Simon Tam (musician)

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Simon Tam
Simon Tam at the Supreme Court.jpg
Simon Tam at in front of the U.S Supreme Court
Background information
Birth nameSimon Shiao Tam
Born (1981-03-30) March 30, 1981 (age 37)
OriginSan Diego, California, United States
Genrespop music, dance-rock, punk, electro
Occupation(s)Musician, author, educator, speaker
InstrumentsBass, guitar, keyboards, vocals,
LabelsThe Slants, In Music We Trust Records, Pacifiction Records, SBG Records, Boot to Head Records
Associated actsThe Slants, The Stivs, Last Stop Tokyo, Rockaway Teens,,

Simon Tam (born March 30, 1981) is an Asian American author, musician, activist, and motivational speaker. He is best known as the bassist and founder of the Asian American dance-rock band, The Slants, who won their case against the government at the United States Supreme Court. The case, Matal v Tam, was a landmark legal battle that helped expand First Amendment rights for minorities in trademark law. The court ruled unanimously in Tam's favor.[1][2]

Tam has made 13 TEDx appearances as a speaker and performer. [3][4][5] In addition, he often leads Continuing Learning Education (CLE) credit courses for attorneys on his Supreme Court case, Matal v Tam.[6][7][8] He was honored with the First Amendment Award from the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation, the Mark T. Banner Award from the American Bar Association, and Milestone Case of the Year from Managing IP Magazine for his activism.[9] [10] In 2016, Simon joined President Barack Obama, George Takei, Jeremy Lin, and other celebrities in the #ActToChange campaign to fight bullying.[11]

Tam focuses his work on the intersection of arts and activism, especially for marginalized communities. In 2018, he launched The Slants Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides scholarship and mentorship to artists who engage in social justice.

In addition to his activism, Tam is a thought leader in the music industry and hosts a daily podcast show called Music Business Hacks. In addition, he is a regular contributor for Billboard, Music Think Tank, ASCAP, and Huffington Post.

Early life and career[edit]

Tam was born and raised in San Diego, CA. At age 13, he started his first record label, SBG Records.[12]

He attended Grossmont College, Mt. San Jacinto College, and University of California, Riverside, where he double-majored in philosophy and religious studies. During this time, he started a record label and music promotion company called Populuxe Entertainment and was the co-owner of a vintage clothing shop in Temecula, CA. A few months before graduating, Tam dropped out of college to join The Stivs, a punk band based in Portland, Oregon.[13][14] While with the band, he worked on releases "T.B.I.L Revisited" and "Sweet Heartache and the Satisfaction." The band made a short appearance on The Price Is Right and Bob Barker lent his voice as an introduction to their album.[15][16]

In 2004, Tam left The Stivs to form a dance rock band that would celebrate Asian American culture. This eventually became The Slants. During most of his time in Portland, Tam worked for nonprofit organizations as a marketing director and served on the board of numerous social justice organizations.[17] [18] He also finished his college education and graduated with a Master in Business Administration from Marylhurst University in 2013, receiving the Distinguished Alum Award,[19] and began publishing his writing. In 2017, he left Portland and moved to Nashville, TN.

The Slants and the Supreme Court case, Matal v. Tam[edit]

In 2006, Tam launched The Slants. He says the band's name was chosen "as a way of seizing control of a racial slur, turning it on its head and draining its venom. It was also a respectful nod to Asian-Americans who had been using the epithet for decades."[20] Their first album, Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts, won "Album of the Year" from the Portland Music Awards, the Willamette Week, and Rockwired Magazine. The band quickly gained notoriety for their unique retro-synth pop music and for touring anime conventions.[21][22] They were also in the spotlight for turning down a million dollar recording[23] as well as being banned from a Portland music venue for breathing fire despite having appropriate permits from the fir department.[24]

In late 2009, Tam's attorney recommended that he file an application to register the band's trademark.[25] This eventually became an extensive legal battle when the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) ruled that the band's name was disparaging to persons of Asian descent.[26] The USPTO relied on to support its claim. Initially, Tam provided extensive evidence to appeal the USPTO decision, including testimonies from leading dictionary experts, national surveys, and letters from Asian American community leaders, but the Trademark Office remained steadfast in their refusal.[27][28] In 2011, Tam filed a second application that focused on procedural and evidentiary issues in its appeal. The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit initially ruled against him but issued a Motion to vacate Sua sponte (own its own accord). They invited Tam to be arguing the constitutional merits of the law being used against him.

