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In high school, I was obsessed with Pearl Jam. Perhaps obsessed is putting it lightly. I collected bootleg recordings of their concerts, and had over 200 audio recordings and over 50 video recordings. I bought my first guitar, a dark green Squire Stratocaster, so I could learn Corduroy (and eventually the rest of the catalogue). I even bought my first DVD player just so I could watch Touring Band 2000. I organized a road trip with three of my friends to see Pearl Jam live in six different cities across America's heartland. Their unique, screen printed concert posters adorned my walls. I even saw Singles.

Looking back, I suppose I should be mildly embarrassed by this obsession. And I would be, if it weren't for my belief that my fondness for Pearl Jam has either directly or indirectly led me to where I am today. Let me explain.

I collected and traded bootleg concert recordings during a technological transitional period at the start of the 21st century. Home CD-R burning was somewhat common (4x baby), but high speed Internet was not yet widespread. As such, trading was done through the postal service. Collectors would create personal websites that listed what bootlegs they had, and you could email the collector, send them your list of bootlegs, and offer a trade. You would then each burn the respective shows on CD-R and trade through the mail. I had the list of all my bootlegs organized nicely in .txt files, but that wasn't very discoverable by the world at large. I was always the one approaching others for a trade, but what if someone wanted to approach me? I needed a public presence. I needed a webpage.

I had no idea how to make a webpage, so I checked a book out from the library and learned HTML. I didn't learn HTML for fun or for the challenge of it, I learned it to solve a specific problem tied to my obsession with Pearl Jam. This distinction is important.

Right around this time, a group called The Video Mission (TVM for short) set out to create definitive Pearl Jam video bootlegs by pairing the best video source (usually a low generation VHS tape) with the best audio source (in ideal cases, a recording plugged directly into the soundboard) and burning the mix to a VCD (remember those? Essentially a low-res DVD but on a CD-R). I was obviously excited about this project, and volunteered to try my hand at video and audio production. So, through this effort, I became quite comfortable with video and audio editing software, skills that I continue to put into use today. One of the key strengths of Studio Neat, I believe, is our ability to produce all our videos in house.

Naturally, no one wants a bunch of binders full of plain ol' CD-R bootlegs, so it was quite common at the time to create and share custom artwork for each show that could be printed and put into jewel cases so your bootleg collection looked nice on the shelf. So it goes without saying, I learned Photoshop. And again, connecting the dots, almost all of the packaging and other visual design for Studio Neat’s products are designed by Tom and I in the same program. Heck, you could even argue the simple design of their Official Bootlegs has directly influenced our packaging design.

It's clear my obsession with Pearl Jam led to an acquisition of technical skills that I still use today. But I think the obsession affected my life in more nuanced ways as well. Collecting bootlegs often requires an extreme attention to detail. Recordings must be combed for any trace of pops, clicks, or glitches to make sure they are “safe” to trade. The community demands a strict quality standard, and it is imperative to keep an organized list of all your shows, including the recording equipment used and the generation number (if recorded analogue). It is all very meticulous.

Perhaps I have always been an obsessive, detail oriented person, and the whole Pearl Jam thing was a sweet, sweet release. Correlation does not imply causation, but I'd like to think the reverse is true: that my obsession with Pearl Jam trained me to focus, and pay attention to the details. Or at least hone this trait.

It's also interesting to look back and observe how Pearl Jam's style and philosophy have influenced my life and specifically, our business. Pearl Jam have always looked out for their fans, famously testifying in court against Ticketmaster and their egregious fees. There is also an honesty and simplicity to their approach that I really connected with. Their live shows are free of crazy pyrotechnics or other frivolous eye candy, and generally consist of a simple lighting setup and five dudes on stage playing some rock n' roll music. I like to think their approach has influenced the way we run things at Studio Neat.

Furthermore, I would argue that my deep dive into The Jam (nobody calls them that) in high school ultimately expanded my horizons. It was around this time when I started to pay attention to government and politics, as their fan newsletters and many of their songs carried political undertones.

After graduating high school, my interest in Pearl Jam faded considerably, and I now only occasionally listen to them for nostalgic reasons. But their impact remains.

There are two key takeaways here. The first point is to learn by doing. There are many skills that I learned and honed during my formative Pearl Jam years that I continue to use today. I learned these things because I had real, practical applications right off the bat. There is a Stanley Kubrick quote that I love to pull out when such an occasion calls for it: “Perhaps it sounds ridiculous, but the best thing that young filmmakers should do is to get hold of a camera and some film and make a movie of any kind at all.”

The second, larger point is a pro-geek argument. It’s ok to be geeky about things. It’s ok to take things really seriously. It’s ok to fuss over the details. John Siracusa, in his excellent piece about geekdom, defines a geek as simply needing to posses two things: knowledge and enthusiasm. Knowledge and enthusiasm. In my experience, the latter drives the former, and eventually it becomes a virtuous cycle. And you never know where it will lead.

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