Mike Bland

Request for Berklee Tips

A call for advice and other forms of help regarding my nascent musical career at Berklee

- Boston
Tags: Berklee, music, personal

This week I just started my third semester at Berklee, and this morning I had my first private lesson of the semester with my guitar instructor, Jon Damian. Right off the bat he locked in on the number one thing holding me back: Fear. Specifically, the fear of putting myself out there in musical situations with other people, vulnerable to failure, as a necessary first step to living the dream as of today, rather than wistfully fantasizing about that mythical “One Day” that will ostensibly come between now and graduation.

What is “the dream”? As of today, it’s the dream of getting a band together, writing songs, performing, recording, and touring. It’s more of a “working” dream than a five-year plan, since I’ve tended to roll with the flow more than check off all the boxes of the Standard Narrative. After all, I didn’t quit my job, sell my house, join OKCupid and meet a girl online as part of my master plan to eventually work for Google.1 Neither I nor anyone in the Testing Grouplet saw Test Certified becoming the all-encompassing strategic vehicle that would transform Google engineering culture to make it test-friendly; that insight came years later. And Fixits, though myself and others were able to distill very useful guiding principles and develop handy tools and procedures to maximize the chances of success, relied far more on improvisation in pursuit of a broad strategic goal than complete up-front planning.2 So I’m not attached to this dream as the defining accomplishment of my life; something far more exciting and wonderful than I’m presently capable of imagining may come along to replace it. But it is a dream that’s essentially stuck with me since I first picked up a guitar, then put it down to do the whole programming thing, then picked it up again as the Google and tech-industry-at-large lifestyle failed to suit me any longer.

This fear is not a novel sensation, and I’ve successfully (if painfully) dealt with it before. As I told Jon, for most of the first two—make that three—years at Google, I often felt so unprepared and out of my league that I wanted to run away screaming.3 But, as illustrated above and throughout this blog, I got by with a little help from my friends. So now I’ve thrown myself into Berklee specifically to put myself back in the same sort of sink-or-swim situation, knowing full well I’d never make it alone. Up to this point, however, I’ve shied away from most rehearsal and performance situations, and this semester I’m determined to overcome this personal obstacle, as it represents the single greatest threat to my success here at Berklee—and as a musician in general.

Now to address the Berklee folks specifically: I’ve noticed since updating my Google+ and LinkedIn profiles to indicate that I’m a Berklee student that I’ve gained a number of Berklee students and alums as followers. So, my request to you is to please provide me with any advice you might have regarding how to successfully get together with other musicians—specifically, bass players, drummers, piano players, other guitar players, and maybe even vocalists. Not just getting their attention, though I’m open to such suggestions—Jon recommended contacting department chairs (Done.) and posting flyers.4 But for an older student just jumping back into music as a career change with a lot of catching up to do, how would you recommend I get over the self-doubt and technical inhibitions in order to connect with other musicians musically?

This may be a silly question, but I’ve grown weary of the fear of asking it.


  1. Yes. That really happened. Another story for another time. 

  2. Pardon the indulgence in past experiences; I’m trying to fire myself up here by reminding myself of past obstacles overcome. 

  3. One particular afternoon during my first NYC Test Mercenaries engagement, I actually left work early I was so overwhelmed with this feeling. Much of the rest of the time, I drank the pain away. It’s a wonder I didn’t become a certified alcoholic. Berklee, while much more challenging in ways than Google, has not driven me anywhere near such extremes. 

  4. Where’s TotT when you need it? Any flyering advice is most welcome as well.