Will.I.Am Says Coders Are Today’s Rock Stars
Earlier this week, will.i.am became the first artist to have a song broadcast on another planet. Tuesday afternoon, the Curiosity Rover on Mars played the song “Reach For The Stars,” which was audible here on Earth at a NASA event at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Mashable caught up with the former Black Eyed Pea via phone after his appearance at the song premiere to talk about his interest in science, his work promoting STEM education, and how important this career milestone is.
How did it go today?
Today went great. It’s a great moment. I had all the kids from the community center that I’m building in Boyle Heights in partnership with Laurene Jobs here to remind them that there are people here in the world that are building programs and platforms for them to change their lives and their communities through discipline around STEM education. That’s the mission I’m on now, and this whole beaming the song back from Mars to Earth is … to inspire these kids.
What’s the nature of the partnership with Discovery Education that you and your foundation launched today?
This song “Reach for the Stars” is not just a song, it’s a documentary about why it’s important for kids in inner cities to take a STEM interest. That documentary is going to be on the Science Channel later this month, so we’re going to do more educational content with Discovery Education that’s going to be in schools as a way to engage with the youth.
I remember when I was in high school, the stuff they taught me around science was kind of boring. No one really tried to talk the language and make content that’s digestible and tangible for science. Discovery does a good job of that and I wanted to partner with them to do more content like that.
Has science always been a passion for you?
I’m not a scientist and don’t claim to be, but I love the result of that discipline. I went to a science magnet school growing up so that’s what I wanted to be before I chose music. I wanted to study quantum physics out of high school, but I fell in love with music. So next year I’m going to take a computer science course to help prepare for the next 20 years of my life. I’m going back to school. Now that I’ve accomplished everything there is to accomplish in music, there ain’t nothing left to do.
Does this mean you’ll stop doing music? And where are you going to be going back to school?
I’m always gonna be doing music. I love it, I’m not going to stop. I just don’t wanna only do music for business. I want to do music to entertain and inspire. As far as computer science, I want to attend CalArts. I would love to go to MIT, but it’s far. I want to stay in California.
In your event today you spoke about “STEAM” — STEM plus the Arts. Do you think people separate these things too much?
The music industry and the entertainment industry are all technology and the marriage of art and science. Now that we have that, people forget that [entertainment] is all just based on technology and putting information on radio and broadcasting. If you think of the Internet, the Internet is just borrowing from yesterday’s marriage. Apps, [for example], are the result of the marriage of art and science.
Once governments know that, I think people are not gonna limit funding for education and science in schools. You don’t really hear football programs being cut because you know the result: It makes money somewhere. We need to start identifying the money that’s made through programs so they don’t cut money in schools.
How do you begin to address that?
We need to start putting other categories into the concept of art. I think people that make apps are artists. I think that people who write code for Facebook, that’s the new Rolling Stones. Think about the Rolling Stones and the music groups of the past, they filled up stadiums. The Beatles filled up stadiums. If you take the Beatles’ songs and called them software played on hardware, that’s Facebook. Facebook is software that you play and experience on hardware. So Mark Zuckerberg, to me he ain’t nothing but freakin’ John Lennon. Jack Dorsey, he ain’t nothing but Mick Jagger. Just a whole different level, man. Just bigger.
Is this what you want young musicians to think about?
I want to get the people who haven’t really made their mind up about whether they want to be a musician or a scientist to think about it. It’s the people that haven’t signed up for it yet that have a choice. “Where am I gonna go? Am I gonna go down this road or that road?” Then fuck it, they never decide, and then the next thing they know, they’re 27, 30 years old and they get a job — when they had every opportunity to create jobs.
I’m in a group that makes music and I create jobs. There’s like 500 people that work for me. Engineers, road guys, stage builders — they’re very important to my world. My ideas create jobs. That reality for a kid to want to do music and have it as a business, the way it was yesterday isn’t the same. Touring still exists. Sharing is important. But monetizing it? I don’t know.
That’s why it’s so important for me to tell the kids, “I got a little secret for you guys. Be scientists. Be technicians. Be engineers. Be mathematicians. Create new jobs in the future.” Ain’t nobody gonna tell you that. I’m tellin’ you that. That’s what this is about.
Let’s get back to today. Where does this rank for you on your list of accomplishments?
I did the Grammys like 7 times. I’ve done the MTV Music Awards. I’ve done the Super Bowl twice. I’ve played the World Cup. I’ve played the Grey Cup in Canada and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. I’ve played in front of 2 million people on a beach in Brazil. After all those things, standing up on stage at NASA with my mom in the audience and my song being beamed back from another planet is the biggest. Out of all the artists in the world, out of all the people that make music on the planet, I got a song coming from another planet. It’s because I stand for trying to change communities around science. The song was made to inspire kids to want to be scientists, space explorers and create new products and technologies that are sustainable. That’s the reason my song got beamed back, not because I’m the dopest musician on the earth.
Anything else you want to add?
Power to the geeks.
Image courtesy of Flickr, Eva Rinaldi.