Nolan Gasser is a composer, pianist, and musicologist. He’s also the genius behind the Music Genome Project that powers PANDORA Radio. Nolan developed his algorithm back in the early 2000s so that listeners to PANDORA could listen to music that appealed to their tastes. In Why You Like It, Nolan explains how music taste works. He also shows how he designed and help build a system that would benefit the millions of listeners of PANDORA to find the music they wanted.

Although the story of PANDORA is fascinating, Nolan’s book goes beyond the story of founding an Internet company to an analysis of music itself. I found some of Nolan’s discussions a bit technical for me, but those of you who play an instrument and can read music will be able to make more sense of what Nolan is saying. However, I did appreciate Nolan’s analysis of why people like “Proud Mary” by Credence Clearwater Revival.

Nolan explores Pop, Rap, Rock, R&B, Hip Hop, Jazz, Electronic, and Classical music. I learned a lot by reading Nolan’s analysis of all these musical genres and hope to listen to some of the music in these genres that he recommends. If you love music, you’ll love this book! What kind of music do you enjoy listening to? Do you listen to PANDORA? GRADE: A
Preface p. ix
Introduction: In the Ear of the Beholder p. 1
1 The Rise and Rebirth of the Savage Beast p. 13
Part 1 A Gift of the Gods p. 43
2 Under the Musical Hood: An Orientation p. 45
3 Melody: The Face of Music p. 49
Interlude A The Evolution of Musical Taste: Music and Anthropology p. 70
Part 2 Bar Bands in Andromeda p. 89
4 Harmony: The Internal Body of Music p. 91
5 Rhythm: The Movement of Music p. 119
Interlude B It’s the Overtones, Stupid: Music, Math, and Physics p. 150
Part 3 Unity and Heterogeneity p. 173
6 Form: The Shape of Music p. 175
7 Sound: The Personality of Music p. 219
Interlude C The Singing Cerebrum: Music and the Brain p. 253
Part 4 Musical Metaphors p. 295
8 The Musical Genotype p. 297
9 The Pop Genotype p. 306
Interlude D At the Cellular Level: Music and Cell Biology p. 329
Part 5 Parlez-Vous Gamelan? p. 355
10 Rock Genotype p. 357
11 The Jazz Genotype p. 377
Interlude E Listening with an Accent: Culture and Musical Taste p. 400
Part 6 Questioning the Omnivore p. 429
12 The Hip Hop Genotype p. 431
13 The Electronica (EDM) Genotype p. 455
Interlude F Staking Your Claim: Intraculture and Musical Taste p. 480
Part 7 Who Are You, Anyway? p. 511
14 The World Music Genotype p. 513
15 The Classical Genotype p. 542
Interlude G Mind Over Music: Psychology and Musical Taste p. 590
Part 8 Your Hit Parade p. 627
16 The What and Why of Musical Taste p. 629
Epilogue: Living with Music p. 633
Acknowledgments p. 647
Glossary p. 649
Notes p. 661
Index p. 695


  1. Steve Oerkfitz

    I listen to mostly Rock, r n’ b, and some folk. Not much into pop or hip-hop. And Jazz I find as a good cure for insomnia.

    I listen to Sirius more than Pandora. I find Pandora repeating too many of the same songs over and over.

    1. george Post author

      Steve, I listen to Sirius/XM Radio when I’m driving around in my Rogue running errands. Diane has Sirius/XM Radio in her Altima. She likes “The Blend” and “The Bridge” channels. I like the smooth jazz channel, “Watercolors” and the R&B channel, “Soultown.”

      1. Steve Oerkfitz

        On Sirius I listen to Little Stevens Underground Garage, E Street and Tom Petty Stations, The Bridge, Deep Tracks and Marky Ramones Station. I find cool jazz the musical equivalent of the Hallmark Channel.

      2. george Post author

        Steve, sometimes the stress of the day calls for music that is the equivalent of the Hallmark Channel–sonic Novocaine.