In 2015, the court ruled in a 9-to-3 vote that the law used by the USPTO violated the First Amendment.[29] In 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed and ruled unanimously in Tam's favor.[30] Some legal experts argue that it may be the last unanimous decision issued by the Supreme Court on free speech for several decades.[31][32]


In 2010, Tam started a music industry blog on his music company's website, Last Stop Booking. Tam was quickly recognized by the Ultimate Top 100 Music Industry Blogs List for his direct, succinct, and practical advice.[33] Soon after, became a frequent contributor for Music Think Tank, ASCAP, and had a regular column on the Huffington Post. Eventually, he published two books on the music industry, How to Get Sponsorships and Endorsements and Music Business Hacks.[34]

In late 2011, Tam began writing on racism and the Asian American experience for sites like CHANGELAB's Race Files and YOMYOMF.[35] [36][37] In 2012, his essay, "A Slanted View," was published in Where Are You From? An Anthology of Asian American Writing.[1] Shortly after, he published numerous Op-Ed pieces on his trademark case, Matal v. Tam, for newspapers such as the New York Times and The Oregonian. He also began writing short pieces for feminist publication Bitch Media.[38]

In 2015, Tam's essay, Trademark Offense was published in Oregon Humanities magazine. It was later listed as an honorable mention in America's Best Essays 2016.

Tam is currently writing his memoir and continues to write on his personal blog.

Music Discography[edit]

  • 1996: PR (Hardtack Records) – Pop Punk Ska Funk
  • 1998: Rockaway Teens (SBG Records) – Rock n' Roll Songs From High School
  • 1998: A-OK (SBG Records) – 5-Song EP (producer)
  • 1999: SBG Records – Something for the Kids (compilation CD, producer)
  • 2004: The Stivs (The Stivs) – T.B.I.L. Revisited
  • 2005: The Stivs (Boot to Head Records) – Sweet Heartache and the Satisfaction
  • 2007: The Slants (The Slants) – Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts
  • 2009: The Slants (The Slants) – Slants! Slants! Revolution
  • 2010: The Slants (The Slants) – Pageantry
  • 2012: The Slants (The Slants) – The Yellow Album
  • 2016: The Slants (The Slants) - Something Slanted This Way Comes
  • 2017: The Slants (The Slants) - The Band Who Must Not Be Named EP
  • 2018: The Slants (WYNC Studios) - 27: The Most Perfect Album


  • 2012: How to Get Sponsorships and Endorsements
  • 2012: Where Are You From?: An Anthology of Asian American Writing (Volume 1)
  • 2014: "Music Business Hacks: The Daily Habits of the Self-Made Musician"
  • 2015: "Trademark Offense" (essay published in Oregon Humanities magazine)
  • 2017: "The Power on Repurposing a Slur" (essay published by The New York Times)
  • 2018: "Day of Judgement" (essay published in Oregon Humanities magazine)

TEDx Appearances[edit]

In addition to his active speaking career, Tam was made numerous appearances at TEDx events as a performer and speaker:

  • 2014: TEDxUofW - A New Slant on Racism (talk)
  • 2014: TEDxSalem - Your Life Has a Word Count Limit - Make Every Word Count (talk)
  • 2014: TEDxSalem - The Slants (performance)
  • 2014: TEDxSpokane - Give Racism a Chance (talk)
  • 2014: TEDxSpokane - The Slants (performance)
  • 2015: TEDxUofW - How to Talk With a White Supremacist (talk)
  • 2015: TEDxFrontRange - The Innovation of Immigrants (talk)
  • 2015: TEDxColoradoSprings - Pitching Your Way to the TEDx Stage (talk)
  • 2015: TEDxErie - Losing the Line Between Art and Activism (talk)
  • 2016: TEDxMarylhurstU (host)
  • 2017: TEDxBend - Yes, Read the Comments Section (talk)
  • 2017: TEDxBend - From the Heart with The Slants[39] (performance)
  • 2018: TEDxDupontCircleEd - Once Upon an App: An Online Dating Fairytale (talk)

Honors and Awards[edit]


