In the summer of 2015, I visited Las Vegas for the first time. I had been hired to work on a large Dragone production in China, and the composer for the show, Michael Brennan, was based in Las Vegas. Michael decided to fly me over to Las Vegas to start doing some prep work for the show.
Brian Goes to Las Vegas
I’m not sure how long I stayed there – maybe a week or two. I spent most of my time playing at home playing with Steve the pit bull and experimenting with Ableton Live, a popular music software for live performance and track playback.
Michael was the music director at Le Rêve, a world-renowned show at Wynn Las Vegas. From a music technology perspective, Le Rêve was very similar to Dai Show, the production I had been hired for in China. With that in mind, Michael brought me to work one day, so I could get a better sense of how the playback system was designed, among other things. The visit was extremely helpful, and I got to meet several members of the Le Rêve band as well – little did I know I was actually meeting my future coworkers.
Brian Goes to China
After my stay in Las Vegas, I flew to Xishuangbanna, China with pit stops in Hong Kong and Shanghai. My adventures in China will be the subject of another post in this series, so be sure to check back everyday if you’re remotely interested in hearing stories about the topics below.
- A ride home with a taxi driver on meth.
- Severe food poisoning in rural China with no access to a hospital.
- Riding in a cable car with questionable safety standards.
- Discovering our practice room was finished with toxic glue to save money.
China wasn’t all bad though. We got to stay at a five star hotel with this view for three months. Daily massages, drinking wine with a tropical breeze, spa time, incredible food – I wonder if I’ll ever live that life again.
Brian Goes to Las Vegas (Again)
In the summer of 2016, I moved to Las Vegas to take over as the Keyboard 2 player and Ableton Live programmer at Le Rêve. By that time, Dai Show in China was already over, so I was already very familiar with Ableton Live. The part that scared me the most was playing keyboard in the show. I was an accomplished pianist (I say “was” because I haven’t practiced in a while), but I had never performed in a top-tier show like Le Rêve.
My first few weeks at Wynn Las Vegas were extremely weird – mostly because I had never worked at a corporate job. I remember sitting through orientation, meeting people in different departments, trying to understand employment benefits, eating at the dining hall, etc. It was all so foreign to me.
After a few weeks of training with Paul, the awesome dude I was replacing, I played my first show at Le Rêve. The anxiety leading up to that fateful night was truly next-level, but I managed to get through it in one piece. For the most part, everything was smooth sailing after that.
For a few months, I felt like I had it all. On paper, I did.
- I was a 23 year old making $120,000/year.
- The job was pretty easy. Play two shows a night, and go home.
- Living costs in Las Vegas were much lower than what I was used to.
- The employment benefits were great.
- Lots of hiking and restaurants – perfect for me.
Despite all of the above, my year in Las Vegas ended up being the most depressing one of my life, though I did meet a few lifelong friends – silver linings. After a few years of reflection and growing up, I came to the realization that my discontentment was the result of a struggle between trying to be myself and trying to be who others wanted me to be.
I felt lost.
Let me explain what that means.
First of all, my coworkers in the band were much older than me. That wasn’t a bad thing, and it also wasn’t a good thing – it was just the reality. I still hung out with them a lot, but there was always a fundamental disconnect. It didn’t matter how young at heart they were. At the end of the day, they were still 15-20 years older than me – that’s a whole generation.
The second thing that really bothered me was the Las Vegas vibe. As someone who is deeply interested in financial markets and investing, watching people gamble completely destroyed me. It didn’t matter if they were rich or poor. As you can imagine, this particular personality trait of mine made working at a casino extremely difficult and stressful.
Lastly, I enjoy living somewhere that inspires me. For me, inspiration comes in the form of beautiful architecture, well-designed cities, easy access to great coffee shops, personal safety, etc. That’s why I love living in Tokyo – it has all of those things. Las Vegas did not. The architecture was boring and fake, the public transportation system was terrible, crime was common, and the coffee shops were so-so – at least compared to Japan.
One thing I loved about Las Vegas was the hiking and cycling. My weekly hikes at Red Rock Canyon were extremely rewarding. Up to that point, I spent most of my life in big cities, so having easy access to the outdoors was very new to me. When I first moved to Vegas, I thought I wouldn’t enjoy hiking, but after a few hikes, I was hooked. I also spent 2-3 hours every morning cycling. Now that I think about it, I really miss being in great shape.
These three issues combined made me feel really bad about living in Las Vegas. At the same time, it was very difficult for the rational side of me to give up a $120,000/year job. Whenever I felt like quitting, I always did the math in my head. If I worked for 10 years in Las Vegas and played the investment game right, I could retire before 35. After that, my emotional side would take over and paint a picture of what a decade in Vegas would do to my soul – kill it.
I sought advice from a few people. My parents told me to follow my heart - “you’re 23, it’s not the end of the world”. At the same time, a co-worker tried to convince me that staying at the show and building a nest egg would be beneficial later in life. Both sides presented valid arguments. Emotionally speaking, staying somewhere that makes you sad sucks. Practically speaking, a cushy gig at a world-class show is what 99.9% of musicians dream of.
Eventually, I made the decision to leave, and it was all thanks to Bitcoin – bet you didn’t see that coming. You see, when I was in Las Vegas, I had a lot of free time. In addition to blogging and playing with my roommate’s dog, I also went DEEP into blockchain and crypto. As I mentioned earlier, I’m very interested in financial markets, game theory, market making, etc. Thus, my mind was blown when I learned about Bitcoin. I ended up investing in a few cryptocurrencies, and managed to catch the historic 2017 bull market.
In late 2017, I decided to listen to my heart and quit. Long story short, I sold off quite a bit of crypto in December 2017 during the mainstream retail boom, and used the proceeds to travel for a year. I flew in business class, stayed in nice hotels, and caught up with friends all around the world – Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Munich, Vienna, London, Amsterdam, and more. Don’t worry, I have plenty of photos to share from those trips later on in this series.
During that trip, I ended up meeting my future wife, and now we have a beautiful baby boy. Strangely enough, I don’t think I would’ve met her if I hadn’t lived in Las Vegas. I guess the moral of the story is to listen to your heart. If something doesn’t feel right, do something about it. I’m glad I did.
Sometimes I try to imagine what life would be like now if I stayed in Las Vegas. I think I would still be depressed. It makes me feel extremely grateful for what I have now – a beautiful family, a fully remote job with amazing colleagues, and enough inspiration and motivation to continue pursuing my hobbies.