Thomas Dolby Recounts Multifaceted Career
in Forthcoming Autobiography
The Speed of Sound: Breaking the Barriers
Between Music and Technology
Dolby’s years as recording artist, MTV star, producer,
technology innovator and academic form compelling memoir,
due out October 11 from Flatiron Books.
NEW YORK, N.Y. — Walking home after being fired from his job at a grocery store, 16-year-old Thomas Dolby stumbled upon an abandoned musical synthesizer, a Transcendent 2000, lying in a dumpster. Few would have realized that this small discovery would lead to a career performing alongside David Bowie, pitching song lyrics to Michael Jackson, or helping create the iconic Nokia cellphone ringtone. Dolby lived among legends and eventually became one himself, breaking down walls in the music world with hits like “She Blinded Me With Science,” and then doing the same during the technology revolution in Silicon Valley when he helped introduce sound to the Internet.
In his forthcoming autobiography, The Speed of Sound: Breaking the Barriers Between Music and Technology (Flatiron Books; on sale October 11, 2016; $27.99), Thomas Dolby recounts a remarkable career of ups and downs, glamour and corruption, music and tech, and the eventual melding of them all into perfect harmony.
According to Dolby, "I've always been a tinkerer. Never happier than when I'm scratching around without a clue, whether it's programming a MiniMoog or filing for a $90M IPO. Now that most of the characters in my life story are either dead or in jail, I felt it's time to spill the beans."
After spending sleepless nights tweaking and restoring his newfound synthesizer back to life, Thomas Dolby left school to pursue his musical passions. This seemed to many of his friends and family — three generations of Cambridge University professors —like a fever dream. But Dolby was determined and by 1982 he had become a household name with his hits (and accompanying self-directed music videos), “She Blinded Me With Science” and “Hyperactive.” Attempting to duplicate his early successes, and after being left by his record label to fend for himself, Dolby funded a tour for his second album that failed miserably. But his reputation had spread throughout the entertainment industry and he was tapped to work with icons like David Bowie, George Clinton, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, and to write the songs for George Lucas’ cult classic, Howard the Duck.
However, by the early ’90s, Dolby had grown tired of the music industry with its ubiquitous corruption, back door dealings, and sleazy executives. He uprooted his family and moved to the Bay Area where, seeing the inadequacies of music software, he saw an opportunity to make his mark on the industry. With the rise of the Internet, he recognized that websites were missing a crucial element — sound. Through his startup company, Beatnik, Dolby helped pioneer audio in the earliest versions of virtual reality and convinced companies like Yahoo and Netscape that adding musical elements to their websites could draw in more visitors. Yet, once again faced with the reality of a corrupt and soul-crushing industry, and losing sight of his earliest visions for Beatnik, Dolby resigned from the company he founded. Seeing yet another opportunity, he decided to pursue the emerging world of mobile uses for music, with astonishing success: Beatnik’s technology was eventually licensed and embedded into more than two billion wireless devices, and our cell phones haven’t sounded the same since.
Thomas Dolby has spent his career at the intersection of music and technology. He was an early star on MTV, and then moved to Silicon Valley, where he has an extraordinary career as an entrepreneur. He has been named Johns Hopkins University’s first Homewood Professor of the Arts, where he will help create a new center that will serve as an incubator for technology in the arts.
Melding the world of rock and roll with the high-energy and high-stake technology boom of the 1990s, The Speed of Sound is the sensational story of a man who stood at the vanguard of it all. From early appearances on MTV to tough negotiations with the biggest names in Silicon Valley, Dolby’s memoir takes readers through the voracious devotion of one man and his insatiable passion for music.