Aaron Cherof — native Floridian, indoor cat, piano man — is one of the folks who answers your questions when you write — or call — in. We talk about how support works and about the support team’s important role in product decisions.
Aaron, a Berklee College of Music graduate, has also written music for a number of Omni videos — and he wrote the theme music for this show. Thanks to Aaron it’s not just awkward silence when the host calls for “Music!” at the beginning and end of every show. :)
He’s also branched out into sound design for apps: the recent OmniFocus 3 for iOS includes his sound effects.
Some other people, places, and things mentioned:
- Do you believe in life after love?
- Omni’s support website and knowledge base
- Dave Lonning
- Dave Messent
- Liz Marley
- Inside OmniFocus
- OmniPresence video with Aaron’s music and voice
- Mark Boszko
- OmniFocus 2 video
- Fort Lauderdale, FL
- Boston University
- Boston Globe
- Berklee College of Music
- Aaron Bendickson
- Ainsley Bourque Olson
- Tiki Drink
- Ellis Island
Brent Simmons: You're listening to The Omni Show. Get to know the people and stories behind The Omni Group's award-winning productivity apps for Mac and iOS. Music!
Aaron: [singing] You're listening to The Omni Show. Get to know the people and stories behind The Omni Group's award-winning productivity apps for Mac and iOS.
Brent: Yay! Hello, everybody. That was Aaron Cherof who wrote the theme song and is here today, performing it live.
Aaron: Thanks! And I got it in one take, too, huh? What a professional.
Brent: Yeah! Just that one take, that was amazing — well, all the practice. Anyway, say hello, Aaron.
Aaron: Hello Aaron.
Brent: Well done. So the thing people don't know... there's a lot people don't know about Aaron, but... But! And we're gonna discover it all today in 30 minutes. Gonna do his entire life in 30 minutes. People that work here don't realize that his last name is pronounced
/ʃɛərɒf/ — they think its
/tʃɛərɒf/, but that's totally wrong, but you finally got me to remember.
Aaron: Yeah I tried out a brand new mnemonic on Brent. You're the first person to hear my mnemonic, which is: "Hey DJ, turn that Cher off."
Brent: I love that.
Aaron: And it seems to have worked really well, because you've never messed it up since I told you that...
Brent: I'll never mess it up.
Aaron: And yet everyone else seems to be. You only pronounce it
/tʃɛərɒf/ if you're on the phone with my doctor or something, where they really need to spell it right.
Brent: Hmm. Hmm. Makes sense. So of course every time I see you I have to ask myself, "Do you believe in life after love?"
Aaron: The answer is: I'm not really a big fan of Cher, so... decline to comment.
Brent: Cher off.
Aaron: Yeah, I turn the Cher off most of the time, yeah.
Brent: That's fine. What do you think about auto tune?
Brent: 'Cause that song, [Believe], full of auto tune. So much auto tune.
Aaron: Yeah she really opened up the world to the knowledge of auto tune with that song.
Aaron: I think T-Pain also got some action out of the auto tune, I think, right?
Brent: Seems like, yeah.
Aaron: Yeah, I think people are still...
Brent: Seems like I have no idea who T-Pain is.
Aaron: Yeah well, ah, man, he has put together some club bangers-
Aaron: So if you wanna look that up on Apple Music after this podcast-
Brent: Goes in show notes.
Aaron: Oh yeah. I don't think he needs the hits, but sure. Seems like a nice guy.
Brent: Yeah. We like to spread the love around, right?
Brent: Absolutely. You, Aaron, are a support human.
Aaron: That's right.
Brent: I can tell by looking, you're a human.
Aaron: ... Thanks.
Brent: So, as a support human, I'm curious, do you specialize in one of the apps in particular, or how does that work? How do tickets come your way, and then what happens to them?
Aaron: Yeah, so, everybody on the team specializes in OmniFocus, and then has another specialty on top of that.
Brent: I see. Everyone majors in OmniFocus, minors in...
Aaron: Right. Or it's like dual major, I guess. I would say dual major in OmniFocus and OmniGraffle.
