What I love the most about playing piano is the moment that you couldn’t do something, and then suddenly you can. It’s just the same feeling as when you first learn to ride a bike – the feeling of balance. At first, you didn’t have it, and then you have.
My name is Nate McCoy, and my job is VP Publisher Engineering at Verizon Media. I manage a 350 person software development team in 11 countries, 28 cities, and 8 time zones.
I’ve been working in the tech industry for a long time – I became fascinated with computers in 1981 because of the video games potential. I’m a self-taught, no-degree kind of guy: obsessed with computers and love to learn about things that obsess me. I’ve been earning a living doing something with computers since 1983.
My current career phase began in late 1999 when a bunch of friends and I went to join a start-up in the digital advertising space right in the middle of the dot-com bubble. The company IPO was 2 months prior to the dotcom bubble “burst”, and we had enough money in the bank to ride it out and eventually get bought by Microsoft for over $6 Billion. So, that worked out – mostly because I got to work with people I liked on hard problems, while also having fun.
I was born and raised in Seattle, Washington – I’m a true Seattle native-born in the University of Washington hospital. I moved to Baltimore, Maryland for work 3 years ago. There are multiple reasons, but a primary one is given all the time zones I work with, being on the east coast of America has its advantages. And we have a local, awesome office here – great people, hard problems, and it’s a fun place to work (plus – as a plug for Baltimore – Baltimore real estate is way less expensive than Seattle!).
Outside of work, I love Piano and Electronic Music Production. I first became interested in piano when I was 5 because my mother played – I started taking lessons at age 8. During my adult period, I gave two solo recitals of fully-memorized classical music to an audience in the 100-200 range.
My favourite classical pianist is Evgeny Kissin, but I like so many more: Vladimir Horowitz, Artur Rubinstein, Alfred Brendel, Glenn Gould, Radu Lupu, and Ivo Pogorelich. For jazz music, I love Chick Corea, Hiromi, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner, Dave Brubeck, and more.
I’m currently learning Chopin’s Fantaisie Impromptu – it’s challenging because the right hand is in 4 and the left hand is in 3. Everyone can do 3 against 2, but 4 against 3 is harder. So I practiced hands separate for ages. I kept trying to put it together with a metronome and it just didn’t click. And then, one day, it clicked. And now I can play 4 against 3 with impunity! The feeling of getting that made my hair stand on end and goosebumps cover my entire body. It was amazing!
Looking at my other activity, I first became interested in Music Production when computers became truly capable of doing it effectively. I wasn’t a pioneer, but I got on board in the mid-2000s. I started out with Ableton Live as my recording software and have never looked back.
I use a lot of instruments and equipment with my music production, particularly The Steinway and Ableton Live. I have an extensive modular synthesizer setup, which is a world unto itself:
- Access Virus TI2 Polar, Arturia Matrixbrute
- An original Prophet 5 from the early 1980s, for which I am the sole owner.
- Many virtual instruments such as Omnisphere, Stylus RMX, Strobe2, Serum, Equator, Reaktor, Massive, Kontakt, Guitar Rig, and other miscellaneous virtual instruments and audio effect plugins.
My favourite thing about music production is the sound design. I love creating and mangling sound, and just the sheer creativity. I can lose hours and hours in it without noticing the passing of time.
I’m very proud of my most recent track. It’s Brahms Rhapsody in g minor, op. 79 no. 2. I recorded it and put it on my YouTube channel (video available below). I’ve always wanted to play it. The gift my piano teacher gave me was how to approach learning difficult songs without a teacher, and I was able to apply all of his lessons. I find the recording process forces me to examine and hammer out any imperfections. I’m very pleased with the final result.
My future goal is just to make music and have fun. Sharing it with friends and family is rewarding enough for me. I’d love for something I do to go viral and have tons of people love it, but I’m not losing sleep over that. Making music is enough.
I definitely see similarities between my music and my work. The main similarities are working hard, improving, learning new things, and the state of flow one can get into when practicing and performing. With regards to modular synthesizers specifically, the signal flow and routing is so much like coding it’s uncanny – it hits the same part of my brain. There’s complexity, serial and parallel data/audio flow, and I am certain it hits the same part of my brain as software development.
My advice to anyone interested in Piano is that you have to want it. You can try to do it because you think it’s cool, but if it doesn’t grab hold of you and really move you, then move on. But if it grabs you, then go for it. For Music Production, there are endless resources online: YouTube, Ask.Video, and Masterclass. Watch and learn; it’s all out there. The same goes for piano, but it’s also especially important to find a very good teacher, as they will be able to coach you on where you are and what you should do next. This is absolutely imperative.
There is always more than tech, and life is so much more than the thing we do at our job all day. Every creative effort you make outside of work can only serve to stimulate creativity within your job.
Nate’s YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/NateMcCoy
Nate’s SoundCloud Channel: https://soundcloud.com/rhialtothemarvellous
Nate and his brother Phil McCoy also produced an independent feature film called Project London (written and directed by Ian Hubert). The entire film has received over 17,000 views on YouTube, and is available through this link: