Composing, Coding and Careers: How Can Music and Tech Intersect?

By Laura Pochodylo

In the minds of outsiders, working in technology draws easy parallels to science and math. But music? Not so much. However, for many Nashville coders, entrepreneurs and more working with technology, it’s a natural pairing.

Nashville landed at #7 this year on ForbesThe Cities Creating the Most Tech Jobs list. While its prowess as Music City USA has never been in doubt, the idea that the new tech-savvy side of Nashville and its musical history come together in perfect harmony is surprising to many.

Knowing how to code is a huge plus in an innovative city with a growing technology industry, but being creative AND a coder? Even better.

Ford Heacock is a full stack web developer in Nashville who builds both websites and applications. In addition to his coding skills, he has a graphic design background and a master’s degree in music theory. He is also a producer and songwriter in Nashville.

“In college, I wrote traditional orchestral music, mostly for small chamber ensembles. During graduate school, I got turned onto electro-acoustic music and writing scores for electronic instruments and live-sound manipulation,” Heacock recalls. “Pretty avant-garde type stuff.”

This experience brought a more technical side of music into his repertoire: producing.

“It got me into the studio and started teaching me about audio and recording and mixing,” Heacock says. “Naturally, I smashed my newfound studio skills together with my composition experience and became a producer. I now write pop and alt R&B tracks for artists here in Nashville.”

Now, as a developer, he doesn’t just draw on the technical experience he learned from production, but the creative side of composition. He finds a lot of similarity in the process of composing music and writing .NET, C# and JavaScript.

“The way I write music tends to be the same way I write software,” Heacock explained. “Lots of broad stroke work initially, working down the details over time. Both require planning and perspective—you can’t rush into either without a plan or you’ll be doomed.”

Composing music, which can often take months, helped him acclimate to the cadence of writing code for long term projects. “It got me used to the pace of some of these massive applications you can get tied into,” he says. “Lots of patience.”

Lori Hylan-Cho, Director of Mobile Development for Comcast Advanced Applications Engineering, approaches the idea of composition similarly. “Often, software engineering and other technical careers are associated with STEM subjects, especially math, but language skills are just as important—if not more important—when it comes to writing code,” she says.  

“I personally find that the structure and logic that I apply to writing code or thinking about how a feature should work or what should go into a release also applies to songwriting,” Hylan-Cho continues. “I play bass and sing in a band with the chief engineer on my mobile development team (he plays drums), and we both put a lot of emphasis on song structure and time signature—and we often refactor songs as we go, the same way we would with code.”

While Nashville’s new status as a tech innovation city creates many jobs for software developers and system engineers, it also creates a welcoming environment for tech entrepreneurs.

Laura Rabell, Chief Creativity Officer of Rabell Creative, is one such entrepreneur. Rabell co-founded a digital marketing agency with her husband, E.J. Rabell, Jr. in 2010. She is also an independent musical artist, touring and working on recording her first album.

When describing her music, Rabell explains she spans genres, pulling on influences from rock, blues, folk and Americana into one sound. Her path towards developing a career in digital marketing, building websites and planning digital campaigns, takes the same approach.

“I’ve always worked in the marketing department of small businesses with only a handful of employees—small enough companies that everyone had to wear multiple hats and tackle many different responsibilities,” Rabell explains.

“I wrangled many difficult websites into submission over the years until one day I realized that I could build a website from scratch. So I guess you could say I’m self-taught in the areas of HTML, CSS and PHP.”

While she relied on her varied marketing background when starting Rabell Creative, she also utilized the creative skills required to be a singer-songwriter.

“I’ve always loved words and poetry. This helps me craft a meaningful marketing message or a website slogan for clients as well as write heartfelt lyrics to accompany my music,” Rabell said.

It works both ways, too. Her musical background doesn’t just help her marketing career—her digital marketing skills bolster her musical endeavors as well.

“Now that I’m an independent musical artist, these skills as a business owner and entrepreneur help me manage the tidal wave of responsibilities that go along with a career in music, such as creating marketing plans, budgeting, managing social media, sending email newsletters, building a website, communicating with my fan base, cultivating relationships, booking gigs, and remaining resilient in the face of rejection,” Rabell says.

While it’s clear that musical skills can translate to technology careers, getting there can seem a little daunting.

Luckily, resources like Nashville Software School (NSS) provide training in a nonprofit, educational setting tailored to the specific technological needs of the city. Using a bootcamp style to train students of all different backgrounds (including music), NSS turns out ready-to-work software developers into the booming Nashville market.

Additionally, communities like WorkIT Nashville and Nashville Technology Council exist to bring job seekers and employers together, and to share developments in the evolving Nashville tech scene as it grows.

While Nashville might seem like a surprising tech hub to some, those who understand the connection between music and the digital world aren’t surprised as the tech community in Nashville flourishes to the tune of 114 percent year-over-year growth in job opportunities.

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