You started your career as an industrial engineer before entering the music industry and the realm of public policy. What spurred this career change and how have these different roles influenced your perspective on the best way to expand economic opportunity?
Yeah, I was an industrial engineer and industrial engineering is a fantastic field. It’s a fantastic career. But it didn’t fit my personality in terms of what I was more interested in. I was definitely more of a people person and people-oriented and realized I’d be happier in a career where I could use more of my people skills and business skills instead of the more technical side.
I was presented with the opportunity to enter music while I was deciding whether I wanted to go back for another degree, whether it be law, policy, medicine—(laughs) I didn’t know what I wanted to do! So when I got a chance to be a part of the business I decided to do it. I’m the type of guy who isn’t afraid of a challenge and I’m definitely open to a change and to trying things out. I said, it couldn’t hurt for me to be open to this. Once I got more involved in it I realized, this fits me. What I was doing at the time was an opportunity that otherwise wouldn’t have existed: connecting a product with different consumers and brands in order to get the most impact from their consumer base and our consumer base in creating music and products that fit their lifestyle and are really great fits for both sides. I enjoyed that; bringing together two different sides and two different worlds and creating solutions.
When you think about it, that’s what engineering is all about. I now look at it from different lenses. The field of how we consider engineering to be has grown so much from when I graduated in 2001. In 2001, it was more about working for traditional tech and car companies to do traditional engineering. But the world of engineering has changed. Now there’s this hybrid society where engineers are thought leaders. Engineers are change agents. Engineers are the creative force that is driving the social engine of the world today. And the beauty of engineering is that it gives you these transferable skills like critical analysis, problem solving, and being solutions-oriented. Those are the fundamental skills of engineering and who wouldn’t want someone who has those fundamentals to be a part of their industry, no matter what it is?
Now with the engineering field there are all of these opportunities. What I do, in terms of policy, is advocating for STEM to show incoming freshmen and current college students that engineering is more than what people currently think and the world of possibilities for engineering students is endless. Now I have a case for more individuals to enroll when they select their majors because it has broadened their scope of possible careers. Once they’re finished, they don’t have to think from a microscopic perspective or niche market of what an engineering company could be.
From that perspective, that’s what led me to be successful in the music business and to be successful in policy when it comes to creating a conversation and going beyond the rhetoric. As engineers, we’re looking for hardcore data and stats, we’re very fact-based and numbers-driven because we believe once we have those things, we can then create solutions. As engineers, we’re doers. We’re not about sitting around the table and philosophizing about ideas, we’re about putting those ideas to work with as much quality control as possible. And if it doesn’t work, we try it again. That’s why I like to go beyond the rhetoric and talk actual action and strategy once we have the data. We don’t need to go on our soapboxes, which a lot of politicians and policymakers tend to do, and I think that’s why these two professions have come together so nicely for me.
Politically, you’ve worked with leaders and stakeholders on both sides of the aisle, from Senator Cory Booker to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. What has been your experience taking a nonpartisan approach to improving policy?
I think when you come from a nonpartisan perspective, you actually get to the root of what the issues are. With an issues perspective, you’re easily able to weigh the pros and cons from both sides and debate the merits from there. You can talk about the consequences for both sides and begin to create solutions that will eliminate as many negative consequences as possible for a demographic, city, municipality, state, or nation. When you come from an issue perspective, that’s when you’re most effective. I’ve seen that when I’ve been able to talk to the different politicians I work with. When they see that I’m not just about talking points, it makes their guard come down and they realize they don’t need to take this defensive posture because I’m not holding a line on any party. I care about how these issues affect the day-to-day, not just working with politicians, but with the general public, to show why they should be aware of these issues or policies. Showing how they are being debated or practiced today and how it matters in the day-to-day and how they would be affected in their vote in the next election cycle. I never lead them to vote either way, my most important thing is that they understand the issue and how it affects their lifestyle. That way they can be more of an informed voter when they go to the voting booth. In that way it holds politicians accountable from either side.
How do you view the current landscape of the music industry in terms of its effect on creating change in people’s lives? Are there certain artists that you believe are doing a fantastic job of making great music as well as making a difference in their community?
I’m excited about the landscape of music both from the creative side as well as the business model. The business model is changing rapidly. I think no industry these days is able to stay stagnant with one business model. I think technology, like in engineering, has made industries think long term about different business strategies. Nowadays, you can’t just have a five-year strategy and think that’s going to be consistent; you have to be open to adapting to the flow of technology as well as to what consumers are interested in and how they’re interested in receiving whatever it is you’re creating and selling to them. I think it’s creating more of an entrepreneurial spirit within companies and institutions. It’s an exciting part of business and it gets back to America’s fundamentals. Entrepreneurship gets back to who Americans are at the end of the day.
In terms of the content being created: thanks to technology, you’re hearing so many different sounds of music being created and the genre lines being blurred. What once sounded like country now sounds like pop. Pop now sounds like rap. Rap now sounds like pop. I think because we have vastly different sounds, thanks to the Internet and streaming and YouTube and Vevo that has introduced music from across the world, it can’t help but influence music being created. What’s interesting too is that it’s actually going back to the roots of music being protest songs. It goes back to the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s. It goes back to Billie Holiday and Nina Simone and to when music was pushing messaging across the board for change and activism. I think that’s crept into the music today and music is being used to carry messages and, in fact, music and the artists behind it are beginning to drive political conversation. It could be just a tweet that’s sent out or a simple Instagram post. The music and the content creators are helping to agitate the conversation, as well as providing music as a release for individuals who are in the fight for change.
You’re involved with so many organizations from the local community level to the highest reaches of government. What has been your most fulfilling experiences working to expand economic opportunity for all Americans and especially our young people?
It’s actually the work I do through Sirius Satellite Radio. I come on Wednesday mornings on Eminem’s station, Shade45 with Sway in the Morning’s radio show. They’ve had me on to discuss this whole intersection of hip-hop and politics and I’ve been on now for almost two years. It’s incredible to see how this audience has been able to grow with me in terms of beginning to understand and learn what these policies mean day to day. The highlight for me is every Wednesday morning when I’m in the studio and I see the call line light up on a hip-hop station to discuss Ukraine. We exemplify that there is an audience out there that isn’t being tapped into or engaged and it signifies that we just haven’t had the ability to tap into this audience. I am just honored that I am able to have the pleasure to do that and to get this conversation going.
I’m most amazed when it happens when I work with Vibe magazine, an urban music publication, and I’m able to take over their Twitter account of almost 600 thousand followers. When I’m on to talk about issues there’s 100% engagement with me when before I jump on they’re talking about the music and gossip of today and then immediately engage in thoughtful discussion, questions, and commentary on social and political issues. It’s such an honor for me to be able to moderate that discussion and to show that this is happening. The work that I do on a local, city, state, and national level all allow me to have impact on the community in a very personal one-on-one basis. For me, that is the biggest joy in what I’ve done within this intersection.
Last question, what’s your favorite song right now?
(Laughs) It’s going to sound so rachet! But I love that song Tuesday. You’ll have to Google the artist, it’s some complicated name but yeah, you can put that down.