In today’s age, anyone can be a musician, and I love that. It’s leveled out the playing field. You don’t need a studio to make music, you don’t need a label to fund your record, you don’t even really need a computer to produce a track – you can use a cassette recorder. There are ways of making it happen that didn’t exist before. It’s liberating to know that you can be creative, without necessarily making it a full-blown career.
I’m Tyler Snell and I’m a developer at Madwire in Fort Collins, Colorado. I work with a team dedicated to helping small business owners compete by giving them access to cutting edge technology and marketing. My particular position involves working with multiple types of languages, frameworks, and libraries to consume data via APIs.
I’ve always been fascinated by computers. Before development, they were a big part of my life in creating and recording music, DJing, and gaming. While being a developer requires quite a bit of technical skill, I find it to be creatively satisfying. Development scratches my problem-solving and creative itch. I find joy in both the creative and technical sides of the job, in much the same way as I approach my musical interests.
When I’m not working, I produce music; synthesis has been a long-time passion of mine, and I’ve also been a DJ for 20 years and currently throw a dance party on the last Saturday of every month in Denver with two of my closest friends. It’s nearly four years old and we’re still going strong! Nerd alert – I also run a role-playing game with friends.
I grew up in the suburban sprawl in Colorado, and I found that music was how I was able to connect to the kids in other cities. At the time, it felt like all of the culture I had been exposed to came from touring bands, and I saw music as a way out. I’m lucky enough to have seen Daft Punk as a kid and it changed my life.
I love synthesis in general – Aphex Twin was one of the first electronic projects I got into as a youth and it changed the way I approach my own music. I’ve had my hand in circuit bending and have a few creations I use in my production. Modular Synthesis takes centre stage in my current project, but in the past, I’ve also loved (and still play) electric guitar and keys. I play a mix of techno, house, and disco edits. Lately, I’ve been bringing my modular rack to my events to mix in sounds with records I’m playing. It’s spontaneous and makes the act of DJing that much more fun.
I’m currently developing a live modular synth project to debut later this spring based on sleep rhythms and delta waves. My modular system, also called a ‘rack’, is built to create both soft sounds and harsh chaos. The reason for these two polarized sound sources is due to the type of music I create. My project is called Deep Sleep and involves creating music that aligns with the way people sleep. Sleep is something we all experience differently. I take the perspective of various individuals in society – I then create music which follows that individual from the moment they lay down to the moment they wake up. I need softer sounds for the parts of sleep that are peaceful, and chaotic or dark sounds for the troubles that can find us when we rest. These musical poems are about 10 minutes long and each individual gets their own EP of 4 songs. I’m currently finishing up the first EP, which should be out before summer 2019 (check for updates at https://www.deepsleep.space/).
I’ve also been a DJ for 15 years now, and have been hosting monthly parties for the last 10 years. I’ve always played vinyl, which got me some flack early on, but now it feels like it has really come around. It’s the only way for me. I use a Condessa Carmen V mixer and 2 Technics 1200 turntables. My current monthly party is called Weird Touch – it’s nearly four years old and still going strong. One of our first parties of the year was during a blizzard and we still had a line around the block. We’ve really created a community of people we love. It’s a safe space for people to dance and get weird (in the best way).
My personal favourite spaces to DJ are warehouses, but they are getting harder and harder to find. Most of them are getting developed, leaving a lot of the DIY community without places to do their thing. Eventually, I’d love to buy a warehouse dedicated to creatives to give back to the scene that shaped me into the person I am today.
My favourite experience of DJing was last year, when I was invited to DJ at the music festival Grandoozy. The event was headlined by Stevie Wonder, Kendrick Lamar, and Florence & The Machine. I played 2 stages with one in a tent and another out on a lawn. My records were melting in the summer heat, but it was so worth it!
I also love role-playing games. Growing up, Dungeons and Dragons and the Star Wars RPG were my favourites. I also love Pathfinder because it’s technical and has a lot of interesting classes (the Oracle is my favourite). The stories and adventures I’ve experienced playing dice driven role-playing games have given me some of the best gaming memories of my life. Seeing friends share an experience in person is much more satisfying than sharing one online. You haven’t felt betrayed in a game until your best friend reveals they have been the villain the whole time and kill the party!
I have hosted Dungeons and Dragons at Hall of Gamerz, a local game shop. This came about when I was teaching myself development while staying with my parents in Napa, California, and I found that I really missed playing role-playing games. I was lucky enough that there was a local board game shop that had just opened up near where I was living. I decided I would ask the owner if they ran any role-playing nights – when I met with him, he was more than excited to have me come in and run a game. I ran a drop-in game, which can be difficult to manage because a lot of the time your party is very different from the time before. I became engaged in creating reasons why one character wasn’t in the party and why another was. Little stories that progressed the adventure and kept up the immersion became the highlight of my week.
I also was the DM (dungeon master) for a Pathfinder game – after 3 months of crawling through a dungeon, the party almost wiped in a dungeon with some of the best loot they’d gathered to that point. They had to work together and barely defeated the situation they were in. Friendships became stronger and many dark elves died that night!
There are so many ways that music and gaming overlap with my work in tech. They all involve problem solving, creativity and excitement. I believe excitement is an underrated virtue. It’s what I feel when I do something new, get into character for a game, or play for an audience. Also, effort is an interesting thing. I find that the more time and energy I put into learning something, the more invested I am. It gives me a certain amount of pride and ownership over my time and actions.
I think that music and gaming have made me creative and resilient. Not only am I able to solve dynamic problems, but I’m able to deal with “failure” without giving up. Early on, I’ve played shows to completely empty venues, which can be quite humbling and defeating at the same time. Still, you have to get on stage and do your set. Tech requires a strong internal work ethic and the ability to fix things on the fly. When a string flies off my guitar or my synth decides to quit, I don’t get discouraged. When something breaks at work, I’m able to look at creative fixes because that is how I’ve trained my mind to work.
Good music comes from songwriting and work. I recommend getting your music on as many online places as possible, not just Spotify but YouTube, Apple Music, Soundcloud, Mixcloud, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, etc. For gamers, check out meetup.com for games or events where you can meet gamers. Go to your local board game shop and see if they have a bulletin board for people looking for games. Often times, those shops will have a backroom for gaming – just show up on the correct night and sign up.
Just remember that innovative technology comes from an inner place. If a developer has nothing that brings them joy outside of developing, their work will suffer. Happy and fulfilled developers write better code.