      3. Todd Mason

        Not all “smooth jazz” is created equal, either, though that is what its labels are striving for. The musicians sometimes have something to say about that.

  2. Cap'n Bob

    The guys who try to analyze personal preferences give me a pain! The kids on American Bandstand knew what they liked without a lot of wasted research money: It’s got a good beat and I can dance to it!

      1. Todd Mason

        I admit I suspect a certain smug overconfidence will permeate this book, but I still wouldn’t mind having the time and energy to read it.

        Even is he has, as I suspect, something like 55% of the Answers he thinks he does, that would tend to make the algorithms rather effective.

  3. Patti Abbott

    This sounds fascinating. I listen to talk mostly. Podcasts, I mean by that. But I like old fashioned jazz, music from the sixties and seventies, folk.

  4. Deb

    I have Sirius in the car. My presets are: 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, the Beatles channel, First Wave (classic alternative), Studio 54 Disco Hits, two channels of soul music (Soul Town and the Groove), and three channels of EDM music (which to me is the next phase of Disco). I also have two jazz channels (traditional and new-age/smooth) preset. When I’m not in the car, if I want to listen to music, I’ll go to YouTube and search for a song and then let the algorithm take it from there.

    1. george Post author

      Deb, no matter what I start out listening to on Youtube, the algorithm always plays Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing'” and Lulu’s “To Sir With Love.” Go figure.

    2. Todd Mason

      Current Electronic Dance Music/EDM is about two phases away from late ’70s disco, but is certainly aiming for the same audience, and their kids and grandkids.

  5. Michael Padgett

    Even though I love classical and standards (Sinatra, etc.), I’m a child of the fifties and sixties, which makes me mostly a rocker. The last new band I was really enthusiastic about was Nirvana. The decline and eventual death of rock and the rise of whatever you want to call what replaced it has left me listening to “classic rock”. In the car it’s Sirius, at home it’s old CDs.

    1. george Post author

      Michael, it might be Marie Kondo or just the migration to PANDORA, Sirus/XM Radio, Spotify, etc. but tons of music CDs are showing up in thrift stores and Library Book Sales. I’m buy plenty of them for a pittance. But, where to store them???

    2. Steve Oerkfitz

      Still good rock out there but it doesn’t top the charts anymore. Jack White, Cage the Elephant, Beck, The National for example. I can’t listen to “classic rock” stations. For every Stones or Who song you have to listen to crap like Styx, Reo Speedwagon, Kansas etc.

      1. Todd Mason

        A fair cop. Though Kansas, in their passionate faith as well as despite it, are a bit easier for me to take than Styx or REO. And alla them ahead of Led Zep. (Heresy!) Or any number of other bands.

  6. Jerry House

    Who doesn’t love CCR’s PROUD MARY?

    Sirius radio came with our car when we bought it many years ago. Nothing on it interested me because I’m an old grouchyface. As for today’s music…did I mention I’m an old grouchyface?

    Mt idea of Hell has a moving sidewa[k going only one way, surrounded by flames. At the end of a long torturous trek, we come to the end where there are only two doors, one marked “Heavy Metal” and the other marked “Gangster Rap.”

    1. george Post author

      Jerry, I love your idea of Hell! I’m old enough to remember when CCR’s “Proud Mary” first came out and rock “experts” predicted a new genre called Swamp Rock.

      1. Todd Mason

        Well, there was. However, the likes of Mountain and Black Oak Arkansas mostly methed themselves to death, and the average quality of music improved. They took all the wrong lessons from CCR.

