When I entered high school, video games were beginning to lose their appeal. So I sold my four video game systems and all their games at a garage sale and that money, plus some Chanukkah money, bought me my first guitar and amp. I had just tried joined a band as a singer with a couple of guys I knew from school. I didn’t know anything about playing guitar. In fact, it took me a while to figure out what distortion was and why I my guitar didn’t sound like Kris Roe from The Ataris.
In the beginning, being in a band was rough. We had a lot of fun playing together, but just keeping time and making it all the way through a song was a slog. We had agreed I wouldn’t try playing guitar with the band until I had been playing at least three months, self-taught. But this was 2001 and I lived on Long Island and we were playing pop-punk, so it didn’t take too long to catch up. Soon I was writing music, actual original music. To this day, I don’t really enjoy playing other people’s music, because from the moment I picked up a guitar it was an instrument for creating new music with other people.
Writing music was a kind of awful torture I was addicted to. For years, I was absorbing how music sounded. I used to listen so intently that I memorized whole compositions. I wanted to hear every strike of a kick drum, every open string ringing out, every tapped bass note, and every quiet piano layered in deep below the mix. But now that I was writing music, I became become obsessed with its construction. All the nuances I worked hard to hear in music took on a whole new layer of depth as I tried unravel how the song was made. I never heard music the same way again. But my appreciation for the craft of songwriting far exceeded the meager results a few months of having a stratocaster glued to my hands could produce. I would meet and practice with just one of the other members of the band for hours long writing sessions where we would struggle to create something good enough to bring to the rest of the guys and flesh out into a full song. But eventually, within a couple of years, we wrote about 15 songs, at least six or seven of which I was pretty proud of. It was so difficult to write those first songs. It took so many hours at home alone, then working hard with one or two other guys to write new parts and determine a structure, and then eventually months of practice with four guys sweating in a basement practicing the same music over and over again.
I wanted so badly to write my song.
Every band has one. Their song. The real one. The song that every musician who hears your album recognizes immediately as the song that trancends the talent of the individuals involved and is just plain better. It’s not the most complex song. It may not even be the most overtly emotional. It’s probably not your single. But it’s the song that stands out as a proud announcement to the people like me, the musicians who absorb every sound and experience the very structure of the music. Transcendent, to repeat myself, is really the best explanation for it. These are the songs that shook my soul, and I wanted to find mine.
I never did write my song. I ended up quitting that first band after two and a half years and playing with a different set of guys for a bit over year chasing “my song”. I hoped a different writing experience with different musicians might help. Throughout college, I still played guitar all the time, but I never got comfortable writing without collaborators and I never found the right people to fulfill that role. Nowadays I pick up a guitar so rarely. I hear a phrase in a song I love and immediately know I can play it and sometimes get the urge to actually prove that to myself. Once a year, the foggy edges of a song appears in the distance, enticing me to chase it for a short while, and I record a small phrase to add to the library of forgotten riffs and lyrics.
I still listen to music, though not as often and not really the same kinds anymore. And I still can’t listen the way I used to, the way it was before I picked up a guitar and tried singing into a microphone. That part of me is permanently broken in a way I expect only musicians can understand.
I learned something important about myself in my time as a musician. When I’m chasing something I truly love, I don’t feelsome great pleasure. Writing music was about throwing myself into an agonizing chase for the impossible. It was the euphoria of the small accomplishments– a good song performed on stage in front of a crowd that actually responds to your creation, or cracking how to transition from a verse to a chorus– that kept me going. And it was the imprint on my life, mind and soul, that brought me true joy from being a musician as time went on.
Working on product at Allovue feels like writing music. I have never done something this hard, but I do know what it is like to experience a profound need so deeply. There are moments of real euphoria, like when a user describes their experience with Balance in a way so perfectly aligns with our vision that I triple check they are not a plant. And there are moments of agony, like almost every time I start to “listen” to our product and deconstruct it, and feel the weight of a decade’s worth of ideas on what our product needs to match the vision I have had since the first time Jess told me what she’s trying to do.
It feels like for the first time, I just might be writing my song. The real one. And I’m terrified I’m not good enough or strong enough or just plain enough to see it through.