Aaron: But when you call into The Omni Group, you only get two options. You get to talk to support, or you can talk to sales, and if you talk to support then everybody's phone rings in the support department. And so, as a support human I don't really know what the question is going to be until I pick up.
Aaron: So just, due to popularity and volume, all of us specialize in OmniFocus...
Aaron: But then we also have some sort of secondary specialties on the side, as well. So, for me, that's OmniGraffle. I've specialized in that as long as I've been here, so five and half years.
Brent: So, you say all the phones ring. Does literally every phone in every support office ring when there's a phone call coming in, or are they somehow routed round robin, and so it's whoever picks up first?
Aaron: It is not round robin. It's all of them ring. We have a rotating system for who is actively on the phones that day. It's usually four people that are on phones, and one person's on social media. And so at the beginning of the day, we calculate who should be on phones by some complicated metric that I don't know off the top of my head anymore. So let's say today I'm on phones. The phones are on from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific Standard time. We take a break for lunch, but as soon as someone picks up the phones, presses 4... or 3? It's one of the numbers. I don't really call in too much, I just pick up. But as soon as they press that, there's not a hold system or anything. Our lines just start ringing. So a lot of the time we catch people off guard by how quickly we are picking up the phone. I've picked up the phone and say "Thanks for calling The Omni Group. This is Aaron." And some people will be still in the middle of eating a scone, or drinking coffee, and kind of catch them off guard. And sometimes people ask if I'm a robot, and the only response to that is to say, with the same exact pitch and inflection, "Thanks for calling The Omni Group" or say "I didn't quite get that".
Brent: Yeah, Siri's my sister. Yeah.
Aaron: "Sorry, ... Brent ... I didn't quite catch that."
Brent: "I can't help you with that." That's brilliant. So, people call in— Every time I call a company, I'm expecting "Well, I have time to make dinner, and take a shower, and do all the normal things", but no, we pick up right away. What the heck?
Aaron: Yeah, to our knowledge I don't even know if we have hold music, because it just rings and then we pick up. I guess I could put people on hold to transfer them to sales or vice versa. Or sometimes I'll put people on hold if they call in with a really complicated question, I need to track someone down to find the answer to it. Yeah, I don't know. Maybe we have hold music that I could write for us too.
Brent: Yeah, that's a good point. Very good point.
Aaron: Always looking for opportunities to get that composition gig in.
Brent: Music is always needed. It just doesn't appear out of nowhere. Aaron has to make it. He has to think of it.
Aaron: It's just awkward silences otherwise, right?
Brent: Yeah, it's terrible.
Brent: So when you're not talking on the phone, you are using— We have some kind of ticketing system I suppose? So how does that work? You come in in the morning...
Aaron: Right. So I come in in the morning-
Brent: You've got work to do, surely. What is-
Aaron: We always use the same ticketing system. We've gone through a couple of different approaches over the years. We used to have tickets assigned. Right now we're using a blackjack style hit me system, where it's one person's responsibility in the morning — only one member of the team does this — where they go through the queues and triage tickets into stuff that's urgent, stuff that people are requesting a call back, and make sure they're in the right product queues, that sort of thing. And then by the time that the rest of the support humans get in... Usually my day starts with responding to open tickets that I've had correspondence with people over the last few days. Situations where someone's written back overnight or late in the day yesterday. I'll start off by writing those, and then when I'm done with my open tickets, I will press a button that says "Hit Me" blackjack style, and it'll assign me-
Brent: Does the button literally say-
Aaron: Yeah, the button literally says "Hit Me". I think that was the word someone threw out in a design meeting when we were talking about this system. It's like, "What if it just said Hit Me." And so it says "Hit Me". And then it assigns the oldest, highest priority ticket in the queue. And so I usually only look at one ticket or so at a time, sometimes a couple if I'm working back and forth with an urgent ticket, where I'm waiting for someone to get back to me. I'll usually take that down time to take another email.
Brent: You mentioned priorities. Do we do a lot of prioritization, or is that a fairly lightweight thing?
