As I opened my mailbox today, among the countless spam flyers there was an issue of the first printed magazine I’ve ever subscribed to.
The issue’s yellow cover had the word “PROG” written in large letters. I run an indie Mac software company and do a lot of programming. But this magazine is not about PROGramming (as my sister, who happened to see it lying on the table, assumed). It’s about PROGressive Rock music. Yes, that music that was most popular in the early 70-ies, or as my former bandmate, Michael, introduced the Pink Floyd medley we were about to play: “This music was written before we were born. Nevertheless, it’s good.”
I love Progressive Rock and adjacent genres, like Jazz-Rock Fusion, Progressive Metal and everyone’s favourite: Classic Rock, whatever this means for you.
But this story is not about music. Rather, it’s about my weird first interaction with the magazine.
As I tore the thin cellophane in which it arrived and removed a one-page ad, which I didn’t care to look at, I was surprised to find a CD attached to the magazine itself. Its thin paper sleeve had a nicely designed cover with flying ravens, which reminded me of Steven Wilson’s melancholic song from 2013, “The Raven that Refused to Sing.”
I know that adding “melancholic” was redundant here. Just as Michael Jackson was the King of Pop, and Elvis was the King of Rock’n’Roll, Steven Wilson is the King of Melancholy. But I digress.
The CD has a sample of new songs from various artists. It would’ve been nice to listen to it.
Except: who listens to CDs nowadays?
My stereo system in the living room doesn’t have a CD or DVD player attached to it. Two Macs that I use, an iMac from 2015 and a MacBook Pro from 2012 don’t have a CD slot. Yes, I do have 3 CD devices at home: my son’s PC, my older MacBook Pro from 2010, which my wife uses to run Windows, and Xbox One, connected to the TV in the basement, which kids use. Basically, nowhere I can listen to music and enjoy it.
I already imagine you asking: “Who reads printed magazines these days?”. And you’ll be right. I’m surprised myself. I’m pretty sure I’ll cancel the subscription because I also subscribed to their online version, which is cheaper, doesn’t have to ship from the UK and available all the time.
But then again, maybe not. There’s something about the feel of its glossy paper and the curiosity of just flipping through it. And, frankly, I forget to read the online articles. There’s so much to read online already. But I digress again.
So, after looking at the cover of the CD and wondering how I’m going to listen to it, I flip it over and look at the small print on the back:
“If you experience any problems using this disc, you should first visit our support page at: www.futureplc.com/discsupport.”
Why yes, I do experience a problem using this disc! It might be not the problem you people expected when you built this support page but… still, I wanted to try my luck. Deep inside, I had a vague hope that maybe, just maybe, there’s a way to listen to the tracks on this disc online and they had instructions on this page.
I carefully type the address.
I press Return.
The page slowly loads.
And I’m presented with:
Nobody cares about discs anymore. I bet Steven Wilson could write a great melancholic song about it.
It’s an observation and not a solid fact, but it surely looks like a significant part of software developers, at least those in the Apple ecosystem, are also aspiring musicians. From personal experience, any Apple developer’s conference of 100 attendees can easily assemble several bands, and in fact, there is one, James Dempsey and the Breakpoints, that has a raving fan base in the community and an album in iTunes.
As to myself, despite my mom being a teacher of music theory, solfège, and classical music in general, my interest in music only started when I became a teen.
And while I don’t think that teen hormones had anything to do with it, somehow from liking rap music I went on to develop a keen interest in learning to play an electric guitar. I remember well that I was mesmerized by the guitar work in En Vogue’s “Free your mind” and on Aerosmith’s “Amazing”. Now when I think of it, I never learned to play these two.
We also had a cool music teacher in grade 8. In those classes, we watched and analyzed Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” It so happens that David Gilmour is also such an inspiring guitar player.
Long story short, I convinced my dad to buy me an electric guitar when I was about 15 and taught myself to play using some books, the Internet of mid-90ies, and a little help from my friends.
Speaking of friends, with some of them we formed a progressive rock band and started to write music. The band was called “Gray Eclipse.” Yeah, marketing wasn’t our strongest point, and we were all fans of Pink Floyd.
