Off the Musical Deep End

My music room
John Scalzi

I mentioned yesterday I thought it was time that I expanded my somewhat haphazard music room into an actual music studio, which made a few people ask why, in fact, now was the time for this rather than some other point in the past or future. The easy answer to this is “because I feel like it,” which is accurate — I do feel like it — but is sort of non-responsive. So here is a slightly longer answer about why I’m going a bit off the deep end on the music stuff right now.

1. Because I can afford it right now. Last year was a pretty good year for me financially and this year to date has been as well, so I have a little extra cash to throw at expanding this hobby without worrying too much about how splurging is going to impact our bottom line. Excepting The Beast — which really was an impulsive fluke that I absolutely do not regret but still probably shouldn’t have done — most of the things I’m getting right now, both in terms of hardware and software, are things I’ve been wanting to get but have talked myself out of previously because of cost issues. But right now cost is not an issue! So they’re getting purchased.

More or less. I talked myself out of getting a Mac laptop for the music room, because I have a fully specc-ed out Dell XPS 13 from a couple that I currently don’t use that often (I use my desktop for writing and pictures, and one of the Chromebooks when I need a laptop), which will work equally well as the music room computer and Digital Audio Workshop carrier. I’m still… well, cheap is not the word, quite evidently, but at the very least (and again, The Beast excepted) I want to be able to make a reasonable use case for every thing I buy. I want what I buy to have value. I can’t make a value argument for a Mac when I have the neglected, perfectly capable Dell just sitting there, waiting to be used at no additional cost to me. So no Mac for Scalzi.

2. Because I’m already competent in my other big hobby. Most of you know I love to do photography, and I’m pretty good at it — so good at it, in fact, that it will be difficult for me to improve substantially without either a huge invest of time or money or both. Time, in the sense of going places specifically to take photos there, and money, in the sense of buying new cameras and lenses to give me more photographic tools to play with. In the latter case, that means a lot of money — the next step up in terms of camera bodies and lenses means five figure layouts for either — and in the former case, that time is more than I want to spend. I like where I am with my photography; I’m not going to stop doing it, but it’s also not a huge challenge to get the photos I want either.

In music, I am what I’d call “low competent” — You give me a guitar, I can get something out of it, but I’m not going to be your first, fourth or fifteenth choice to be on the instrument. Likewise most other instruments, other than drums, which I am in fact reasonably competent. Which is fine! It’s a hobby I do for myself, not for others. But I’m at a point where I want to be able to do more with music than I can do now. There’s more headroom for me to become more competent with music. Right now that interests me. Both for itself and for another reason:

3. I want to do more songwriting. Co-writing that Christmas song with Matthew Ryan last December was cathartic and gratifying for a number of reasons, and another benefit of it was it was a proof of concept that I could, in fact, write songs. I want to develop that facility further. I’m under no expectation that I, a 52-year-old writer of science fiction novels, will suddenly challenge either BTS or Bob Dylan, or most of anyone in between, with any songs I write. But that’s not the point for me. I already have a job; this will be a hobby. I want to get to a point where I can write good songs, by my estimation of what a good song is; I’m not going to worry about much else about it.

What the goal for me (for now) is to eventually have an album’s worth of actual songs that I feel pretty good about, and then maybe put that album out there. I already have the Bandcamp page, after all. The album that’s currently there was stitched together with samples, and was fun to do; I’d like to do one where I make the music myself, and put in words. Which will, uh, take some time to get up to speed. Which is the other thing:

4. I’m 52, gotta get a move on. Which is to say, getting to a level of competence with composing/songwriting will probably take a bit of time, and while I feel good and don’t have any reason to believe I won’t be around for decades to come, I also probably shouldn’t, you know, dawdle. So, no time like the present.


5. While not exactly cheap, music isn’t as expensive/time-intensive as some other middle-aged dude hobbies. Dude, what if I suddenly decided to collect cars? Or model trains? Or firearms? That shit adds up, people. They’re also, like, lifestyles. I don’t want to go to car meet-ups or gun shows or any of that. With this hobby, all I have to do is go to my basement. So easy!

So those are all the reasons I’m going in on all this music stuff right now.

Or, you know: Because I feel like it. Either works.

— JS

31 Comments on “Off the Musical Deep End”

  1. Joe Biden sends his thank you to you for continuing to stimulate the economy.

    Well done.

  2. You really don’t need to justify your actions, except to your wife and daughter. It’s your hobby, if you can, go for it. Have fun.

  3. That number of guitars would make a good wall display. And with pets around, they’d be safer up there.

  4. So what I’m hearing is a Scalzi Sci-Fi Rock Opera? It’s a can’t miss!

  5. Given your specific goal of writing more songs, have you considered either lessons on the instruments where you’re “low competent” or composition lessons with a composer?

