How can I make this go into this?
Well, it’s been quite a year. This will be my last State of the Stomp column for the foreseeable future, so I wanted to write about something that felt especially important to me, and since I’m writing this on January 1, 2019, I’m particularly reflective. This topic came to mind a few weeks ago as I was perusing an effects pedal forum (as I’m wont to do), and I noticed a forum user taking considerable effort in trying to make another forum user feel bad about their limited gear knowledge. It instantly brought me back to what I consider to be a very formative experience for me, in my teens.
Let me preface the story I’m about to tell with a quick summary of where things currently stand for me. I’ve been in the effects pedal industry for more than a decade, and I spend a good deal of time on forums related to this industry. Part of my interest is to read honest feedback about my own pedals, part of it is that I like to have an idea of what is popular or noteworthy in the industry, and part of it is that I genuinely enjoy interacting with other gearheads. Usually when I take the time to contribute to a discussion, other users respond and really do seem to care about what I have to say. And here I am, writing an article in a popular guitar gear magazine. Needless to say, I’ve been very passionate about guitar-related matters for some time, and I continue to learn something new every day. This is probably obvious, but this was not the case when I was 15 years old. In fact, everyone who knows anything about any topic has a similar story. Whatever things you love, whatever things you care about, there was a time when you didn’t know much about them. In short, I’ve been doing this for a while now, and I’m fortunate that some folks are interested in my musings.
Story time. I think I was 15, and I’d been playing guitar for about six months. I really started to get interested in recording. My interest in the technology of recording passed my interest in playing guitar fairly rapidly, as I recall (although it has since flipped back). Around this time, I procured a MIDI controller. I don’t remember how I got it, but it may have been a garage-sale find. The problem was, I didn’t know it was a MIDI controller.
In fact, I had no concept of what MIDI was. I assumed it was some kind of synthesizer or piano, because it had keys on it. I looked all over for the audio connections to it, but all it had on it were MIDI and power jacks. It was a really tricky time for me to get information, as this was around 1999 and the internet was not ubiquitous yet. Further, I stutter (and have my entire life), but it was particularly debilitating back in those days. I really wanted to get this thing working, though. I was super-excited to try recording with something that wasn’t a guitar.
I went to a big-box music store because I assumed there must be a cable that could change the MIDI cable into a 1/4" audio cable. I searched and searched on my own, because I didn’t want to ask any of the employees and risk stuttering and embarrassing myself, but at some point, I realized that I needed to get some help from someone. I grabbed a 1/4" instrument cable and a MIDI cable. (I often tried to get some kind of visual example for situations like this, to assist my communication and augment my speaking.) I walked up to the guy in pro audio and held up the two cables, one in each hand, and said, “How can I make this go into this?” Of course, it wasn’t that easy. With my stutter, it took a good 30 seconds to get that sentence out, and it felt horrible and embarrassing the entire time. After I finally managed to get the question out, I looked up at the guy and he said, “Are you serious?! MIDI is information; it’s not audio!” He even threw in a chuckle.
For some reason, that was one of my worst memories of stuttering, ever. I cared so much about figuring out this problem, tried so hard to communicate, and felt completely humiliated and stupid. Things are different now, of course. It’s taken a lot of work, but I hardly ever think about stuttering and I believe I’m an above-average communicator. I also know a thing or two about audio. It’s important to remember that everyone is in a different place in his or her journey and search for knowledge. So, in 2019, let’s remember to be kind.