Aaron: It's pretty minimal. So, whenever you email The Omni Group, we send out an autoresponder that says "Thanks. We're gonna get back to you as soon as possible. Usually that's 24 hours. Here's our business schedule. If you have an issue that needs urgent triage, please forward this to email@example.com" and that is the only level of prioritization that we currently use. So, if somebody forwards that ticket to urgent, then it'll make its way higher up our queue, or what it really does, is it makes its way higher through our triaging system, so if you have a non-urgent question, you forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org, it doesn't mean you're gonna get your response faster than you would if it were an actually urgent thing, like "Help, I lost something" or "I misplaced a project. I accidentally deleted something." That's the type of thing that we would urgently get back to on.
Brent: When I've worked at smaller companies, one the things that we very deliberately did was write as much self-help stuff, so people could go in and hopefully solve problems on their own before having to write to us. Do we do anything like that?
Aaron: We do. Yeah. We have a support website at support.omnigroup.com. You can also get at it from the banner at the top of any of our webpages. Click help, and then click support, and we have a knowledge base there that is compiled by a lot of different people in the support department. There are a few people that write the support articles right now. I guess we generally just call them help articles, but internally we distinguish between how-to content which is written by the docs folks like Dave Lonning, and support articles, which are written by members of the support team. So, generally, if we have something that a lot of people are emailing about and maybe doesn't make sense as part of our app documentation, then that's a great candidate for something we would write a how-to or self-help article about.
Brent: So they're very much generated by the kinds of questions that you're getting. You know what people need to know.
Aaron: Yeah. Usually it's in direct response to something, like "How come I can't find X in OmniGraffle?" So if I get that question enough times, it behooves me to make that information readily available for other people.
Brent: Sure. So I assume this is all searchable and everything. Anybody could go there and type “OmniGraffle inspector shenanigans”—
Aaron: Yeah, maybe not shenanigans. I know we do have some sort of smart matching for the terms that you type in there, but that's a special one. I would start with “OmniGraffle inspector,” and then go from there. You can filter by-
Brent: But probably something other than “shenanigans.”
Aaron: You can filter by help documentation and how-to, I believe? And you can also filter by app, too. So, you don't necessarily have to type OmniGraffle, you can just type your search terms and then—
Brent: Click on OmniGraffle, then type whatever maybe.
Aaron: Yeah, you betcha.
Brent: All right. That sounds pretty cool. How long have you been working on support articles?
Aaron: I've been working on support articles for just about the amount of time I've been here, so I started working here in the fall of 2012, and at that time, OmniFocus Project Manager, Dave, used to be in the support department, and support articles were his wheelhouse. And so, when he moved out of the support department, I took the torch from that, and for a while I was the only one who was writing support articles, but I've tried to sow the seeds of interest in writing self-help documentation, and now a lot of people are writing that content and I am thrilled about it.
Brent: That's a good thing.
Aaron: I love not being the one bottleneck for it.
Brent: So, Dave was in support. Now he's OmniFocus Prime Minister. At that time, was Liz the Prime Minister?
Aaron: I think, yeah. Liz was the PM of OmniFocus before Dave, so that's about the... that time sort of lines up. Yeah, that was the time where Ainsley was on the support team as well. There's a lot of movement from the support department into other roles at The Omni Group. We kind of self-feed, it seems.
Brent: So when you're writing these documents, do you then work with the Prime Ministers and also with Dave Lonning, our documentation person and so on?
Aaron: Yeah, sure. Yeah, what'll usually happen is maybe one of the Prime Ministers comes up with an idea for content that needs to be written, and then they'll file a bug towards the support article project in our bug tracker, and then whenever someone on the team is able to start working on that, we'll pick that up and then work on a draft, and then send that back to the PMs to make sure everything checks out, and eventually it makes its way onto our website.
Brent: One of the first things I noticed here when I started working here, now almost four years ago, is that support is present at every product meeting, which I think is a really cool thing. So, you're in a position of being the link between user and the product decisions. So what do you think about that part of the job? Is that a rewarding thing, a useful thing, a good thing?