  6. I, for one, am looking forward to see how you incorporate the “Asteroids” into your songs.

  7. Yeah. There’s just no way this doesn’t turn into something funny, awesome, smile-worthy. You go!

  8. Every time I look at these pictures I get the Asteroids music/sound effects in my head

  9. Amateur musicians meet-ups are extremely fun and gratifying. You could try, you may get hooked. There’s a bilingual musical camp up here in Québec, many United-Statians attend and they’re really friendly.
    Lookup “cammac dot ca slash en”.

  10. John, I’m 51 and just now studying to be a pilot. This illustrates two points.

    1) You’re right. There are much more expensive things you could be doing with your time (plane rental is $125-ish/hr on the low end) and

    2) You likely have plenty of time to learn the hobby. I say that as someone who refers to themselves as a beginning guitarist with 30-ish years of experience, but I do it because it’s fun, not because I’m good at it. Unlike the other hobby, where I have to be at least somewhat competent to stay alive ;)

  11. While not exactly cheap, music isn’t as expensive/time-intensive as some other middle-aged dude hobbies.
    Oh, John, John, John. Six months from now I hope you’ll wave to us from the other side of the Timesuck Bridge.

  12. Glad to see you use the technically correct name for what you have: a music room. Studio more accurately represents a space in which the primary function is recording. But hey, you stick your Dell with some audio recording software in there and there you are.

    But don’t listen to me because I have a SawStop table saw in the middle of my music room and a band saw, drill press, jointer, planer, and woodworking workbenches all around the perimeter, so my music room would more aptly be identified as a WOOD SHOP! :)

    And not to add to my nick picking, but unless those drums are facing a whole lot of unseen open space (even though they appear to be electronic drums) they’re facing the wrong way. You’re going to want to have a wall behind your stool to immediately lean upon in complete exhaustion after replicating one of those 20 minute Neil Peart or John Bonham drum solos that you know you love so much!

    And lastly, you’re gonna need a bigger amp for that hexaguitar! :) Spend some of those royalties on a Marshall tube amp stack, man! Seriously, have fun!

  13. Does this portend a new wave of SF-themed songs? I clearly recall the original wave, 1969-72 or thereabouts: Zager & Evans’ “In the Year 2525,” Hawkwind’s Space Ritual, the (failed) stage musical Via Galactica, Paul Kantner’s Hugo-nominated LP Blows Against the Empire, etc.

    Actually your talents are, if I may say so, probably better served by going in a snarky direction. Study all of Tom Lehrer first, is my advice.

  14. John, I have no doubt that you cannot challenge BTS musically.
    However, even though we have never met, I somehow have faith that you could do a dance routine that would put them to shame.

  15. LOL at Carl. Counter: Agent to the Stars: The Musical!

    Congrats to you for investing in a hobby at midlife. A lot of people say ‘oh there’s no point in spending that much time/money on something that’s only for fun’ but they are WRONG.

  16. Another vote of support for “gotta get a move on”. I picked up mountain biking “late” (at 41) and about a decade (and a few wrecks) later, still going at it. It’s a fun way to stay fit, the forests in Oregon are gorgeous, and I’m still finding ways to improve.

  17. As long as you’re having fun, that’s a,k that matters. I luckily married a wonderful woman who is a musician too, so she’s fine with me continually expanding my instrument collection. We currently have 21 instruments, 17 of which are mine. As a much delayed 50th birthday present to myself, I’m ordering a custom bass which will take a year to get. I tell myself that will be it for me, but I know it’s probably a lie haha.

  18. You could always become a philatelist. Topical stamp collecting doesn’t typically cost more than the face value of the stamps. You could collect science fiction on stamps. All the various branches of science have their own thematic groups like “paleo-philatelists.” There is even a group that collects math on stamps.

  19. Dude, you have an Asteroids video game front and center. We all know you spend most of your “gee, I should work on my music” chasing that high score from the 12 year old who played the game 40 years ago..

    Or maybe that’s just me. I plead the 5th. Then again, my wife would rat me out so, well, dang.

  20. And who knows, maybe you’ll be asked to join “The Rock Bottom Remainders.”

  21. I don’t know…several of these Scalzi-type. essays on cars, cooking (ooh, BBQ??), or firearms would make for fascinating reading.

    Any interest in astrophotography? Another topic I’d enjoying reading about in your voice.

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  23. That’s a nice setup Mr. Scalzi. I admit I am somewhat jealous of your music room. Any chance you’ll post a video of your drumming skills? Are you more Charlie Watts or Keith Moon I wonder. Also Asteroids, a bold choice. I would have figured you a Galaga man.

  24. Wintemute:

    1.) If Thlord had meant for humans to fly, He’d have given them more money.

    2.) Consider starting out in gliders (sailplanes). You’ll be a better pilot overall–airplanes fly through the air, gliders fly in the air. Plus vastly better enjoyment : $$ ratio.

    3.) If at all possible, add creating music–they go together and feed each other.

    Take it from a retired commercial pilot and continuing cellist…

  25. Gettin’ a move on indeed. For my 69th birthday this year I bought an electric keyboard and a 1-year subscription to Playground Sessions, in order to learn how to play piano. 2 months in, it is going great.
    Having fun! I’m sure you are too.

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