As I stepped off the plane and made my way through San Francisco International Airport for the first time, I had no idea what to expect, and I certainly had no idea I was going to leave that airport one week later with a different view and value of who I am as a musician. As one of the 20 fortunate students to explore Silicon Valley with Berklee’s Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship (BerkleeICE) this winter break, I was in for quite the adventure.
I made my way to the BART, the Bay Area’s public transportation system, and I was informed that a huge storm had caused tree debris to fall on the tracks. So after an hour of waiting, one train transfer, waiting for an Uber in the storm, and finally arriving at Best Western, I knew it was going to be an interesting week.
The thing with not knowing what to expect is, you know you’re going to be in for something new—and that’s exactly what happened. Our itinerary was jam-packed with tours at industry giants like Facebook, YouTube, Pandora, Skywalker Sound, and GoogleX, as well as visits to venture capital firms and startup companies. We had the privilege of interfacing with leaders at these companies as well as many Berklee alumni, who were especially interesting and inspiring to converse with.
A trend I began to notice right away was that each company had a unique culture of its own. It manifested most tangibly through the literal workspace and atmosphere of the company, but it also came through during presentations and Q&As. With Pandora, it was a quirky, personalized workspace outfitted with cute cubbyholes and splashes of vibrant color schemes that reflected the value they place on each song in their database that is analyzed by a unique human being. At Indiegogo, it was a huge “Empower” sign at the entrance of their headquarters and a modern open-space area where everyone worked that reflected the culture of creating community and empowerment for their users through crowdfunding. At Facebook, it was their massive campus that boasted a 9-acre rooftop park and a Disneyland-inspired Main Street that reflected their “hacker” culture of creative freedom and constant inspiration.
At many of these places, the sheer grandeur of the establishment was enough inspiration in and of itself. But it was our conversations with some of the industry’s brightest minds that really exposed me to new ways of thinking, and it was no coincidence that my favorite visits were to the places that gave me new outlooks on my own life and my relationship with music.
At venture capital firm Mayfield Fund, I learned from investor and active musician Tim Chang that the way you make a living and what you do creatively don’t necessarily have to match. He has been named one of the “Top 100 Tech Investors” on Forbes’ Midas list in the past, yet he is an avid guitarist and performs with three bands. Seeing these vastly different career paths running in parallel in his life was really freeing because I know that I’m more than just a musician as well, and it liberated me to be open to different possibilities down the road.
At Skywalker Sound, best known for its work on Star Wars, we met Leslie Ann Jones, who is the director of music recording and scoring and a recording engineer and mixer. She was the first female on the trip to give us a tour, and I drew deep inspiration from the great courage and bravery she embodied so tangibly in her work and her excellence. Meeting her was especially empowering for me, as I am an aspiring producer and engineer. She showed me that I don’t have to compromise who I am to fit into this industry and excel.
Finally, at Facebook, I saw an approach to efficiency and productivity I hadn’t seen elsewhere. Facebook’s employees enjoy flexible work schedules as long as they complete their tasks by deadlines. Being someone who was always partial to the freelance work model, I immediately adored the way Facebook could implement such flexibility for their employees. (On top of that, I thoroughly enjoyed walking down their Main Street and being treated to BBQ beef brisket for lunch and ice cream for dessert.)
As we arrived back at the hotel every night, our minds were buzzing with overloads of information. And as with all great experiences, you are left with more questions than answers, receiving an invitation to dive in deeper and learn more. That is what the Silicon Valley trip was for me—an invitation to grow, learn, explore.
The Bay Area certainly charmed me, with its rows of colorful houses stooped on the distant mountains, its terrifying steep streets lined with cars on both sides, and its bold, red bridge crowning the vibrant frontier of technology and innovation. It was a catalyst for a forward way of thinking, an example of what can happen when creativity meets excellence, and a place that left me hungry to be a part of creating the future.
Belinda Huang is a Taiwanese-American singer/songwriter, music producer, and audio engineer from Los Angeles. Her vision is to create and release a fresh and authentic sound that brings about healing, personal freedom and hope through its messages of life and truth. She is currently in her last year at Berklee College of Music, majoring in Music Production & Engineering.