“Is your deal on the Emu XL–1 Turbo with all the add-on cards still on at the same price?”
Many of my conversations with the staff of what used to be Soho Soundhouse and subsequently Turnkey took a similar turn. I spent a small fortune on music technology as it evolved, and even went there for my guitars, culminating in the purchase of a Paul Smith Standard 24 with the bird inlays at a cool £2,000. The journey began so long ago, as far back as the mid 1980s that I genuinely don’t remember my first purchase there. Like other firsts, it was hurried, clumsy and forgettable. It might have been a Roland TR707 drum machine, then over £450, and like most music tech, now worth £4.50 no doubt.
Every day a part of my consciousness acknowledges the rack containing the Emu with its sister-wives, the Roland JV1080; the magnificent, warm and unparalleled Roland Super JX, AKA MKS–70; the Alesis Microverb; the Emu ESI–4000 and the e-magic Unitor MIDI interface. I acknowledge the remnants of my dreams every day, a reminder of how I didn’t “succeed” in music, knowing full well that had I persisted, I would have.
Ohh the opportunities were there. In the late 1980s, Ben Wardle, an A&R man at Warner, liked what my band (Life in the Bus Lane) was doing, but we stopped. We had a contact with the CEO of CBS at the time, but we stopped. Then later in the late 1990s, I tried again. I started singing. My voice was untrained, the demos were rough, but people liked it. I got a good demo sound, not production-quality by any stretch, but good enough. I wrote some good songs, and recorded a handful. Then I stopped.
Every day I pick up my Dean acoustic fretless and I practice, and every day there is a part of my subconscious that is trying to push the “you could have done this” message to my conscious mind, but my conscious mind left that behind and moved on.
I never admitted that I’d failed, because I used to think that failure was shame. It isn’t shame. Failure is the only time we learn. When a child learns to walk, it fails again and again. It never beats itself up. It never chides itself. It smiles, picks itself up, loves the process and learns to walk. There are probably fewer skills harder to master than walking, but most of us do that without fuss.
I didn’t fail at music. I just didn’t keep going. If I’d kept going, I would have succeeded. What I have learned is that I wasted a lot of time thinking I’d failed. Failure is not shameful. The only thing I’m ashamed of is wasting so much of my time thinking there was no way forward. There isn’t always a way forward, but there is often a way around, or over, or under. There is a way.
My dream was to be a writer of great songs and a recording artist. I never gave up on that dream. What I did was pursue something else. Video games. I kept going and I kept going. I never stopped. I paused, but I never stopped, even when I thought it was over.
I thought it was over for me in 1984 after Jet Set Willy. I didn’t take Richard Jones’ offer of £3000 for Baby Starts Walking on the C64. That was youthful pride. And so I tried to make another game and got nowhere with it and thought it was over. Then I saw Knight Lore and knew what I wanted.
Then in the late 1980s, I thought it was over after a successful stint making games that Telecomsoft published. I’d had a great time and I was on top of the world. After Pandora, I thought I’d blown my chance with the Stampers, and that it was over. Then I got into music and started making music for video games. That led me to my gig at BITS where I spent a few years, after which I went on to Virgin Interactive, Hasbro Interactive and finally START! games where I was on top of the world for a while. And then START! stopped, and I thought it was over. Not just career wise either. Divorce, homelessness, no job, no money, crushing debt, ill health, I thought it was definitely over. After enduring that period as gracefully as it’s possible for a broken man to endure and gettnig by with some contract work for a while, I joined Sony Computer Entertainment at the back end of 2005, 8 years ago this week in fact.
By the tail end of 2005, I thought it was over again, but this time, I knew how to pick myself up. I never gave up the fight. I committed myself fully to work. I threw myself into work with zeal and passion. I found a new remit and a new focus. I totally transformed my life with energy and passion that I might previously have said was impossible. I worked insanely hard, stayed incredibly positive, stayed profoundly happy and with my colleagues, delivered, delivered, delivered. The run continues and I intend to reach new highs.
You see, if you are willing to put three decades or more of effort into something, you are going to be really, really good at it, but only if you care. If you go through the motions, you are doing a job. If you put yourself into it, you are following a calling. There are few forces in the world as powerful as the softness of water on the apparent immovability of rock over the aeons of time. Don’t be the rock. Be the water. Be the drop and fall. Again and again and again.
If I want to be “successful” at videogames, and success can be defined in so many ways, then I have to focus on videogames. Today is a great day for me to give up on my dreams, the dreams that were not meant to be, and to continue to kindle the fire inside that has led me to success I could never have dreamt of. A success that is its own reward. Of pride in my work, in my colleagues, my company, my partners. To deliver work that has moved people, enriched their lives, made them happy, in a way that they admire and aspire to. That is success. Today I give up on my dreams and hold onto that which becomes more and more real every day.