  7. wolf

    I prefer Proud Mary by Tina TurnerI 🙂
    Went to one of her few concerts in Europe once – Frankfurt.
    Growing up in the 50s, studying in the 60s, I like Blues and Rock, a little bit of Jazz – and of course Classical music like Beethoven.
    Don’t even know whether we have something like Sirius or Pandora here in Europe – anyway i still play my CDs, listen to the radio sometimes …
    And I have to admit a weeknessCl
    I like the “Wall of Sound” songs produced by Phil Spector but my real favourites (and those of my wife …) are Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and Joe Bonamassa (from New York, a bit younger). We’ve been to several concerts of these guys all around Europe together.
    And of course the Classics: Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen etc.
    A bit OT:
    I may have written about this before, but still – it’s one of my favourite stories.
    When I was introduced here in Hungary to my wife by a common friend (we were both over 60 years old already …) she was flabbergasted when she came to my house and saw my collection of CDs and concert DVDs – and I was equally surprised that her favourite pop musician was Eric Clapton.
    That she also liked SF and Fantasy came as a welcome surprise in addition – the only problem for her is that her knowledge of English just ain’t good enough so she has to rely on translations into Hungarian. Now she’s waiting for the last series of GOT to be translated …
    The probability of meeting someone with these hobbies in a foreign country is too low to calculate even for me as a mathematician – sometimes you’re just lucky! 🙂
    Interestingly enough SF from the USA (and of course from Russia) was already translated and cheaply available in “Communist” times!

    1. wolf

      She’s also a bigger Jazz fan – told me how as a young woman in Communist times she scraped together all her money to get to Budapest – to a concert by Louis Armstrong!
      And my first birthday present to her was a big package – looked like a brick and was as heavy:
      50 CDs by Miles Davis!

    2. george Post author

      Wolf, I love the Tina Turner version of “Proud Mary,” too! I’ve never seen Tina in concert, but I would have liked to. I grew up listening to Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” recordings. Eric Clapton’s CDs continue to find their way to my stereo system.

  8. Rick Robinson

    Haven’t bothered with Pandora. We had Sirius when we bought the car, but when the free 6 months ran out we didn’t think it was worth the cost to continue. In the car, I listen to the public radio classical station, Barbara listens to Public Broadcasting radio. At home, I listen to CDs if I listen at all.

  9. Jeff Meyerson

    I listen to 50s through 70s mostly, with a smattering of newer stuff. Plus Broadway soundtracks. People like Proud Mary because it’s a good song, though I agree on the Tina Turner version.

    I listen to Pandora on the phone when I remember to.

    My musical taste is summed up by a T-shirt that says:

    “It is NOT because I’m old.
    Your music really does suck.”

    And keep off my lawn!

    1. george Post author

      Jeff, like you I find contemporary music almost unlistenable. I’m stuck in the Past as far as music is concerned: Motown, Rock & Roll, folk rock, and disco. And a smattering of Classic Music.

  10. Todd Mason

    George, you should be turning Wolf and co. onto the Monthly Music! Though I wonder how many of the YT videos particularly might be suppressed due to conflicting copyright claims outside the US.

  11. Todd Mason

    I listen to damned near every kind of music humans make, though I’m particularly fond of still a way too long a list. I might be most centered in jazz and third stream music, and find certain sorts of Easy Listening music rather difficult listening (but not even all of that…badly-tuned and recorded orchestral elevator music, perhaps the worst).

    I’ve barely played with Pandora. Alice had Sirius for a while years back, but quickly abandoned it.

      1. george Post author

        Todd, I’m open to new music. But I end up going back to Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Joni Mitchell, Motown, and Bacharach and David songs that always give me aural pleasure.

  12. wolf

    A bit OT:
    I’m also a fan of Chicago (the band … 🙂 ) and was surprised when I found a fantastic Russian (!!!) cover band playing their songs some days ago.
    They’ve even toured the USA and will tour again this summer and again in winter:
    From Las Vegas to NYC and Jacksonville …, almost unbelievable
    And some of the musicians are already in their 60s.
    You can find a lot of their stuff on youtube, won’t add a second link, you know why. 🙂
    A musician friend wrote me that in his opinion some of their performances are better than the originals!


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