Coding, Programming and Music (feat. Sean Wayland)

Sean is an Australian musician currently based in NYC. If you’re interested in reading more about Sean and his adventures in NYC, check out our interview on such matters in the link below:

This interview is for all musicians working with or looking to use their computers or smart devices in creative ways.


Can you please outline your all your current musical projects and professions which make up your life as a professional musician?

I mostly play in NYC. I work as a sideman with various people, in the last year it’s been Nate Wood, Orlando Flemming, Virgil Donati, Frank Gamble and a few other regular people. I play probably once or twice a week occasionally. I also lead my own groups and play once a month or so with a trio with electric bass, drums and me playing synths. Bass is usually Orlando or Sam Minaie. I sometimes tour a bit but not often. This year I went to London and played with Carl Orr’s band. I plan to tour Australia with Andy Gander in early 2019. I write a lot of music and continue to work on it. I think I will record some new music seriously in the next 12 months. It’s been a while since I took a band into the studio.

When did you get into coding?

I want to build VST plugins and apps for phones but none of my coding friends would help. I also exhausted most of the possibilities to have fun making money as a musician and realtor. Including another profession made sense.

Have you had any formal training in regards to computer science and coding?

I am 5 subjects away from finishing a degree in computer science at UNE which finishes in October 2019.

Did your experience as an instrumentalist aid the learning curve for coding in any relevant way?

I learnt how to manage my time after wasting many years practising the piano and not getting anywhere.

Can you share why you think it’s relevant for musicians to learn to code?

I think it’s inevitable that more and more musicians are going to use computers in their music making and coding gives you a lot more artistic scope. I see coding as an extension of artistic practice.

Did you always intend on using coding for music-related purposes or was it something you sincerely wanted to learn regardless?

Making money with it was in the back of my mind, but the musical applications were too fun. That’s why I started.

How many coding languages do you consider yourself familiar with?

C, C++, Python, Java, sql, mysql, php, html, scala, css, javascript

What language would you encourage musicians interested in using coding for creative purposes first explore?

C , C ++ and Python are most useful. They are all fairly similar in syntax and structure. If you learn on the others aren’t too hard. Python is a good one to start with perhaps.

Each instrument has its fundamentals, for drums, this can include rudiments and for bass, it may include scales. What would you say are the key fundamentals for a musician to work on who is wishing to use the laptop and coding as a musical instrument? 

I would start with something easier like max, puredata, and pyo (python).

Can you share if learning to code changed the way you approach composing and/or improvising in any literal or figurative way that is worth noting? If so, why do you think this is the case?

Understanding what can be achieved in code will change what you might consider possible as a musician/composer and change what’s worth practicing. Once I wrote a VST plugin transposed a keyboard with another keyboard, I didn’t see much use in learning slonmisky style licks which involved symmetrical key changes.

Given there are so many educational resources online, where would you suggest a musician start in order to add learning to code to their practice schedule?

I would start with a to-do list of things I wanted the computer to do and pick the ones which might be the easiest to solve. Midi is much easier to deal with than audio. Midi is a good place to start.

Have you created any programs that emulated playing with a person in any shape? If so, could you share what you aim was and how you went about implementing this?

Nothing very serious no. I have tinkered with a drum machine which has random/probabilistic elements to it. It’s an interesting area but I am more interested in how the computer can enhance what I do!

What would you say are the key skills you need in order to use coding in a creative and musical way?

That’s a tough one. A rudimentary knowledge of how an imperative computer program runs is usually the first step. If you know how things get done, then you can be creative about what you might get the computer to do.

Have you created any applications with your coding skills?

A couple of phone apps: an ear trainer and an application that does maths for realtors. I have made a lot of mid plugins and a few effects and synthesizers. The 8 band delay I built waylomodelay88 is the most useful.

I have been working on this website for quite some time.

Where can people go to see your coding/applications?

A lot of my code is here:

Any extra comments or insights you wish to share?

Best to use a proper editor when writing code, definitely not a basic text editor.  an ” is not an ” in the eyes of a computer looking at a program. Some sort of IDE is best. StackExchange is a good place to look for solutions to problems. Most programs start with another program and then get changed. You don’t really need to understand all the code to do that. You just need patience and to lose your fear. Jump in!!

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