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Daniel J. Levithan

Why Music Is An Addiction… And Why I Will Never Quit

Addicted to the RhythmMy name is Nadir, and I’m an addict. I’ve been addicted to playing music for a very long time. And being addicted to music is like being addicted to crack.

Okay. I’ll confess. I’ve never smoked crack.

But the rush of being onstage… When I’ve got the mic in my hand, and the band is killing it, I am high. At that very moment I am completely myself. Not acting or posing for the crowd, but telling my story, singing from the depths of my soul. There’s nothing like it except…

…The high of creating in the studio. When the song is strong, and the rhythm track is hot, I catch a buzz. All of a sudden I start dancing uncontrollably in the middle of the control room. I feel like I’m stoned.

I’ve had some success with the work I’ve produced for myself and other artists – awards, radio play, international tours, licensing for movies and advertising, scoring indie films and more. Each accomplishment brings new validation.

But if you’re really passionate about your music as I am, you don’t do it for the money or the acclaim. You do it because you’re addicted to the rhythm.

In his bestselling book, This is Your Brain On Music, music producer/neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin explains that the neurotransmitter dopamine is released into the pleasure centers of the brain when we listen to music we enjoy. Dopamine is most famous for its role in the brain’s pleasure and reward system. It is involved in mood regulation and coordination of movement.

According to Levitin, “When drug addicts get their drug of choice, or when compulsive gamblers win a bet – even when chocoholics get cocoa – this is the neurotransmitter that is released.”

On top of that hit of “dope”, when I’m playing music that I like, on an instrument I enjoy, with a tone that is pleasing, I begin to care, and I pay more attention. Levitin’s studies show that dopamine is released again, enhancing emotions, alertness and mood. My brain creates a neurochemical tag for every aspect of the experience to make sure I remember what this buzz feels like.

So if I’m really excited about this 16 bar verse I’m spitting, and the hook is hot, and the beat is knocking, my brain could be infused with enough dopamine to pack a Phillie blunt.  If I’m truly passionate about my music, if I’m feeding on the energy of a crowded club or a packed arena, and I’m on, the high can be like taking a hit of freebase cocaine.

Okay, the science isn’t perfect, but I do know that the more I get that feeling of playing great music, the more I want to feel it. I’ve gotta have it… every day, all day, all night, if possible.  I keep chasing that high, hoping for the same feeling or a better, more intense high.

And that’s why I will never quit. It’s not because the pay is great, that’s for sure. Even major label artists struggle to make ends meet. The rest of us make due with day jobs or odd jobs or, if we’re lucky, jobs playing music for a living.

Those artists who are most successful are driven like crack heads. The difference is they know how to balance the business with the buzz. They create a lifestyle that allows them to get high by playing as much music as possible, while keeping the bills paid, and (puff, puff) passing the feeling on to others who get a dopamine infusion when they hear music they enjoy.

So yes, I’m a professional musician and producer. I’m in control. But the first step to control is admitting that I’m an addict, and music is a drug that I will never quit.

Are you an addict? Do you have your high under control? Hit me up and tell me your story…

Originally Published at
January 11, 2010

© Nadir Omowale