Chris Gammell's Analog Life

Analog electronics and everything else between 1 and 0

Category: Music (page 1 of 4)

I’m selling my drums

I’ve been playing drums since I was 8 years old; sooner than that if you count pots and pans. But if I look at reality, I haven’t been playing drums for a couple years now and finally decided it’s time to pass them on to another person. Well. Sell them.

The drumset itself was nice enough and I played the hell out of it many times. I even used it to record a few songs with my college band and played some fun gigs. I’m not really sad about getting rid of this set of drums. It’s that I know I’m not going to buy another set for a long time. Maybe ever. So it ultimately feels like an identity issue. I used to be a drummer. Now I’m a former drummer. It’s interesting to think about when that transition actually happens.

I’ve already written a bit about the changes in my work priorities, but there have been changes in my personal life as well. It may seem like a silly example, but switching instruments seems indicative of these changes. I play piano (and sing) instead of drums now. What does this mean?

  • There are no restrictions on sound or when I can play (I can use headphones with my piano).
  • I am making melodic music and singing along.
  • I am the lead player, not a backup player.
  • I don’t require other people to make fully formed songs (experimental drums-only songs aren’t my thing).

The third one is probably the biggest. I don’t want to be the background music anymore. Plus I have always loved singing and that is a very unlikely proposition as a drummer.

As I wrote in my last post, I’m evaluating what got me to the point where I’m living in the isolated suburbs; but since I’m here, I’ve optimized for not having other people around. Finding bandmates requires that they are on the same schedule as me, like the same music as me and are interested in playing music with me. That’s a pretty narrow set of people. I like playing music too much to wait on others to decide they’re ready to play.

So I will celebrate this next step in my life. It’s really a part of a larger trend, I think. I know the general thing makes me happy (music), but I need to find my place in it so I can continue on (piano). Since I have already moved moved on and I still have music in my life, it makes the transition easier. But maybe I’ll go bang on those drums one last time…

Habits, Not Goals

Part of this site used to be public, but is now hidden; it’s a list of goals that I have for myself over the long term.

I went and looked at it recently and realized I have achieved 3 out of 5 in one manner or another, but probably not to the extent that I initially imagined achieving the goal. For example, one goal was “have a music studio in my house”. Recording equipment is super easy and cheap these days and I have it for all my music instruments…does that count? I dunno. I say yes.

But in thinking about revising those goals, I realized there was no way to know if I would ever reach them. More importantly, there’s no way to know if I would want to reach them by the time I actually did. That’s what’s crazy to me. I can set a goal to become an astronaut now (hard pass), but on the path towards becoming an astronaut it’s very possible that I could find out I want to be terrestrial biologist or a children’s author or something I’ve not even heard of yet. You just never know where your path will take you. I got to see a talk on this very subject at XOXO last September and I go back to watch it often. Nicky Case is a wonderful speaker and this was exactly what I needed to see at that point in my life:

So instead, I’m focusing on habits. Really, that’s why a lot of goals exist in the first place. It’s focusing on something far in the future so you can figure out the steps required in the near term. Instead, I’m going to try and change some daily habits to see how that moves me towards a better tomorrow, especially since I have no idea what that will eventually look like.

This actually all started with an app install. I saw a list of “must have apps” and tried installing one called Habit Bull. It’s really quite simple. You input the habit you want to build and every day you track either how much you did of that thing (ie. how many minutes did I read) or whether or not you did it at all (ie. Did I read today?). I normally choose the latter as it makes it a very simple exercise. I also started very slowly. I started with a singular goal,

“Did I walk the dog today?”

Obviously that has benefit for the dog, but also for me. It means my head is in the right place. It means I’m not putting my work above all else. It means I’m getting a little bit of exercise for myself. But that simple question allows me to stay focused. I’ve gradually added other things that seem to indicate daily success.

My most recent one was, “Am I working at my bench by noon?” I have worked from home since I quit my full time engineering job 2 years ago (wowsa, that long ago?). While that sounds like an easy goal (it is), it focuses me on not just reading and responding to emails all day upstairs on the couch and instead being near my electronics. The environment helps me focus even if I’m not working on electronics directly. It also makes me do a little bit of work to go upstairs and grab yet another cup of coffee, which means I might get to sleep at a decent hour later that night.

This all hinges on using the app daily, which I’ve been doing pretty consistently. Even if I miss a day, the “yes or no” nature of these habits makes it pretty easy to remember and back fill from memory. Over time, I hope these habits will become permanent, but my priorities may also change. For instance, right now I’m learning my third instrument (piano) but who knows what I’ll want to learn in the future (tuba?). Also, I should mention that the app is not the real thing that’s driving me to do these things, so much as the idea behind them. Had I been a pen and paper person, a simple log book could have driven me to similar levels of success.

