When I was already really into listening to music, I was very curious about what each song meant, not only for me, but also for whoever had written it. This curiosity made me “dream” of being able to create my own songs and share them with the world.
A lot of people get into music at first because they want to be an awesome singer or an awesome guitar player. For me, it was always the dream of becoming a songwriter – to be able to create something that was both beautiful and had meaning and could impact other people’s lives in some way.
My name is João Proença and I come from Lisbon, Portugal. I’m Lead Software Engineer and Quality Owner at OutSystems. I’ve lived my whole life in Lisbon and I believe the city has had a major role in defining who I am. As a kid, I was in school with Cristiano Ronaldo, though I hardly remember him from those days.
I’ve had many different roles throughout my career in software engineering: research, quality assurance, development, customer support, even marketing. In recent years, I’ve come back to the quality field as I believe it is an exciting time to be in such a role, in a place where I’m allowed to find creative ways to address software quality in this new age of DevOps and Continuous Delivery.
As a listener, my interest in music started when I was very young, in the early 90s. My father was a CD collector, so there were always 60s and 70s tunes playing in my house. I kind of grew up listening to The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Leonard Cohen, Motown groups, among many others. Then, at some point, my older brother started bringing home CDs from Nirvana, U2, Metallica, Aerosmith. This really got me hooked.
I started learning how to play an instrument a few years later when I was already a teenager. Very quickly, I became interested in being part of a band, which eventually happened when I was in high school in the late nineties.
I’ve always been interested in pop/rock music from the 60s onward, but for music being created in the latest decades, I’m mainly into indie/alternative rock music. I’m mostly a guitar player. I’ve had to play a lot of instruments, such as drums, bass, piano to be able to record my songs on my own. A lot of times, I use my engineering and computer skills to help me overcome my limitations in playing those instruments.
When I was involved in bands in the late nineties, early 2000s, we tried to record our stuff on our own in the basements of someone’s house. In those days, the technologies available to us were limited and we figured out that you really needed (paid) studio time with professionals to get a demo recorded. Today, it’s a whole different game. You can buy a Mac, fire up GarageBand, use a few-hundred-euros-worth of hardware, and you have a pretty decent recording studio running in your bedroom. Of course, being a software engineer has been a huge advantage when dealing with these technologies, as you have to fill the role of artist, performer, producer and sound engineer.
In the last 10 years, I started developing a project on my own, where I have full control. I developed an alter-ego called Marty Was Right, wrote songs, played and recorded all instruments, created videos, got my songs on Spotify, did the marketing work to get the word out about my project. I was fortunate to have some people interested in what I was doing – some online radios and blogs around the world started playing my songs, my video was shared on social media, etc.
I would say that it’s a lot of work (I used to take vacations just so that I could work on my songs) and sometimes it can be really frustrating overcoming some challenges, so it goes a little beyond being “just for fun”. In recent years writing and recording has been slower – that happens once you start having kids and have less time to invest in something like this.
The creative process of writing a song, first in your head and then translating into words and instruments, can be very frustrating and you run into some roadblocks along the way. I was really forced to develop my perseverance; I learned that sometimes you can spend hours trying to come up with the next part of a song and the solution will come to you in the middle of a shower or after a good night’s sleep.
The marketing part also made me learn a lot about how to interact with the world at large. I once asked someone how they managed to have some really “important” music bloggers or show hosts sharing their songs and the answer was simple: “I just send them an email and ask them to do it.”
When I started to put together my solo project and learn how to sing decently (that was another challenge), I found out I needed a different approach to combine music and lyrics. I started paying much more attention to melodies I’d come up with, how they made me feel and how that would translate into lyrics. So while the instruments are playing, a voice-melody starts surfacing in my head and then I put words in, trying to imprint the meaning that makes sense for the whole song idea. It’s a different creative process, where you feel you’re not “creating” but rather “discovering” something that’s always been there but no one has found yet.
I believe that the technological advances we’ve seen have made music production and distribution available to anyone. A few decades ago, you had to be a professional in order to write songs and have them be heard by others around the world, but now you can just treat songwriting as something you do on the side at your own pace.
So I’m not seeing myself making a career out of music – at some point I was offered a record deal by a small independent label (it wasn’t a very good deal, to be honest, but nevertheless it was “a deal”) and I figured that being an engineer was what I wanted to do professionally, while songwriting was just a passion I would like to pursue when it makes sense. If possible, I wish to keep doing it for the rest of my life.
Sometimes, the world sort of tells us that you can’t go far without a lot of natural talent. But I’ve come to learn that hard work and passion can go a long way in overcoming our limitations and producing something that others can appreciate.