It’s only fitting that software engineer and entrepreneur Josh Roach eventually built his own state-of-the-art in-home recording studio. Music has been a constant in his life from childhood. He began playing piano a age five and jumped into classical guitar at about age eight, but his real passion began when someone taught him how to play “Stairway to Heaven” at age 11.
Through high school and the start of college he led a small hard rock band, but then the workload became too much. “I was pursuing several degrees: computer science, math, and artificial intelligence, so I kept my musical chops up, but no longer played in bands,” he explains. “I just didn’t have the time.”
When Roach launched his career as a software engineer, music was constant pastime. He founded the cloud-based work environment company Convisia in 2004. From 2008 to 2012 he led the Mitek Systems’ team that created software that allows people to take a picture of their checks and make deposits via smartphone. In 2012, he founded Boost Academy, specializing in apps that create immersive environments for cloud-based tutoring and training.
Around that same year, his “hobby” in music grew as he discovered a way to use technology to create a virtual version of the band he didn’t have time for. Over the next few years he produced his own CD, West of Wonder. “I got sick of hearing about all these kids cutting albums with Pro Tools out of their houses,” says Roach. “I decided to set up a studio.”
“I’ve got plenty of money to hire musicians,” he says, explaining how he’s hired various professionals, and even an engineer, to help him put his first album together. “The engineer came over and spent maybe three weeks of evenings with me, showing me the ins and outs of Pro Tools, and not just how to record.” He also taught Roach details like what mics to use and where, when to go direct, how to mix, etc. Then a studio musician came over and helped Roach learn to compose songs into a recording.
The process goes something like this: Roach lays down some guitar tracks and a click track, and maybe some of his own drums/percussion. Then the drummer comes over and lays down the real drum track. Next Roach lays down the bass track and some additional guitars, and has the keyboardist come over. Roach would write preliminary lyrics, and a professional vocalist came over and helped him work out some kinks with the lyrics before recording vocals.
Roach calls his band SunStone. “People hear the album, and ask, ‘When are you playing live?’ Well, we are not,” says Roach. “The funny thing is that none of them have ever been over at the same time.”
Roach says that he sees making music as both complementary and a great distraction from his “day” job. “People into math and computer science tend to be musicians,” says Roach. “Maybe it’s just that music is kind of like algorithms. By day I turn coffee into algorithms and by night I turn wine into riffs. When I’m in my studio, I am checked out of work. It’s like a Zen moment. ”
With one album out, Roach looks forward to his next project. “I have 26 songs under my belt,” he says. “I’ve been building up a second one that I think will be twice as good.” He says that the next album will probably once again take him about two years to complete. “I don’t work on it every night, but when I do work on it, I work for long hours at a time.”
Who are your main influences?
Certainly, Jimmy Page is my number one influence because he is so diverse. People think Zeppelin is a heavy band, but half of their stuff is acoustic. For him to produce his own albums is an amazing feat. From there, you have your really great guitar players: Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix. I grew up doing stuff like UFO, Blue Öyster Cult, Aerosmith—all the ’70s hard rock bands. Lately, a lot of acoustic stuff: Chet Atkins, Rory Block. I’ve been learning from a lot of fingerpicking country blues players.
Why do you continue to make music?
It’s the creative process really; it’s fun, but you have to be disciplined. I’ve had nothing but great feedback on this album. A lot of people I hand the CD to are fellow executives and they’re like, what? Now you are a musician? When did you have the time to do this?
How do you continue to learn?
Over the last 10 years I’ve gotten about 10 bookshelf feet worth of tablature—every style out there, hundreds of guitar CDs, and tons of magazines. I go on YouTube. Everybody’s on there and people are doing stuff note for note. I try to learn a new song every day or two.
What benefits have you found to making music?
I think it keeps your brain elastic. You are always learning new things. Even working with Pro Tools is like a chess game sometimes. It’s one of the more sophisticated software programs I’ve ever seen. But I have fun trying to make my musicianship better each and every day. I am always looking for new styles of music and new influences and that’s what keeps me going—the creative process and trying to improve constantly.
How do you make time for music in your life?
A lot of it is late nights and weekends. My only other hobby is working out and I have two young boys with my wife. The studio is at home, so I don’t have to travel. I try to get down there, if not every night, every other night. It’s an hour or two here and an hour or two there. This is why it’s a two-year process to get out 10 or 12 songs—one every month or every other month. It takes a while, but I don’t feel pressured.
What advice do you have for someone getting back into music later in life?
Learn all the great musicians who are online. Pick a song that you have always wanted to learn. Somebody [online] has nailed it, slowed it down, and written it out, note for note. Learn to read tablature, if you haven’t already. So many people stop after they learn a few chords. Don’t just sit around on your bed strumming the guitar the way you used to, get online and learn. It’s like a free lesson from an expert.
What is the best memory you have of making music?
Probably when I completed the first song [for West of Wonder], which is “Refuge.” I played some rough cuts of it for family and friends who didn’t even know I’d been setting up a studio. I said, “I want to show you my studio and play a song.” I played the acoustic track and then I went back and I said, “Okay, let’s add everything else.” They were just blown a way. It was the first song I was really, really proud of.