Tyler Smith

Music and agility

If you talk to a white male software engineer in their 30s, it seems like there's a one-in-three chance that they played in a band in high school. When you think about it, the qualities that make a good musician are the same qualities that make a good software engineer. Intrinsic motivation. Hours of focused practice by yourself. Working and collaborating with others.

Many of us fell out of the scene for one reason or another. It could have been family. Maybe work. Or maybe just getting tired of dealing with other musicians.

Growing into our careers

I've watched a diaspora of high school rock musicians move into marketing, advertising, IT and software engineering as they hit their mid-to-late 20s. One thing that strikes me about these fields is the imperative of delivery. Pride and perfectionism are forced to give way to real-world business needs and time constraints. You kick shit out the door and move onto the next project. Yes: the project you just finished could have been better. But no, most of the time it really wouldn't matter if it had been better.

This kick-shit-out-the-door mandate is a stark contrast from me hoarding hours of music I've never released because it wasn't quite perfect. It is a stark contrast from all of the bands I've been in that never played shows because the music didn't "live up to the vision" of whatever-the-fuck. And this wasn't even the strangest behavior.

In many would-be bands I've played with, me or another musician would come to rehearsal with a fully-written song that was gig-ready. But there would always be one musician who threw a fit because he didn't participate in writing the song, even if he couldn't point to a single part he thought could use improvement.

I've never experienced that kind of behavior when working with developers. I'm sure it happens, but the behavior isn't nearly as prevalent as it is in the music scene.

Imagining music without waste

It's easy to focus on the wrong things in music. Writing a perfect song doesn't matter if you never perform. Full stop. Playing an amazing show won't do a damn thing if no one comes to it. Perfectionism prevented many of the most talented musicians I know from ever getting their music careers off the ground. All they have to show for it is years of wasted effort.

Musicians could learn a lot from Agile and Lean principles. Bring five unpolished minimum viable songs to a gig and see how the audience reacts. Shorten feedback loops by gigging often to find out what's working and what's not with actual crowds. Polish the winners, cut the losers. Continuously deliver new songs, merch, and performances. Build, measure, learn.

As I reflect on my experiences with music, I'm forced to recognize that I hamstrung myself with perfectionism. Now I know there are better ways.