Corporate Rock Concerts Say A Lot About the Tech Companies Hosting Them

Regardless of whatever you read about the social media bubble leaking air, America's biggest companies have so much money, they have to make up reasons to spend it -- like paying rock stars ungodly sums to play at corporate conferences.

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Regardless of whatever you read about the social media bubble leaking air, America's biggest companies have so much money, they have to make up reasons to spend it -- like paying rock stars ungodly sums to play at corporate conferences. Companies paying between $500,000 and $1.5 million (plus production costs) to hire just to sing a few songs to executives sounds like one of 1999's many teaching moments about how to make a company go bankrupt, but it's actually quite popular these days. The Wall Street Journal's Ben Worthen reports that the rock star for-hire trend is still very much alive and well in Silicon Valley. It's so alive, so well that companies like Oracle are even hiring musicians two at a time in order to upstage its competitors:

"Nah nah nah nah nah, we did it first," says Mario Giampaglia, who books acts at SAP AG, Oracle's archrival in software. Sting played for SAP customers in May.

True, but Mr. Ellison did one better: In addition to Sting, he got rocker Tom Petty, a fact not lost on Oracle's customers. The Sting-Petty score, said conference attendee Daniel Dale, a database engineer, shows that if Mr. Ellison "can't buy SAP at least he can kick them."

For some reason, a Sting-Petty duo sounds too perfect for Oracle. For young people, the four-decade old enterprise software company is perhaps more widely known for its tech celebrity chief executive Larry Ellison and his private jets -- as Malcolm Gladwell explained recently, it was Ellison's jet that Steve Jobs famously copied and tweaked -- than it is for making software. Just like a lot of young people probably think of Sting and Tom Petty as those rich guys with all the greatest hits albums, instead of actual rock stars. Curious to learn if the trend of rock star-tech company twins held true for other big tech companies, we did some research on these corporate concerts to find out who's been playing where in Silicon Valley and came up with a fun list, including our guess for the company's favorite song.


Preferred Band: Kanye West (no band necessary)

Favorite Song: Mama's Boyfriend

Analysis: This one's easy based on the song Kanye performed when he showed up at Facebook's headquarters for an impromptu performance last year. So you remember the day that your mom joined Facebook? It's terrible enough if your parents are married, and your mom decides to get all romantic on your dad's wall. But can you imagine the horror if your mom is single and doing the Facebook flirting thing? (The horror…) Either way, the fact that folks like Kanye and Katy Perry just swing by the office is more evidence that Facebook is totally winning.


Preferred Musician: Daria Musk

Favorite Song: Maybe

Analysis: A couple months ago, the search giant hosted a Hangout on Google+ from its Seattle offices. Largely a YouTube sensatin, Daria Musk is not a very famous musician, and it's unclear if Google paid her for the performance, since she does these Hangout shows all the time. However, it does offer us some clues about how Google and its subsidiary YouTube hope to keep cranking out Justin Biebers (the original YouTube star) in an attempt to win a little bit more cultural relevance, especially when it comes to the company's burgeoning social strategy. Will it work? Maybe. But so fair it looks literally amateurish compared to Google's biggest new rival, Facebook, who just let Kanye West stand on a table and freestyle.


Preferred Musician: The Shins

Favorite Song: Phantom Limb

Analysis: The Shins, like eBay, won their popularity amongst the 1990s indie fad. For the Shins, an indie rock band, this makes total sense, as does the relative outcry about the band selling out by signing with Subpop records (a major label and, thus, not indie at all in 2000. eBay became popular because its sell-anything auctions appealed to indie merchants: amateur junk collectors, artisan craft makers, etc. But then it got all big, bought PayPal and became flooded with retail outlets posing as mom-and-pop shops. Kind of like how SubPop's been floating on the indie appeal of "the Seattle sound" since Starbucks was still basically a local chain. We all know how that turned out. When WSJ asked about The Shins' eBay gig, frontman James Mercer said, "It's such a big and good, reputable company … And it's good money."


Preferred Band: Modest Mouse

Favorite Song: Float On

Analysis: Microsoft sucks at being hip. We don't want to get into specifics, but if you need proof just read this article about how the Zune aimed to "outhip" the iPod and then read this about how that strategy epically failed. However, back in the day, Microsoft had some cache amongst the geeks as the little software company that could. Another indie sensation, Modest Mouse, went mainstream the same year as their contemporaries The Shins and have struggled to regain their edge. They're also a little ashamed about it. When asked how he felt about playing a Microsoft corporate concert, the bands drummer (who also happens to be the drummer for The Shins) said simply, "I don't really like to talk about these things."

Preferred Band: Metallica

Favorite Song: The Unforgiven (Sorry about the click-through -- Metallica doesn't allow any of its videos to be embedded)

Analysis: This one's just weird. We don't know a ton about besides what Wikipedia tells us. It was founded by a former Oracle executive, sells enterprise software, operates offices around the world and makes a ton of money. So we'll default to the out-of-touch argument that we used for Oracle. Clearly, somebody at the company wanted a big name to celebrate its gangbusters year of selling software in 2011 -- someone special -- and since Metallica had never played a corporate gig before, they worked out a deal. Metallica required that let in a few hundred of its fans for free, and boy were those fans upset that the 40-year-old software dudes weren't headbangers. "Everyone is just pretty much standing there motionless with their cameras out," one wrote on a fan forum after the show. What did they expect?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.