Why Some of Silicon Valley’s Tech Titans Are Actual Rock Stars

Why Some of Silicon Valley’s Tech Titans Are Actual Rock Stars

It’s Brian May, lead guitarist of a little band named Queen. At their core, both music and coding are examples of mathematical languages that, once mastered, yield amazingly creative forms of personal expression. In music the output is song, while with coding it’s often software; however, the fundamentals are the same. In some ways Stairway to Heaven and Minecraft are two heroically successful examples of the same mathematical and psychological process. It’s not that music theory in itself is very mathematical, it’s that music theory is math. In my experience, what motivates exceptional art and engineering is not fast money, but passion, vision and a drive to change the world. Most bands and startups also fail for the same reasons: personal conflict, focus on exceptional product with no market, marketing with no substance, resource constraints, retaining talent, etc. The few that manage to break through the cluttered insanity do in fact change the face of history. Like many of my heros in both music and tech, I aspire to change the world. But, I will consider my life a success if I merely touch it.

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Why Some of Silicon Valley's Tech Titans Are Actual Rock Stars

Imagine a room full of PhD-educated business professionals. Seems like it wouldn’t be too exciting — just a bunch of well informed nerds. Then, a moment of intrigue when a familiar face appears. It’s Brian May, lead guitarist of a little band named Queen. Another turns out to be Greg Graffin from Bad Religion, and to the right, there’s legendary guitarist Les Paul.

A moment of confusion.

Is this the most epic impromptu rock concert ever? Or a science convention? Turns out, a large number of people star in both events throughout their lifetimes.

It just so happens that Brian May is an astrophysicist and the author of The Complete History of the Universe. Greg Graffin is simultaneously a lecturer in life sciences and paleontology at UCLA, as well as the author of Population Wars: A New Perspective on Competition and Coexistence. Then, of course, there’s Les Paul, the jazz guitarist who invented the electric guitar and multitrack recording. Les Paul’s inventions are the catalyst of rock and roll as an art form and the foundation of the entire recorded music industry.

As co-founder of the cult rock band Strangefolk and later the lead singer of Assembly of Dust, I’ve opened for The Who, Dave Matthews Band and David Crosby. I’ve performed with Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead), Dickey Betts (Allman Brothers Band) and folk icon Richie Havens. I’ve toured 48 states and played at Carnegie Hall.

I’m also the chief marketing officer of the high-tech startup Magisto, an AI-powered video creation platform with 90 million users in 125 countries. At first glance, my interests and career path strike people as amusing if not slightly bizarre, but these two seemingly disparate aspects of my life actually deeply overlap.

At their core, both music and coding are examples of mathematical languages that, once mastered, yield amazingly creative forms of personal expression. In music the output is song, while with coding it’s often software; however, the fundamentals are the same. Each uses a mathematical composition to express oneself and to invite an audience to share his or her personal narrative. In some ways Stairway to Heaven and Minecraft are two heroically successful examples of the same mathematical and psychological process….

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