From Classical Music to Shredding Metal

Stephen Toback loves bass guitar and has played in a Judas Priest cover band

Stephen Toback rocks out on his bass guitar performing with his Judas Priest cover band, Breakin the Law. Photo courtesy of Steve Toback.
Stephen Toback rocks out on his bass guitar performing with his Judas Priest cover band, Breakin the Law. Photo courtesy of Steve Toback.

Name: Stephen TobackPosition: Senior manager and media architect, Office of Information TechnologyYears at Duke: 8 

What I do at Duke: As media architect, I’m responsible for the media infrastructure at Duke – recording, streaming and anything that has to do with video technology central to IT. In my role as senior producer for online courses at Duke, I manage a team of video professionals and work with faculty to produce video for courses that are published on Coursera.org

If I had $5 million, I would: Open a ranch for dogs and other rescue animals so I could help all the stray animals in the world. Then I would buy a really great guitar – a 1951 Fender Telecaster. It’s very rare and among the first body electric guitars Fender made. If there were money leftover, I’d get an apartment in New York City so I’d have a place to stay when I visit. 

My first ever job: I worked at a music shop in my hometown of Newburgh, New York called Steinberger Sound. I started in tenth grade because a friend of mine had a dad who worked there and knew I played bass guitar. The store made the first graphite solid-body bass guitar, one piece of solid graphite instead of wood. I helped work on that guitar by doing prep work and on hardware.

My dream job: To play music. I have my bachelor’s degree in music and I play a lot, but being a professional musician and get to tour and teach music would be really great. I’d like to tour the world and play in all the greatest rock halls. 

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me: ‘Have you seen that new video camera?’  Then I’ll talk for about 10 hours. Video changes so much, so there’s always something new to keep you on your toes.

The best advice I ever received: Always hire people that are smarter than you. I’m very invested in the success of my staff and hiring smart people lets you learn from them and pushes you to be better.

What I love about Duke: The camaraderie. In my last job, I didn’t get to collaborate with others, but here, if you have an idea about something, it’s all very collegial. We have so many smart people that will get excited about something and come together unlike anywhere else I’ve seen. 

When I’m not at work, I like to: Play music. Until a year ago I was in a Judas Priest tribute band with others from Duke. I’ve been playing guitar for about 40 years.

Something most people don’t know about me: I played tuba for a long time and when I was 11, I started playing professionally with the Hudson Valley Symphonic Wind Ensemble and played with them for four or five years. I was one of those kids who didn’t play sports – I just practiced a lot. I was a portly kid, which gave me enough wind to play well at a young age. Eventually, I saw girls weren’t really interested in tuba players, so I started bass guitar.

An interesting/memorable day at work for me was: Standing in Duke’s rock quarry in Hillsborough with Lincoln Pratson of the Nicholas School filming a segment about rock formation. I’m directing a video with him, setting up a shot and it’s a moment when I realize this video is going to have the potential to educate millions of people around the world.