Aaron: Oh, I love it! I've done tech support for a couple of companies before The Omni Group, and this is the first one where I feel like I've been in a position where I'm able to directly affect change within our company and our products. And since I'm someone who talks to customers a lot, sometimes I'm in a pretty good position to know what are the issues the customers are running into, where are the parts of the app they're having trouble with? And even if it's not something going wrong with the app, where are common stumbling blocks that people seem to have trouble with? Is it getting the app setup for sync the first time, or is it coming back to the app after a certain period of time? What are certain phrases, and what sort of language is confusing for people? So that's the kind of feedback that I try to provide in the meetings.
Brent: That's cool. I've seen it happen in a number of meetings, where you or somebody who's from support will say, "Wow, that may be a great idea, wonderful, beautiful, whatever to describe it, but that is just not gonna work with our users." And then the person says why, and then everyone goes, “Hmm. Yeah, you're right. Okay. All right. We'll have to think of something else.”
Aaron: Yeah, I think we had that today, where, I forget what it was, but it was in the Design meeting we talked about some particular change. I said, “Well, if we don't make this, I know for sure we're going to get emails about it.”
Brent: Yeah, right. So the meetings you normally attend, aside from support meetings, you do the OmniGraffle meeting and Website / Design meeting?
Aaron: Yeah, I go to the Website / Design, and I also attend the OmniGraffle meeting. I'm usually note taking, in the OmniGraffle meeting specifically.
Brent: Okay. Since I moved from engineering to marketing, I'm now part of the Design group, and it's bigger than some companies I've been in. It's like a little software company, all on its own, with the marketing website. You know, just all of this stuff. Inside OmniFocus, Inside OmniGraffle, Stenciltown, all of these things, support site, there's an awful lot of output from just this little team.
Aaron: Yeah, we're pretty active. I like that you're in the marketing meetings now, because before that I didn't get to interact with you too much outside of sitting at your table at lunch. I feel like I see way more of you these days.
Brent: Yeah, I was holed up in the third floor. Yeah. So aside from doing support, you have not only written music for this show, you have done other music things for Omni. Tell us about that.
Aaron: That's true. The first piece of music that I wrote for The Omni Group was back when OmniPresence for Mac, that client, launched. So we had a promotional video about it that explained how it worked, and how to set it up, and I did voiceover and the music for that. It went over really well, and I think it was successful enough that we decided to hire a video producer full time, so Mark—
Brent: Oh, what a shame. Oh, okay.
Aaron: Yeah, I mean—
Brent: And that would be our intrepid producer, Mark Boszko. Say hello Mark.
Aaron: He's pretty good, I'd say, yeah.
Mark Boszko: Hello, Mark.
Aaron: I'd like to think I had a small role to play in proofing to the company that video production has its place here at The Omni Group.
Mark: Oh, thank you.
Aaron: Yeah, you're welcome. So since then I don't do quite as much voice work anymore, although I did appear in a support video explaining how Perspectives work in OmniFocus for Mac, but I did get to write music for a bunch of our app launches from 2013 to 2016 or thereabouts, so: OmniFocus 2 for iPhone and iPad, and OmniOutliner 2, and OmniGraffle 6 for Mac. There was a good period where I was getting to write a lot of music. Then I wrote the 30 second app store previews for our apps. That must have been iOS 10? I forget when they started supporting videos.
Mark: I think it was 9.
Aaron: Was it 9?
Brent: Was it 9?
Aaron: Time flies, man. So that was a fun 30 second jingle. My favorite one that I got to write was the OmniFocus 2 for Mac preview. That had like a nice aspirational, inspirational combo vibe to it, and I was very happy with that, but all of the—
Brent: Do you remember how to play any of these?
Aaron: Ummm… [tentative note plays] No.
Aaron: I'm a man of the present and the future. I don't tend to dwell in the past.
Brent: Why look back.
Aaron: I'm sure I have the session files around somewhere, I could cue them up. I'd love to put out a—
Brent: That'd be fun, yeah, if we could put those in the show notes, maybe. That'd be cool.
Aaron: I would love to collect and put out the Omni music that I've done in the past. Maybe I'll—
Brent: We need an album, OmniAlbum, or whatever.
