SF Mission Culture Gives One Techie the Guts to Turn to Music

Stephen Gibson playing piano at the Community Music Center, where he often practices and takes voice lessons. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

A family of engineers made it abundantly clear what Stephen Gibson should be when he grew up, and for years, he worked in tech as a computer programmer and project manager. But when the most recent of those jobs came to an end, Gibson took the plunge and tried to make it as a musician – inspired in part by the neighborhood he now calls home.

“The thinking was that working in the arts in any capacity is a hobby at best,” Gibson said. “Moving to the Mission helped. The Mission, where arts exudes from every corner and crevice – The people, the buildings and the culture – [I’m] living in an environment where art and music is is okay.”

The decision was a long time coming. Though the jobs demanded an attention to detail that Gibson says he has, they offered little room for creativity. Gibson studied twice, first civil engineering and then computer science, and decided software engineering and project management was likely his strength. Still, the passion for music nagged.

“My career path is less of a path and more of a comical if not impressively broad journey,” he said. “I would pretty much have an eight- to ten-month time bomb that would go off, where I was like, okay, I need a change.”

At 41, Gibson has taken the leap and is waiting for his big break. But that takes a lot more than just passion, he’s found. First came the experimenting and songwriting that he did mostly within the safety of his home. Then came the connection-forging, which he did at local venues, getting some piano practice at The Myriad on Market Street and getting connected to singers through the owner of Martuni’s bar on Valencia and Market streets.

A friend from Los Angeles came up to work with him on vocals. He got some gigs lined up. As it turns out, this part of the job is hard work and not necessarily creative.

“Moving from being a creative piano player to wanting to produce it in a format others can enjoy, that’s project management, and that is not really creative,” Gibson said.

And as it turns out, he’s not immune to stage fright – “Performing music is a terror,” he admits.

Then there’s the question of what will happen if being a musician just doesn’t pan out. For now, Gibson relies on a cushion of savings.

“Based upon people’s response, I’ll make a decision whether I have years to go or months to go or whether this truly is a hobby or not,” Gibson said. “It’s always going to be my passion. It’s just a question of whether I’m going to be [making career of it].”

Gibson’s music is, by his own account, emotional, romantic, and passionate. The reaction he wants is threefold:

“One is for somebody to kiss. Two is somebody to cry, cause I’ve got some tear-jerkers in there. And then three everybody’s gotta say ‘hell yeah’ or ‘fuck yeah’ at least once,” he said.

Stephen Gibson plays Valentine’s Day Weekend, Friday, February 17, at Brick and Mortar.

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