wa nolan gasser
Photo by Dana Hargitay

Dr. Nolan Gasser

Why do some people like some types of music and dislike other types? What are the traits that make a song “a hit” with audiences? Dr. Nolan Gasser has spent a great deal of time thinking about questions like these.

Dr. Gasser is a critically acclaimed author, composer, pianist, and musicologist. Since its founding in 2000, he has been the chief musicologist for Pandora Radio and is the architect of their Music Genome Project. He received his Ph.D. in musicology from Stanford University and is known as a composer for works including the musical Benny & Joon, the opera Secret Garden, and the orchestral tone poem Cosmic Reflection.

In his book, Why You Like It: The Science and Culture of Musical Taste he explores where one’s love of music comes from and what it says about a person. Dr. Gasser delves into the science, psychology and sociology that explains why humans love music so much; how our brains process music; and why you may love Queen but your best friend loves Kiss. He takes readers under the hood of their favorite genres—pop, rock, jazz, hip hop, electronica, world music and classical—and covers songs from Taylor Swift to Led Zeppelin to Kendrick Lamar to Bill Evans to Beethoven, and through their work, Dr. Gasser introduces the musical concepts behind why you hum along, tap your foot and feel deeply.

In this interview with Watching America host Dr. Alan Campbell, the author and musician shares how he first became drawn to music, explains what rhythmic patterns tend to “hook” people and discusses some of his favorite types of music.

You may never listen to music the same way again. Learn more about Dr. Gasser and his work at

Hear the full conversation.