I’ve always felt like I have average intelligence and average talent. There are things I’m pretty good at and things I’m just not suited for at all, but for the most part I am one of those people who can hold their own and get by. I’ve mentioned it before, but both of my parents were self-employed most of my life (especially my mom). I have always been interested in stuff…Learning how stuff worked. How things were built. Sometimes even the slightest exposure to a new hobby or interest would take over my life for awhile. Despite being a B’s and C’s student in high school, I’ve always really enjoyed learning new stuff.
Teaching myself how to play guitar at 15 was the first really challenging thing I ever undertook in my life. I was an average baseball player, average BMX racer, etc, so I wanted to learn how to do something above average (at least I thought so) and decided to REALLY learn how to play guitar. I had no plan other than learn to play all the Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin riffs my fingers would accommodate. After about a year of sometimes playing 8 hours a day, I felt like I was comfortable playing some of the more difficult songs I challenged myself to learn. I felt accomplished, simply because I had no plan and average talent, but was not afraid to put in the effort and now I could entertain myself by playing along with my favorite records.
My best friend Mike and I had been sort of “jamming” together (he played drums) for a few months and we had hear of some guys across town that had a “real” band. Guitar, bass and a drummer that also sang. Turns out, that amazing guitar player lived around the corner from me (literally 6 or 7 houses away). We invited him over to meet him and he asked about our band. We said it was just the two of us . He had an idea…What if he and I both played guitar, Mike played drums, Ty played bass and their drummer / singer just sang? We could be a 5 piece band. I was over the moon. He pitched the idea to his guys and they agreed.
Fast-forward to the next week: Halloween Night, 1984. Our first practice. We all piled in Ty’s garage, tuned up and launched into N.I.B. by Black Sabbath. It was surreal. In less than two years I went from being a beginner guitar player to being in an actual band. I didn’t think it could get any better in life. Fast-forward again to 1988 and I went on tour for the first time. I decided to start my own record label at 20. The following year we recorded our first album and went on tour of the US for two months. Let me tell you, we really put the hours in as a band. Rehearsed our asses off and became a formidable unit. Incredibly proud of that time in my life. Never had a plan, but didn’t back away from opportunity and hard work along the way (the journey is the destination, and all that).
I knew learning to play guitar would be really hard, but I put in the effort and figured out how to do it. It certainly taught me something that I’ve held with me my whole career in technology (28 year now)…It’s completely ok, to not have a clue how you’re going to complete something when you first start. It just takes a spark of motivation and the confidence to know it will all be fine. Songwriting is very much like software development in this regard. Both are unlimited in terms of possibilities and the best music and software is original and done by people who don’t follow the rules.
So…are you gon’ get to the point any time soon or…?
So…Whenever I take on a huge, complicated project I remind myself that it’s completely ok to have no clue HOW I’m going to solve the problem. I’ve developed my own methodology that works for me (but would probably be a bit stupifying to other coders). I take very much the same approach to code as I did to writing music (Software starts with an idea. Music starts with an idea (a riff, in my case)). Where it goes from there is the FUN part. Start from 10,000 feet and start zooming in and building out the detail. Collaborate and get inspired. Break the rules (or just ignore them). The sense of satisfaction in completing a project is very much like writing a song (or a whole album). You did it. You put something new in the world and it feels damn good.
Inevitably, there will be some issues that will arise, but you have to be confident that your Figure-It-Out gene will help you figure it out. There’s always a way.
Just be creative and get it done.