Aaron: Yeah. That'd be good.
Brent: I think so. I'm sure we'd charge a reasonable price for it.
Aaron: Oh, I'll have to talk to Grayson about what the—
Aaron: Yeah. So, when I got to write the music for the podcast, my initial inclination was to write the same sort of genre music that I'd written for the other app previews. I do a downbeat electronica, but positive vibes, you can accomplish more with your lifestyle sort of music, if you know what I'm getting at?
Brent: Sure, sure. I hear ya.
Aaron: So, I was trying to go for that for the podcast theme, and I submitted a couple of demos to you, so along with that I did... I was like, "Well, I guess I'll give him something to choose from, so I'll do this clearly better electronic music thing, but I'll also throw in, as a freebie, this clarinet and electronic piano thing." And of course, you and Grayson were like, [snap fingers] "That's the one." We gotta go with that!
Brent: It was a no brainer. It was so easy.
Aaron: Well, the customer isn't always right, but... in this case, I think you made the right call. Like simplicity really is best, and I think it really has grown on with me. If you picked the other one, it was way longer, for sure. We wouldn't still be listening to it now, but it was definitely 30 seconds, 45 seconds, developing a melody, leading up to your bridge, not all of that can fit into a podcast.
Brent: Using all your training and creativity. Instead we were just like "Nah, just give me a little..."
Aaron: Oh, yeah, well I mean, I went to music school. I want to show it off.
Brent: Yeah, of course you do.
Aaron: To the theme to this podcast.
Brent: Yeah, but we didn't want you to show it off.
Aaron: Well, thanks.
Brent: So before you got into music, you grew up in Spring Break town, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. At least that's what my notes tell me. Were your parents, did they just go there on Spring Break and never left? How'd that happen?
Aaron: Well, that is the dream, but my folks are originally from that area. My dad lived there most of his life, and so I was born and raised in south Florida, and started playing piano when I was six. Or started taking classical piano lessons, and I started writing music when I was 12. All growing up, music was a really big part of my life.
Brent: Are your parents musicians?
Aaron: Nope. Well, my dad plays guitar...
Brent: Hm, okay. That's a musician.
Aaron: ... so he does kind of like have a couple of guitars and plink around on them on a bean bag chair style of guitar appreciation.
Brent: Oh, yes, yes. That's all I do.
Aaron: I was in my school band, like pep band and jazz band. Jazz band I played piano, and pep band I played mallets, so I played xylophones, bells, upright chimes. It wasn't a marching band, so fortunately I didn't have to march with the xylophone. We were a—
Brent: Or a piano.
Aaron: That would have been equally as difficult, if not more.
Brent: But epic.
Aaron: Someday, you know.
Brent: You would have pulled it off. I know. You'd have figured it out.
Aaron: I feel like I could've, but I wasn't the most athletic. I did play soccer for a while, but not enough to stick with it.
Brent: I'm not familiar with... what is this soccer?
Aaron: Oh, I'm sorry. Football.
Aaron: As you call it.
Brent: Oh, I don't know. I like the Seahawks.
Aaron: They're a team, right?
Aaron: They're the football team? No, they're the soccer team.
Brent: Nerds discussing sports is one of the most terrible things.
Aaron: I love ’em.
Brent: It's all sportsball. Mariners are good this year.
Aaron: Are they?
Brent: At least so far. Yeah. That's baseball.
Aaron: I played T-ball. Does that count? I played T-ball and baseball. I was an outfielder, so...
Brent: I was an outfielder too. Right field. Because the ball was never hit out where I was, so that's where they put me.
Aaron: Yeah, I played it from age eight to ten maybe? Not a lot of outfield hits by that age range, so got a lot of time to myself to come up with great new melodies for my music career.
Brent: I remember my greatest baseball play, to this day. It was little league, and I was on first base, and I just kind of stopped paying attention. There were runners at second and third, and I forgot. I decided to steal second, even though there were other runners on base.
