“Be it records or romantic partners, we fall in love with the ones who make us feel like our best and truest self,” writes music producer and neuroscientist Rogers in this pitch-perfect deep dive into the power of music. Determined to ascertain how and why music resonates so strongly with its listeners, Rogers—the chief engineer for Prince’s
Purple Rain—breaks down the emotional and scientific importance of lyrics, melody, rhythm, and timbre. In brainy yet breezy prose, she explores how a song’s melody can actually be more impactful than its lyrics; how audiences crave to hear lyrics they can relate to; and why making music with others facilitates a sense of belonging: “Communal music making bypasses the need to express your musical self as an individual, letting you fuse your identity with something larger than yourself.” Most resonant is Rogers’s fascinating foray into the ways the mind and music connect; because “our auditory circuitry has more varied and direct connections to our emotion circuitry than does our visual circuity,” she writes, “music activates our mind wandering network—and our personal self—more easily and fully than any other art form.” Combining erudite analysis with plenty of soul, this will have music lovers rapt. (Sept.)
"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."
author of I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Ic Touré
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. This instant classic should be read by anyone who has ever been moved by a piece of music—in other words, everyone."
"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 causes us to reflect over how and why records become a condition of the heart."
"It’s like two books in one: stories of some of our most beloved musicians, singers and songwriters, coupled with insights about how and why our brains decipher musical notes, melodies and lyrics in particular ways."
BookPage (starred review)
"A deliciously nerdy resource for music lovers, and for anyone who thinks deeply about music and how it moves them. What Rogers and Ogas do with
This Is What It Sounds Like is distill the science around music into an accessible and wonderous new level of understanding, of the elusive why of loving and living for music."
"Susan Rogers found her superpower in the music world not as a musician, but as a master listener. Rogers’ book is a gift to music listeners of all kinds—because in listening we hear not only the music, we hear the sonic signature of our own soul."
"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."
"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."
"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."
author of I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became a Touré
Rogers, who worked with Prince on his 1984 album
Purple Rain and produced the 1998 Barenaked Ladies hit "One Week," lays out seven dimensions of experiencing music—four musical dimensions (melody, lyrics, rhythm, timbre) and three aesthetic dimensions (authenticity, realism, novelty)—that create an individual's unique listener profile. Cognitive neuroscientist Rogers, now a professor at Berklee College of Music, and her coauthor, science writer Ogas, write chapters covering each of the seven dimensions, usually beginning with an anecdote from Rogers's career before explaining the dimension and the neuroscience behind it. Rogers uses the idea of a "record pull"—sharing personally meaningful albums or songs for discussion—to illustrate her points. While pitched as a method of self-understanding through music, the book doesn't enumerate concrete steps or tools (like a questionnaire) that would help readers to create their own music profiles. Although the book's neuroscience can be dry at times, Rogers's personal anecdotes shine. VERDICT As long as readers are up for a record pull, they won't be disappointed. Sure to appeal to many popular music lovers, particularly young adults. —Nancy H. Fontaine
Liberace or Lyle Lovett? What we listen to speaks volumes about us.
In this blend of neuroscience and audiophilia, Rogers, who describes herself as “one of the very few successful female record producers in the profoundly male-dominated industry,” has spent a lot of time thinking about the meaning of listening to music. One of her great conversation starters is a “record pull,” asking the person or people you’re with to play their favorite tunes and, in turn, putting yours on the table in a fearless exercise in “self-discovery.” The records you offer have predictive value. For example, if you like David Bowie, you might like Lou Reed—whom Rogers declined to work with on the grounds that she was a little too methodical for the improvisational project he had in mind. Writing with neuroscientist Ogas, Rogers identifies seven dimensions that shape our understanding and appreciation of music, four of them musical (melody, lyrics, rhythm, and timbre) and three “aesthetic” (authenticity, realism, and novelty). Some are obvious: The songs we walk away humming or dancing to catch us in just the right way. The aesthetic dimensions are subtler. On the matter of authenticity, Rogers holds up the example of the supremely horrible band the Shaggs, who made up in fearlessness what they couldn’t muster in musical skill (“Incompetence. Embarrassing, unsalvageable, breathtaking incompetence”). Interestingly, Rogers argues that nature and nurture play roles in determining musical taste. We have a certain genetic propensity for some kinds of music, but more to the point, it’s experience and exposure that help shape our tolerance for novelty (Zappa or Stockhausen, anyone?) and desire for believability (Hank Williams versus, say, Milli Vanilli). Refreshingly, Rogers urges that we rid ourselves of snobbery, for musical taste is broadly various: “It is the limitless diversity of listener profiles that fuels the infinitely rich art form we love.”
An intriguing look at how what enters our ears shapes our minds.