handy as you read for a deeper experience.

This book very much reads like a college text on music theory and neuroscience. And that is to be expected given Rogers' background, education and role as a professor at the Berklee College of Music. If she does not use this as her textbook for a class, she should. I learned so much from it, and I wasn't bored like I had been in some of my college classes back in the day. This is fun stuff, and her writing style is very approachable.

An aspect of the book which I like is the "record pull" - where Rogers asks the reader to listen to tracks to help illustrate her points. This interactive element is very key to understanding the book's points and for the reader to connect to their own music profile.

This is one I would recommend to anyone who enjoys music, likes to understand how different elements of it work, and how we as humans process it.

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Music is magic, and Susan Rogers and Ogi Ogas communicate that so wonderfully in This is What It Sounds Like. I adored hearing about how my varied music tastes reflect so much of who I am - also, the cover is stunning, and who doesn't love that?

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