Stephen Hays

@stephenhays

A Venture Capitalist and His Music

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I see too many blog posts by VCs on what founders should do better, blogs they read, books they say they have read, deals, etc. (I’m guilty of it too)

What we don’t have is an understanding of the music your favorite (or least favorite) VC is cranking as they burn the midnight oil (yes VCs work late too). If you’re not into music at all, then it’s cool to go ahead and block me on social media.

For me, music is a passion. I can sit here for hours digging into an artist, researching their history, their music, lyrics, style, how their songs tie together to tell a story over the course of an album, a decade, a career. Who the artist is, what they have to say, how they say it, all means so much to me. In fact, I can’t really get interested in an artist unless there is enough depth to satisfy a search to the extent that it would result in finding those things.

Why does this matter with respect to VC investing? 
Investigating a song or an artist is the same process for me as digging into a potential seed investment. Often the story of the founder, his/her life story, the path to discovering the problem, the problem itself, the market, and so many other qualitative factors that add color and texture to a story, matter to me. Falling in love with an artist or a song is the same as falling for an idea, a founder, or a business as an investor.

So anyway, for both of the people out there that care, here are my favorite bands and why with links to my favorite album of theirs, and favorite songs (on spotify).

The Piano Man still rocks it

1. Billy Joel

As someone who loves NYC, and went to college in NY, I had to go with a guy who grew up in Queens, struggled with his own success, battled demons, found unparalleled success and can tell a story like no other in 3:05 — I love this guy. I remember seeing him play the last concert ever at Shea Stadium, what a night. After graduating West Point (was there during 9/11), and having had a life-long dream of living in NYC, then doing that for almost 4 years, my love for NYC resonates with his music. Oh, and probably one of the best voices of all time, but no big deal.

Favorite Album by Billy Joel: Twelve Gardens Live

Favorite Songs by Billy Joel: Angry Young Man, and Big Shot

Adam Duritz — Counting Crows

2. Counting Crows

Adam Duritz is probably the one guy I’d pick if you said I could have dinner with any artist. This guy! Quick rise to fame, intense struggle with said popularity, and a catalogue of passionate, life experiences detailing his struggles along the way. Again, an artist who loves NYC, and feels passionate about the energy of that city. Nobody makes you forget the outside world for 90 minutes at a concert like Adam does. He is an intensely passionate human being, and you can feel that when you dig into his music.

Favorite Album by Counting Crows: Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings

Favorite Songs by Counting Crows: Have You Seen Me Lately? and Washington Square

If you have ever seen this image before, then you rock!

3. Alkaline Trio

Who? Exactly. If you actually know who they are, or if you have been to one of their shows, we are going to be friends. In fact, if you have made your way to this blog, and you have heard of them before, then I want to hear from you. They are dark, yet happy about it. They are intense, yet chill, They are angry, yet, not really. “All of my favorite singers have stolen all of my best lines” is a lyric of theirs that kind of encapsulates them — whiney, but funny and somewhat dark. They have the best one-liners scattered throughout their songs. I love the raw sound. The intensity of the topics they cover is incredible. I’m waiting for them to go on another tour, but the lead singer is too busy playing guitar for Blink-182 this summer. Oh well.

Favorite Album by Alkaline Trio: Goddamnit

Favorite Songs by Alkaline Trio: San Francisco, and My Friend Peter

Photo I took at a Weezer show in Dallas (July, 2016)

4. Weezer

Yeah, the sweater song guys. That Blue album, rocks! I have the fondest memories of high school when I hear “In the Garage!” Rivers Cuomo may be one of the most intelligent song writers of all time. The variety of themes, sounds, intensities, and topics in his music make it really diverse. I fell in love with the sound, but then started to learn about Rivers, and the meaning behind a lot of what he has written and it just makes so much sense to me. I followed them around during the summer of 2016 and saw a few shows, they still sound great. Back in the day, I heard a few lives shows where I came away thinking Rivers’ voice may be one of the best I’ve heard. Maybe it isn’t as strong as it once was, but that guy could BELT IT back in the day. Also, any band who rocked me in high school (90s), and still puts out new content that also is badass, is gonna make my list.

Favorite Album by Weezer: Blue Album

Favorite Song by Weezer: Say it Ain’t So

Photo I took of Fat Mike in a Bush-Quayle shirt at a Dallas show (November, 2016)

5. NOFX

I love punk rock. I love aggression and anger coupled with satire and political commentary. I appreciate their self awareness and self deprecating approach to discussing their own music. When I go to a punk rock show and tweet the singer after the show saying how much it sucked, the right singer (Fat Mike) reacts by liking my comment because that is a compliment if you know anything about these guys. The irony, the passion, the anger, make me think. The pain they express about a lack of empathy in the world, resonates with me.

Favorite Album by NOFX: The War on Errorism (go ahead, give it a listen, it won’t bite)

Favorite Song by NOFX: Freedom Like a Shopping Cart

Photo credit

6. Against Me!

More punk rock. A lot of what they are singing talks about how the punk rock scene and the apparent “anarchists” within that scene had become a trendy, groupthink laden, bunch of followers who can’t think for themselves. They talk a lot about how the two party system has failed us, as well a lot of social issues. The lead singer made the transition to being a woman a few years ago and has written an entire album about gender dysphoria. Much of the songs before and after her transition about are about being true to yourself, having your own original thoughts, expressing yourself, freedom of thought, etc. Just about every song really makes me thing. Raging against the machine for the sake of following others who are angry, is stupid, but seeking to change an oppressive system and doing so with original thought, that’s where it’s at according to Laura Jane Grace.

Favorite Album by Against Me!: 23 Live Sex Acts

Favorite Song by Against Me!: I Was a Teenage Anarchist

Photo credit

7. Panic! at the Disco

Ok, I’ve seen them in concert three times in the last 12 months (no big deal). Average age at each concert, 14 years. I’m not ashamed. Have you heard this guy sing? Best voice I’ve ever heard live. One of the best performers I’ve ever seen. Love the music, and really dig Brendon Urie. I can’t get enough of this guy.

Favorite Album by Panic!:Death of a Bachelor

Favorite Songs by Panic!: Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time, and LA Devotee

Ok, well, I guess it’s time to get back to work. But when I do get back to work I’ll be jamming one of these playlists:

Bro Bra Playlist (created by my good buddy, another VC)

Punker Than Me (mix of punk rock songs I like — always a work in progress)

Electronic Haze (all EDM and House — great winter sports playlist)

The Art of Flight Soundtrack (one of the best movies ever)

Totally Against Me! (made this playlist to ease some friends into Against Me, but what you should really listen to is this live Album: 23 Live Sex Acts)

Sneaking Out 1999 (songs that remind me of sneaking out to festivals in 1999)

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