Brent: Look, I'm a kid, they're kids. Everyone sucks. So if I run as soon as he releases the pitch, there's no way the catcher's gonna throw to the second baseman, he's gonna catch it, and tag me out. It's just not gonna happen. So, that's what I did. I started running. And the other runners are like... I suddenly wake up. There's other runners. Oh no. They're like "No, don't go" and I'm like "Yeah, I'm going. You go." So they start running. And sure enough, the catcher catches the ball, throws it out to the second baseman, throws it over his head, so the ball is out into the outfield at this point. The outfielder's suddenly now waking up. "Oh my God, there's a ball. We have to come get it."
Meanwhile, the runners are continuing. I get to second base. One runner gets to third. The other scores. And the outfielders finally get the ball, and I think they try to heave it back towards the catcher, but they're like the littler kids, and it's going over the head of the pitcher, whatever, and I'm like "Run!" So we run some more. I advance to third, the other runner scores. That's two runs in, purely on errors!
And I think the catcher finally had the ball and thought the play was kind of over and was tossing it back to the pitcher, and I'm like “He's not even gonna get it to the pitcher.” So I run. I score. Three runs scored. Just on pure kid not being able to play ball.
Aaron: Man, what a story. I'm glad we got to talk about baseball on my episode. Yeah, well, that's probably all the time we have, so thanks for having me on...
Brent: And then afterwards, the adults were mad at me. They were like, “You can't play baseball that way. I know everyone's gonna be awful, but you can't just play.” But, but it worked. We all scored.
Aaron: Is that literally ahead of the game? Is that how that phrase originates from?
Brent: That could be.
Aaron: Could be.
Brent: I was ahead of the game. Where were we? Oh yeah. You're going to school, and then what happened?
Aaron: I was a big music person growing up. I also liked writing. And I wanted to pursue a career in music but nobody told me that there were music careers outside of performance. So, I was like, I love music, but I don't really like to play it live in front of people, so I guess I'll go into journalism. So, I moved to Boston.
Brent: Sure, that follows.
Aaron: Yeah. So I moved to Boston, and started going to Boston University. I started off in their print journalism program in their communications department. And this was in the early 2000s, right when the print journalism apocalypse was happening. The internet was taking over and everybody was losing their jobs. I had a field trip to the Boston Globe, and was presented a view of abandoned offices and tumbleweeds floating around. It was kind of like a cautionary tale to get out of this field while you still can because they had no idea what was going to happen with the so-called internet. Like, how's it gonna make any money? How are people gonna write for it. So—
Brent: But you're literally saying your professor's job was to teach you not do what they would teach you to do.
Aaron: No, I just was good at reading between the lines, I think. They provided a lot of great information about how to do this career that sort of didn't exist any longer, and it was kind of up to me to interpret what they were saying between these lessons, where they talk about, “Wow, I don't know how you're going to do this in the future, but here's how you would do it if it existed.”
Brent: So it's really the history of journalism.
Aaron: Yeah. It was... Well, I'm not a big history person, so I got out of that program.
Brent: Well, it's all in the past.
Aaron: I majored in advertising for a while because I always really liked jingles and short themes and stuff. That's how I got into writing podcast music. And I was like, well, wouldn't it be great if I could write stuff for advertisements. And so I started the advertising program at BU, and then I realized I was kind of more of the account management side of advertising, and not really the creative side. I guess you're supposed to just focus on that creative field, and then get gigs with advertising firms, if you want to do that. And that's about the time that I took an electronics music course at Boston University, and my teacher was like, “Maybe you should look into music production. I think you could do this as a career.” I was like, “That's a thing I could do? Huh. Okay.” And fortunately for me, I didn't have to change apartments or anything, because Berklee College of Music was just down the block from Boston University.
Aaron: So, I transferred over. Went from a liberal arts school to an arts school, and had an enormous leg up on all these people who were singer/songwriters who had never written a paper in their life. I took an art history course at Berklee where the final for the semester was a take-home essay. You had a week to come up with two paragraphs as to why you think art history is a required class for music students.
Brent: Really? That was the essay?
Aaron: Yeah. And I had come from a program where I had—
Brent: Two paragraphs?
