Erik Henriksson, Software Engineer & Musician

Playing music has offered me a lot of things that I am grateful for. I have enjoyed getting up on stage to play songs that people like listening to, I had a lot of fun playing and writing songs in bands, I met some nice people, and I wrote songs that I am proud of. There really aren’t many things that compare to playing music, whether it’s the feeling of community you get from playing in a band, the sense of accomplishment you get from creating something that people enjoy listening to, or just the fun of dancing around on stage. I think there is a reason why people who play music keep doing it for a long time.

My name is Erik Henriksson and I am a musician and software developer living in Stockholm, Sweden. I primarily work with web and app development.

I have always had a desire to be creative in my job. Starting out as a front-end developer while studying computer science at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, I found great satisfaction in creating something from nothing. Whether I am building a website or a new part of a mobile application, I find that I always want to make it as good as I possibly can. The things that you create as a developer are a reflection of your skills and your standards at the time, just as a song is a reflection of who the author is at a certain point in time (I believe John Lennon said this – not the software part, but the part about songwriting). As such, whenever you create something that is particularly elegant or useful, it really reflects a development of yourself, which is something that I find very rewarding and inspiring to strive for.

I have always lived in Sweden, in the Stockholm area. It gets a bit cold here in the winter, but in terms of the music industry, tech industry, and work environment, I think we have made very impressive contributions for being a relatively small country. We have musicians like Avicii and Max Martin, tech companies like Spotify and Aspiro (developers of Tidal), and progressive work environments with great benefits for the employees. Still, it does get a bit cold, but it’s a good place to live considering all the other benefits.

Outside of work, I love Music. I started playing guitar when I was 9. I always thought it was fun to play music, even simple melodies. But it really became important to me when I got a bit older, started exploring rock songs, and discovered Jimi Hendrix. I kept a Jimi Hendrix biography on my bedside table like a bible and grew my hair out to look like John Frusciante. I played guitar pretty much whenever I could, sometimes spending 16 hours a day with the guitar strap around my neck.

As I grew older and studied music more formally, I was inspired by musicians from a broad range of genres and backgrounds. I loved listening to music as much as I loved playing music – I started building a record collection during the time when CDs were still a thing. There are plenty of rock albums in the collection, but also a lot of jazz, pop music from everywhere between the 1960s and now, lots of indie, and plenty of hip hop. There are also some rare gems, including collections of African music (I really like music from Senegal), math rock, and niche instrumental albums. I have been told by other musicians that I listen to just about everything. That’s not true, of course, but I have always actively tried to keep an open mind and find new things to listen to.

After I finished my education in music, I played in a few different bands in the pop, rock, and indie-rock/funk area of genres. I had a lot of fun playing rock songs and funk songs that you can dance to. I also really got into songwriting, read a lot of poetry, and wrote a lot of songs on piano and guitar (with lyrics included) that were played in the bands that I was part of.

Writing songs will likely always be something that I do. When it comes to expressing a certain message and emotion, I believe music and lyrics are the best way that we as humans know how to do that.

When it comes to moments that stand out for me in music, I would have to mention some quite early ones. When I took guitar classes as a kid, we used to have concerts every year with a given theme – we got to play songs from some bands or events that were important to music history. I especially remember the year when we had a concert based on Woodstock ’69. I think we really channelled some hippie-like sense of community through that concert, a sense of community that I had never felt anywhere else. I really hope that everyone is given the opportunity to feel like that sometime in their life.

Another moment that stands out is the final day at my elementary school, where I had brought together a band to play Metallica’s ”Nothing Else Matter”. It was the first time that I showed the other students that I could play guitar, and I even took on the task of singing it myself. After we had played, one of the meanest, most cold-hearted kids at school came up to me and told me something like “Hey, I didn’t know that you were actually pretty cool”. Other people whom I had never talked to came up to me and said similar things, and I remember that one of the teachers was in tears because she had been moved by the performance. It meant a lot for my self-esteem as a 15-year-old kid, knowing that I could have such an impact on people.

I also have to mention one of the bands that I have been lucky to be a part of: The Genius Buddha Band, which is an indie rock band. I had met with two of the members of the band when another band I played in shared the stage with them in a dive bar in Stockholm – at the time, I thought they were very talented. When the opportunity arrived, I asked them if I could join them in the new band that they had started, which was The Genius Buddha Band. It was a typical garage band story in some sense, rehearsing at the house of one of the members or the basement underneath a school, taking every lousy dive bar gig that we could, getting paid in glasses of beer or a meal – that kind of story. We had a lot of fun together though, with a loyal following that supported us. Eventually, one of our songs popped up on some playlist on Spotify and some music blog noticed us, which greatly boosted the streams of one of our songs in particular. Nowadays, the band has about 3 million streams on Spotify and around 13,000 monthly listeners, which is not so bad.

On top of playing music, I am also a Piano & Guitar Teacher. I started as a guitar teacher in 2013 and started teaching piano not long afterwards. At first, I was only teaching kids at an elementary school in the suburbs of Stockholm, but I eventually started teaching people of all ages.

Whether I’m teaching an instrument or teaching music, I try to encourage the students to find their own personal relationship to the subject. I want them to find out what music means to them, what they enjoy, and what they can get out of it: whether it’s just having fun making music together, channeling their emotions into something creative, or learning to play some songs that they love. As for many other artistic areas, music will only be as meaningful to you as you make it.

I have a few future goals with my music. Nowadays, I focus mainly on my studies and my career; I don’t play music as often as I used to, but I do enjoy writing songs when I get the chance. I have written a lot of songs, some of which are actually good. I would like to record these sometime and release them for others to hear. It will probably take a long time until that happens, but that also gives me time to live, experience new things, and write more songs, so I’m quite fine with that.

There are many parallels to be drawn between music and tech. I think both fields are full of creative people and dreamers. This is why musical movements and technological development have gone hand in hand with political movements. The Hippie movement and the Black Lives Matter movement are only a few examples. And I think that, just as a band strives to be more than a sum of its parts, so does a tech company. Playing music can teach you to take control of your role and to interact within a group. It can also teach you the value of creating something elegant or meaningful. I believe all these qualities are valuable when you want to work in tech.

For anyone wanting to take up playing an instrument, the most important thing I can recommend is that you make time for it and make a habit of it. It’s the same as for most things – if you want to get good at something, you should practice it every day. Try to also have a relatively clear goal and smaller goals that will help you reach the final goal. If your goal is to be able to play any song that you hear on the radio, then that should not be your first goal. Your first goal should be to learn a single song, a simple one. After that, you learn another. You’ll find patterns, chords that you already know, melodies and scales that are similar. You’ll keep learning lots of songs and you’ll have fun doing it. Eventually, it will be easy for you to learn a new one and you’ll be able to learn any song that they play on the radio with relative ease.

There is always more than tech. No matter who you are, you will always bring more to your work than just your technical expertise. With my story of being a musician in tech, I hope to give a glimpse of one of the many different backgrounds that technologists can have. These backgrounds, experiences, and communities that we have can help us connect with people on a different plane and look at things from a different perspective. This is why it is valuable for us to share our stories with each other.

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