There’s only one thing I remember about my tenth birthday. One of my presents was an album by Billy Joel called Glass Houses. It changed my life.
I spent hours listening to - and singing along with - that record, much to the chagrin of my mom and my brother I’m sure. I learned every word, every note. I loved how each song told a story. I could picture the characters. I could see their stories playing out like a movie in my head.
As I continued my exploration of rock and roll, I quickly discovered an affinity for the masters of the well-crafted song. I discovered the Beatles, Paul Simon, and Don Henley. In time I would find people like Sting, Peter Gabriel, and Suzanne Vega who brought a wonderful sort of intellect to the art form. As I got older, I stumbled upon the likes of Neil Finn and Aimee Mann, who wove catchy melodies with thoughtful lyrics and made it look easy.
But of course, it’s not easy. Writing a song is like solving a puzzle. You’re trying to balance a number of sometimes-contradictory elements. Structure, rhyme scheme, rhythm, melody, scansion. Coming up with words that fit within those parameters, while still saying what you want them to say. When it works, it’s miraculous. It’s one of the most wonderful things that we humans do. When it’s done right - when I find myself listening to a song where all the elements of music and lyrics are working together harmoniously to tell a great story or raise an important question or make an interesting observation - it can move me to tears.
All that time spent, during my childhood and in my teens, singing along with my favorite songs - that was my education and my training. That’s where I learned how to sing. That’s where I learned what good songwriting was and discovered my passion to do it myself.
While I’m on the subject of storytelling, I suppose I should tell you a bit of my own story. I was born in Washington, DC and raised in nearby Alexandria, Virginia. For as long as I can remember, I was obsessed with music, movies, TV shows, and plays.
In the third grade, I starred in my first school play and was instantly addicted to performing. I continued doing plays, both in school and at community theaters, and starting singing in the school choir.
At 15, I picked up my first instrument. A lot of guys my age were playing the guitar. Ever the contrarian, I wanted to play the bass. My church had a folk group that played at one of the masses each week. One Sunday after mass, I asked their bassist if he would teach me how to play. He said he would, if I joined the group as a singer. That’s how I became (in my mind anyway) a “real” musician.
It wasn’t long before I joined some friends in starting a little garage band. We mostly jammed to covers, but I had begun writing songs of my own by that point as well. It was thrilling to try them out with other musicians.
At the age of 18, I headed out west to study Theater at UCLA. Acting was my focus in school, but I also took as many music classes as I could, and continued to work on my songwriting in my spare time.
After graduating from UCLA, some friends and I started a theater company. I also started playing bass for a few bands. All the while, I continued to hone my craft as a songwriter and learned to play the guitar. Eventually, I came to see music as my true calling, and started performing as a solo acoustic artist. I performed all over Los Angeles, and also played shows in New York, DC, the UK, and Ireland.
By 2007, I was growing a little tired of Los Angeles and felt the urge to try someplace new. I had been hearing great things about the emerging music scene in Portland, Oregon. I didn’t know a soul there, didn’t have a job lined up, and had only ever visited the city once. But I trusted my instincts and took a chance. In February of 2008, I moved to Portland and have been loving it here ever since.
I have performed regularly around Portland at venues like Buffalo Gap, The Someday Lounge, The Jade Lounge, and Kelly’s Olympian. I've also had some great shows at McMenamins’ hotel properties, including the Grand Lodge, Hotel Oregon, and Edgefield. I even spent a week serenading passersby at the 2014 Oregon State Fair.
In 2013, I started Tailor Made Music by Brian McGinty, which offers custom-written songs for wedding and other special occasions.
Thanks for reading, and for joining me for a small portion of this journey that began on my tenth birthday.
Click here to check out my catalog of recordings.
Click here to read my lyrics.