At LinkedIn, employees are encouraged to jam out like rock stars in rooms that are stocked with high-end music equipment.
The company’s music program got its start in 2010, during a monthly community-building event the company calls InDays. One week after engineering director Michael Olivier joined the company, he caught the finals of a LinkedIn Idol singing contest, the InDay activity for the month.
One of the finalists was Caitlin Crump, a data scientist who had also recently joined LinkedIn.
“I was taken by her singing,” Olivier told Business Insider. “I wanted to play music in Mountain View, so I followed up with her to see if she would be interested.”
After they found a drummer during another all-hands event, when new hires were asked to demonstrate a special skill, they decided to form a band together.
They named themselves “NextPlay” in honour of CEO Jeff Weiner’s business philosophy. Legendary Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski yells out “next play” whenever the team completes a play, regardless of how it went. That refusal to dwell on failure informs Weiner’s approach to leadership, and it’s a big catchphrase around the office.
Once they had three people committed to NextPlay, the band contacted the company for funding.
“It was right around the time of the IPO, so obviously it was a good time to do it, but they have always been supportive of the idea,” Olivier said. “It turns out there are a lot of musicians here.”
Not unlike your classic garage band, NextPlay got their start practicing in a loading dock that had been converted into a makeshift studio. They set up their equipment in a dusty corner with exposed rafters and packed file cabinets.
On November 18, 2011, NextPlay put on their first show. A few dozen people showed up to watch the band perform during their lunch break.
Three years later, the music room has improved a great deal. When the weather’s nice, they can open the garage door and play to the neighbourhood. The room has state-of-the-art AV equipment, drums, guitars, keyboards, microphone stands, and stage lighting.
LinkedIn’s music program includes well-developed facilities at their Mountain View headquarters, as well as at their offices in San Francisco and Dublin. Soon there will be music rooms at their Sunnyvale and New York City outposts as well.
And now there are two other bands in town: MYMK (or Musicians You May Know, a twist on LinkedIn’s connection recommendation feature) and Colonel Panic, a geeky pun that’s a play on Kernel Panic, the name for what happens when a computer freezes.
But none of that would have happened without NextPlay. The original band hosts jam sessions every Friday, which anyone can join, and their performances are a key feature of the tour the company gives to executives and interviewers who visit campus.
The band has changed quite a bit, too, as some members have changed offices, while others have left the company altogether.
The current team includes Olivier on keys and vocals, senior systems engineer Andrey Bibik on guitar, senior product marketing manager Andrew Kaplan also on guitar, senior systems engineer Levi Doucette on bass, and senior videographer and AV technical engineer Phil Jackson on drums. Crump still fronts the band.
Olivier describes their sound as “an eclectic mix of rock, pop, blues, and funk” that mixes songs from the ’70s and ’80s with today’s radio hits. They have also played a few original songs written by Olivier and Crump.
This past May, as part of the company’s Cinco de LinkedIn anniversary celebration, NextPlay took the stage at the Shoreline Amphitheater, an enormous 22,500-capacity venue in Mountain View. It was their biggest show yet.
“We all saw that the Jumbotron was behind us when we were practicing, but we were glad we couldn’t see it when we were actually playing,” Olivier said with a laugh. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us to be able to play on that stage where so many world-class musicians have played.”
NextPlay usually practices for an hour during lunch twice a week, but anyone with an interest in music can access the facility after they have completed the proper training. Employees can even take lessons on the acoustic guitar, piano, and drums.
And according to Olivier, it’s not only amateurs goofing around on the drum set.
“It’s hard to make money in the music industry,” Olivier said. “These are people who are amazing musicians but also happen to work at a tech company.”