Silicon Valley Rocks! (Or It Will, Next Week.)


Anyone who’s lived in or around Silicon Valley for some time knows, and probably likes, Alison Murdock, the affable former president of Dealmaker Media, which produces the Under the Radar conference series.

Murdock left the firm last year to find and pursue some new interests, including, unexpectedly, a rock show that will both star venture capitalists, CEOs, and tech journalists — and that will be watched, with baited breath, by venture capitalists, CEOs, and tech journalists.

I talked with Murdock today about the show, Silicon Valley Rocks, which takes place next Wednesday night, December 3rd, at San Francisco’s historic Great American Music Hall.

You’ve organized a rock show. How did that happen?

I came up with the idea while at Dealmaker. I’d done the whole high school chorus and musicals thing, but I’d always secretly wanted to be in a rock band. When I started dabbling in music a few years ago and told people, it seemed like one in five of them was like, “I have a band,” or “I used to play music.” It hit me that there was a correlation between the proverbial Silicon Valley and music.

Hold up. What does “dabbling” mean? Did you start a band?

Actually, I’d gone to Ladies Rock Camp in Portland, Oregon. It’s a weekend day camp that raises money for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls, a nonprofit that helps girls ages 8 through 18 build up their self-confidence through music.

Awesome, and I’m referring to the fact that you went to rock camp. What did you learn there?

You have to form a band and write a song within four days. It’s one of those experiences where you can’t believe you did it. Our song was “Ride On,” about a rodeo queen who fell in love with a rodeo clown. It was the most ridiculous song but also hilarious. We also wrote a song about too much information called “Overload,” where I sang and played the bass.

You weren’t going for the heartstrings, I take it.

No, there was lots of guitar whaling.

Silicon Valley Rocks, which costs $60 to attend, is also benefiting a nonprofit devoted to making music accessible to youth. Why is that so important to you?

There’s been a lot of research that links music education to improved test scores, yet funding for music programs in public schools in never guaranteed. In fact, the nonprofit that will receive 100 percent of the show’s proceeds, Music in Schools Today, came into being 15 years ago to fund that gap — which is growing now with budget shortfalls.

I was lucky. I went to a private school where arts were very important, and it allowed me to think creatively and laterally. My kids go to public school, though, so this is a contribution I’d really like to make. I think [Music in Schools Today] is still wondering, who is this loony person, offering to do an event for us?

Tell me more about the show’s lineup.

It’s going to be great. Open Source Band’s Tim Chang [and principal at Norwest Venture Partners] is an amazing guitarist. He had his own band and they were set to play, but in the end not everyone could make it, so I said, let’s see who else we can find. Tim’s now playing with [Walden Venture Capital general partner] Larry Marcus on the drums, and this guy Andrew Stess [CEO of the music search engine MusicIP] who’s an awesome bass player. I think everyone was wondering how it would be, playing together for the first time, but I walked to the door during their rehearsal and thought it was the radio, they were so good.

Who are you most looking forward to watching perform?

There are six bands that will each play 20-minute sets, so three or four songs apiece. It’ll be fun to see everyone, including Kevin Maney [who writes about technology for Conde Nast’s Portfolio magazine]. The Strands [Maney’s band] generally perform music about Silicon Valley topics, like Bill Gates. It’s very funny.

I understand you’ll be performing, too.

I’m singing the Pretenders’ song “My City Was Gone,” about Ohio. I don’t know if I’m more nervous about running the whole show or performing. I kind of like being on stage, though, I’ll just channel Robert Plant. [Laughs.]

Are you hoping to make the show an annual event? It seems like a lot of people are talking about it already.

I’ve been getting so many introductory emails, in the vein of “there’s an L.A. band you should meet.” Do people think I’m an influential music promoter? I certainly have enough bands for two more years of this. The question is whether we’ll stick exclusively with tech bands, or broaden it out to include bands employing new technologies in their music. We’ll see. Honestly, my plan right now is just to get through this Wednesday.