From Wembley to Web Standards

*why musicians should learn to code


There’s a kind of mental blankness that being on the road encourages. You have to shut down a few things in your mind, or you’ll go crazy. — Matthew Houck (Phosphorescent)

Hello. I spent many years of my life playing drums in White Rabbits. We made appearances on Letterman, Jools Holland, Conan, Fallon, and Kimmel. We played Wembley Stadium, Lollapalooza, Coachella, toured the world, drank lots of beer, and made several albums

Any musician that spends a fair amount of time touring knows that most days are not filled with excitement. Touring can be a lonely and often times damaging activity. I decided to do something more productive for my (outside-the-van) life.

Musicians should learn to code.

Between tours one summer in my adopted home of Chicago, a friend of mine mentioned that Threadless was looking for an entry-level developer—basically someone to handle their HTML email campaign. Having spent a fair amount of time installing Wordpress for friends and bands, I was familiar enough with code that I figured I’d give it a shot. Turns out I was enough of a cultural fit that they decided to overlook my lack of actual, real-world experience as a developer, and best of all: I could telecommute while on tour.

Most days I would tether my phone’s internet connection to my laptop, log on to a VPN, and code while the band was rolling down the highway on a six-hour drive to the next show (*not recommended if you get car sick). Even though the connection was extremely unstable — we were in and out of networks on a minute-to-minute basis — I somehow got the work in on time. I also found that I really enjoyed coding. Learning to code was opening my brain to analytical thinking previously occupied by blurry landscapes and constant re-watchings of “The Wire”.

Over the next couple of years I taught myself more and more code. I combed Stack Overflow, Hacker News, and A List Apart. I was using GitHub and getting more fluent in Python and Javascript, all the while playing shows and flying around the world. The night the band appeared on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, I debugged some code during rehearsal, played a song on national television, and issued a pull request from the Green Room.

Many times on the road I would splurge and buy a nice meal, a gift to myself after subsisting for years off of a rider of chips, salsa and beer. I now had more money to burn than my usual per diem. Music was becoming fun again, and I wasn’t worried about how the band was going to make its next dollar or how we were going to keep the lights on in our overpriced practice space in Brooklyn. I began to understand drumbeats in the same way I would read Javascript functions. Truth be told, drum patterns are just loops and conditionals anyway.