We went on to record a couple of demos in a local studio and, after running out of funds for that, my dad sponsored some recording gear. So we continued to record at my apartment (except for the drums, of course). These recordings resulted in a demo album which we were very proud of. We ordered cover art, burned our CDs, printed the cover on an inkjet printer, had a concert in a local community center and tried to get some recording deal. One label liked half of the songs, so we started to work on more material.
Unfortunately, our 18-yo keyboard player drowned in the sea, while heroically saving a mom and her daughter from the same. We became older, and adult life took over our time. Most of the recordings from that time are on SoundCloud. To this day I’m very proud of these.
We never came back together as a band, although my old bandmate and I started to work on a new song in the last year. Hopefully, we’ll get it finished and will be able to share it within the vast and lonely expanses of the internet.
I kept my interest in playing guitar and still have fun playing and occasionally recording stuff. Some recordings are available on the same SoundCloud, including covers of some of my favorite solos.
In 2015, I also recorded two videos of geeky parody covers. First was “Cocoa Police”, based Radiohead’s “Karma Police” with lyrics that only make sense to those who followed community discussions of the transition from Objective-C to Swift.
The second is a more accessible (for non-developers) cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” “App Oddity” tells about the ups and downs of indie app development.
In my most recent video, I recorded the solo from Jethro Tull’s Aqualung, which is one of my favorite albums.
Lately, I try to write and record in a jazz-rock fusion style, and that’s my current focus of creative musical work.
I wonder if the reason that so many indie developers are also musicians or are active in other arts, such as performing or writing, is that programming, especially as an indie, also expresses one’s creativity. As Steve Jobs famously said, it’s the intersection of technology and liberal arts that drives us.
I play guitars. Not professionally. And though I played in a band many years ago and we had a demo album and a small concert once, I was much worse of a player back then.
I write and play on guitars for pleasure. For me, it is both a form of meditation, a creative outlet and something that I can always challenge myself with and see improvement. It is a constant reminder that desire and practice make you better at that thing. And while other people often compliment me on my playing, I often feel like an impostor.
In my combined work & music room in the basement, I have three guitars, two electric and a classical. And some people who come to our house and see them (and the other audio equipment) friendly ask me “Can you play something?”
This question usually puts me in an uncomfortable position. I honestly don’t know what to play. Despite starting playing the guitar over 20 years ago, I don’t have a performing repertoire, and nothing comes to mind at these moments as to what I should play.
Should I try to impress with my half-baked jazz-rock fusion composition (which for me are one the heights of my achievements but most people won’t appreciate) or just play some chords to a song everyone knows. Or maybe I should play “Smoke on the Water” riff or, god forbid, “Stairway to Heaven”?
Should I have an “always-ready-to-please-anyone” repertoire?
Do you ever find yourself in a situation? If yes, how do you handle it?
I made another musical video. This time I remade David Bowie’s excellent “Space Oddity” with lyrics on the subject of ups and downs of indie app development. It should be more accessible to the general population than my previous video about the programming language Swift.
Lyrics are embedded in the video but here they are in full:
App Oddity ~~~~~~~~~~ App Review to Coder Tom App Review to Coder Tom Take your caffeine pills And put your headphones on App Review to Coder Tom Commencing countdown, you’re logged on. Check submission and may Jobs’ love be with you This is App Review to Coder Tom You’re featured on first page And the web sites want to know how much you’ve made Now it’s time to go out and celebrate This is Coder Tom to App Review I’m stepping through the doors And my head spins in a most peculiar way And the App Store’s very different today For here Am I sitting in my basement Far from outside world Why do I feel blue Is there something I can do? Though I’m past one million free downloads I can’t see many sales And I think I might've chosen wrong way to go Tell my customers I care, 'cause they should know App Review to Coder Tom Your app is dead, there’s something wrong Can you fix it Coder Tom Can you fix it Coder Tom Can you hear us Coder Tom Can you… Here am I lying in my basement Far from outside world All I feel is blue And there’s nothing I can do
I covered Radiohead’s Karma Police with modified lyrics about some of the attitude towards Apple’s new programming language, Swift, that I saw on the net.
It’s meant to be fun. Lyrics embedded in the video. Enjoy.