  1. ^ "In Major Free Speech Victory, SCOTUS Rules for 'The Slants' and Strikes Down Federal Trademark Restriction".
  2. ^ "Justices add eight new cases to docket for upcoming term, 2015". SCOTUSBlog. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
  3. ^ TEDx Talks (2014-12-02), Give racism a chance | Simon Tam | TEDxSpokane, retrieved 2018-07-26
  4. ^ TEDx Talks (2015-07-24), How to Talk with a White Supremacist | Simon Tam | TEDxUCR, retrieved 2018-07-26
  5. ^ TEDx Talks (2015-11-12), Pitching your way to the TEDx stage | Simon Tam | TEDxColoradoSprings, retrieved 2018-07-26
  6. ^ "Dorsey & Whitney Seminar Replay: Simon Tam & The Slants". 2016-02-10. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  7. ^ "The Slants participating in trademark, free expression CLE". Duquesne University School of Law. 2017-04-20. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  8. ^ "Disparaging Marks and Mascots" (PDF). INTA Daily News. May 22, 2018. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  9. ^ "Archer Wins Managing IP's North America Award for Trademark Milestone Case of the Year - Archer Law". Archer Law. 2016-03-21. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  10. ^ "Honoring those who support First Amendment rights - The Washington DC 100". The Washington DC 100. 2018-05-31. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  11. ^ "Jeremy Lin, President Obama join celebrity-filled anti-bullying album". NBC News. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  12. ^ "Music Jobs Podcast Ep. 38: Giving Value Consistently with Simon Tam".
  13. ^ "How 6 College Dropouts Scored Real-World Success | OPEN Forum". Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  14. ^ "The Slants: The Band Who Must Not Be Named". 2017-03-11. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  15. ^ "The Stivs (punk rock band) on The Price Is Right -Bob Barker". YouTube. Retrieved January 4, 2015.
  16. ^ "The Beat is Loose Album credits". Caustic Fallout. Retrieved January 6, 2015.
  17. ^ "Rocker Simon Tam's Toy Car". Sierra Club. 2014-10-03. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  18. ^ "Simon Tam". APANO Rolling Tides. 2016-08-01. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  19. ^ "Marylhurst Magazine Fall 2017". Issuu. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  20. ^ "The Slants on the Power of Repurposing a Slur". The New York Times. June 23, 2017.
  21. ^ "the slants on npr's all things considered". Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  22. ^ "The world's only Asian-American dance rockers: Q/A with The Slants". Retrieved January 4, 2015.
  23. ^ "The Slants are not a gimmick". Retrieved January 4, 2015.
  24. ^ "Kai Interviews Simon about Music Business Hacks - Smarty Girl Leadership". Smarty Girl Leadership. 2018-05-27. Retrieved 2018-07-29.
  25. ^ "Should We Be Able to Reclaim a Racist Insult — as a Registered Trademark?". Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  26. ^ "Portland band the Slants and the United States government ask: What's in a name?". Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  27. ^ "The Slants' Battle Over Their Name Wages On". Race Files. 2015-05-29. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  28. ^ "Opinion | The Slants on the Power of Repurposing a Slur". Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  29. ^ "Opinion | Federal appeals court decides 'The Slants' case: excluding 'disparaging marks' from trademark registration violates the First Amendment". Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  30. ^ "The Slants Win Supreme Court Battle Over Band's Name In Trademark Dispute". Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  31. ^ "The Slants, a Year On".
  32. ^ "SCOTUSblog: Most important free speech case in many years". SCOTUSblog. 2017-06-22. Retrieved 2018-12-10.
  33. ^ "Top 100 Music Industry Blogs". Last Stop Booking. 2015-02-24. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  34. ^ "May 31, 2014 State of Wonder". Retrieved January 4, 2015.
  35. ^ "The Slants' Battle Over Their Name Wages On". Race Files. 2015-05-29. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  36. ^ "Racism With a Twist: The Trademark Struggle Facing Asian American Band, The Slants". Race Files. 2013-10-23. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  37. ^ "The Slants Heading to the Supreme Court". Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  38. ^ "The Fight to Reclaim a Word". Bitch Media. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  39. ^ "The Bulletin: The Slants aim to bridge divides in Bend".
  40. ^ "Hardest Working Asian American Band Done Good".
  41. ^ "American Bar Association".

External links[edit]