Obviously, writing has not been on my list for a long time. I’m not sure it will be any time soon, either. I like the idea of writing and I think it helps my career, but I’m not sure it’s as much of a priority for me. Another on my list is trying to make a video each day for Contextual Electronics, and that would take priority as that’s my main communication medium these days. Regardless, I like the flexibility and the focusing on things I can get done in the short term. It has helped me focus what I want in my life with regards to health, relationships, career and personal fulfillment on a daily basis.

If you see more articles from me though, perhaps blogging made it onto my list.

Image via the YouTube video of Nicky’s talk.

Engineering the Perfect Day

I don’t get too personal on my blog.

  1. My blog is about my professional life (mostly)
  2. It’s just the way I am

But on the way home last night I was thinking about how I might define a perfect day and thought it could be a good insight into who I am. You might not care but Chris-ten-years-from-now might, so I’ll write it for him. I think the exercise is healthy as long as it’s not taken too far (ie. I don’t plan on arranging my whole life around constructing this day exactly); but in general believe that this image should be used as a guide towards what I would like to be doing with my life and what I would like to accomplish.

  • 7:00 – 7:04 am
    • Wake up to kisses from my girlfriend and two puppies. Lie in bed thinking about what I can accomplish that day. Smell the pot of coffee brewing on a timer downstairs.
  • 7:04 – 7:47 am
    • Watch the Daily Show from the previous evening while drinking a cup of dark roasted, aforementioned coffee and noshing on a scone or waffle. Check on the status of my house and see how the renewable energy storage system is holding up after a night of not being able to collect energy.
  • 7:50 – 8:00 am
    • Walk to my own business/workshop/office just down the street. The weather in my dream-world would of course be beautiful all year round and would never have rain or snow (except on days I’m free to go sledding). Be greeted by my employees/co-workers/friends at the office.
  • 8:00 – 11:32 am
    • Work the whole morning on a new device that will allow people to better harvest energy from the environment in a friendly way (energy scavenging perhaps?). I don’t have more details about this part of my perfect day because the device hasn’t been invented yet.
  • 11:32 am – 12:13 pm
    • Lunch with everyone around the office. Bounce ideas off of people on how to better improve the energy device and how to get it to places people need it the most.
  • 12:13 – 2:34 pm
    • More work. At 1:24 pm I get that awesome feeling you get when you realize you just discovered something no one else has ever discovered (I have had that feeling many more times than it has ever been true…in this case it would be). The product still needs some development, but it’s at that moment that I know it is a viable solution and something that can be made and sold to people who need it.
  • 2:45 – 3:45 pm
    • Celebratory massage (Sometimes you just gotta chill out).
  • 4:00 pm – 5:47 pm
    • Soundcheck and a light rehearsal with my band. It goes flawlessly and everyone is very excited about the show. We decide at the last minute to include a cover of a song that we think will be a crowd pleaser (for all ages).
  • 6:02 – 7:47 pm
    • Dinner with family and a small group of friends at the local bistro. We have some kind of a duck dish paired with a few Great Lakes brews. It is absolutely delicious. The entire meal is complimented by intellectually stimulating conversation and friends getting to meet family.
  • 8:01 – 8:53 pm
    • Relax with bandmates backstage. Visit from tech/nerd/music fan who wanted to meet us and we all hang out.
  • 9:00 – 10:45 pm
    • A night of jazz and funk in front of friends, family and fans. The fans are people that are genuinely interested in the type of music I play. The friends are from all over the country and have come back for this show. The pianos and organs and pedals and amps have all been inspected, repaired and sometimes created by me. I also get to debut a new effect that has never been used before in music production. In lab tests the new effect makes people want to get up and dance 46% more than music played without it. I had previously decided to call it a danceofonium.
  • 10:47 – 12:30 am
    • Hanging out backstage with all of my friends that were nice enough to come to my show. Friends from different parts of my life get to meet and get along really well. Everyone there enjoys good music, food and beer, all of which are being served up liberally.
  • 12:56 am
    • The day ends as wonderfully as it starts: a kiss goodnight from my girlfriend and puppies. I drift off to sleep dreaming of tomorrow.

I know someone out the might ask “But if you feel like music is such an important part of your life, why do you do engineering?” A valid question. First off, I think engineering is an even more important part of my life. I don’t think our chosen work should be taken lightly, as it’s 1/3 of our lives roughly, and because of that I sought out work that continually challenges me and allows me to try different things every day. I think that engineering allows the part of me that wants to impact the world and leave a legacy behind that has much further implications than music. Engineering (and specifically electrical engineering) is collaborative, creative and can have a very positive impact on millions of people. While I feel that music can do the same, I don’t feel like that’s the reason I play music and I’m not sure I would want to play music to try to change the world. In the end, I play music for myself and for my friends and if other people enjoy it, that is an added bonus.

I’m curious, what is your perfect day like? Have you ever thought of something like this before? I think it really can give you and those around you great insight into what you aspire to be and do with your life. I would love to see what you have in mind in the comments on this page or a link to a post you write about your perfect day.

Older posts