Behind the Music on Silicon Valley, a.k.a. ‘Nerd Swagger’

Photo: HBO

The plot of HBO’s hit comedy Silicon Valley is one you would expect from, well, a show named after the cutthroat high-tech and start-up oasis of the Bay Area. But you wouldn't know it from the soundtrack. And for the show’s music supervisors, Rudy Chung and Jason Alexander, that was exactly the intention from the beginning.

“Rudy and I had a very long conversation when we first watched the earlier parts of the show, when we were first given some of the scripts, and we felt there was a concept to be had about ‘nerd swagger,’” Alexander tells us. “We were playing the tech guys and the geeks and the skinny, crazy-hair-cut kids with the future in their hands with all of the codes in the world; we wanted to play them larger than life with big, bombastic hip-hop tracks.” Hip-hop has certainly been the dominant genre for Silicon Valley, with Run the Jewels, Flo Rida, Pusha T, and Dizzee Rascal making (sometimes multiple) appearances throughout the three seasons. “It was a little bit of a creative spark for all of us to rally around,” Alexander continues. “The fact that this rather absurd world of Silicon Valley and start-ups could be married to the rather absurd and silly world of massive hip-hop tracks was fun.” They have been conscious, though, to not solely feature rap. “We want the availability to have some surprises,” Chung notes. “We’ve done some things in the past that have gone a little bit against the grain,” noting artists like ZZ Top, Alabama Shakes, Green Day, and the Pioneers.

Chung and Alexander are involved from the script stage, which allows them to give early creative input on potential music to feature. “We get drafts of the scripts and we’re reading them as soon as we get them, and putting together song ideas with specific scenes in mind,” Chung says. “So when Mike [Judge, co-creator and executive producer] and Alec [Berg, executive producer] or the director is sitting in with editorial, they already have a bunch of music that we already sourced for that episode." More often than not, the initial song choices end up being used.

The dramatic elements of the show also influenced its musical identity. “Silicon Valley is so centered around the struggle of this crew of guys trying to transform the world and do something that’s quite remarkable,” Chung says. “There are a lot of moments where we end shows on a bit of a ‘oh shit’ moment. And then there are some episodes that end on a rare celebratory moment. These are really important emotional depths for the show as well, to really carry on the energy of how each episode ends in the credits.”

Perhaps most memorable is when the show ends and the credits begin to roll; the high-energy, vivacious soundtrack continues until the last possible second. Some tracks — including a Run the Jewels featuring DJ Shadow banger from earlier this season — have remarkably even made their debut exclusively on Silicon Valley’s closing credits. “We’re constantly traveling to music conferences, film festivals, shows, and festivals, always meeting new artists and managers, creating deep relationships, and having people send us music,” Chung explains. “We’re very fortunate to be pitched hundreds of times daily with new music. And a lot of times we’re given exclusives for things very early. When the timing works right where we’re given something very early, and it happens to work creatively with the scene or credits we’re working on, that’s great. It’s a fun thing to be able to premiere songs on the show. It’s really an added bonus.”

Now, if only they would release an official soundtrack.