Aaron: Two paragraphs. Take it home. Couldn't even do it in person.
Aaron: Yeah. And I had just come from a program where the last semester I had there, I wrote like a 25 page paper on who knows what. Being able to vamp for more than two paragraphs, I think, is a pretty important skill to have. So I majored in music synthesis. But they've changed the name of that department because whenever I say “music synthesis,” the answer is always “what is music synthesis?” So now it's called Electronic Production and Design, which I think paints a little bit more of a picture of what that program is. But I think that might be the same program that Aaron Bendickson...
Brent: Oh, okay. Sure.
Aaron: ...focused on. Yeah.
Brent: All Aarons go to Berklee.
Aaron: That's how that saying goes. Yeah.
Brent: Yeah, right. Okay. Did Aaron Kwong go to Berklee?
Aaron: I don't know. But I do think he has a music background.
Brent: We should send him to Berklee.
Aaron: Yeah, or have him on the podcast.
Brent: So, note to the listeners: We have three Aarons at Omni, and this is two of three. The middle child.
Aaron: But in hiring order, I am three of two. No, I'm three of three.
Brent: Three of two?
Aaron: That's how that math works.
Aaron: I'm the young'un.
Brent: So it's crazy to have three Aarons in one place. I have some experience with this, though. Not with Aarons per se, but when I was a kid, like eight years old, my aunt got remarried, and she suddenly had a stepson. Her stepson had the same name as her son. So there were two Richards. Well, that's crazy. That's a lot of Richards, so I used to just tease them, because I was eight, and I was a jerk. I'd tease them about having the same name. “Couldn't one of you have come up with something different?” No, no they couldn't.
And then, poetically, the same things happened to me. Like six years later, my dad gets remarried, and suddenly I have a stepbrother. Now there are two Brents. And Brent is not a common name!
Aaron: No. What are the odds?
Brent: Yeah. Two Brents.
Aaron: Do you think that's what appealed to that union, that you both had a child named Brent?
Brent: No. No, no. But of course, later, my stepbrother Brent had to have a son, and name him Brent, so now there are three Brents, which is way too many Brents by a factor of infinity than anybody needs.
Aaron: Yeah. And in a family of that size, right?
Brent: Yeah, yeah, right. That's crazy.
Aaron: And to clarify, you don't have a hundred people in your family, right?
Brent: No, no. There's like us, and a few other people.
Aaron: Just a family of Brents.
Brent: I actually have a t-shirt where the tagline is, “Everyone needs a Brent.” And it's got a big picture of a Brent, and it's my stepbrother.
Aaron: You should have a shirt that says “You've got a Brent in me."
Brent: Sometimes I do like to say, “Hi, I'll be your Brent for the evening.” Of course, this makes Thanksgiving convenient, because if I hear my name, I just ignore it, and just watch the game.
Aaron: It's safe to assume they're not talking about you.
Brent: Yeah, why would they?
Aaron: That's what happens in our chat program because every time someone mentions Aaron, I get a notification. And I know they're probably messaging the sysadmin, who's in charge of stuff when things go down, so if anybody's panicked and messaging Aaron, Aaron, Aaron, I kind of just ignore that.
Brent: Yeah, it's not you. Aside from writing music for Omni, you did sound design on OmniFocus 3 for iOS. So tell me about that. So this is the actual sounds that happen when you tap a thing, or swipe a thing.
Aaron: That's right. That was a lot of fun. I haven't had many opportunities to do sound design at Omni before, but OmniFocus 3 for iOS is the first time that we have had additional sound effects. And I think there's only been one alert tone that was in OmniFocus 1 and 2, and over the years, we've had a lot of people ask for a variety of different effects, or to be able to customize them to have different sounds for different parts of the app. So, yeah, I got to write a bunch of sound effects for all the notification types. When stuff is due, when you're arriving at a place, when you're leaving a place, and there are some default sounds used for any of those, but you can mix and match, and you can do the sound effecty ones, or you could do the more musical ones. I provided a range to pick from. I was given a lot of freedom to just kind of cover a lot of bases when I got that assignment, so I think I submitted something like 75 sound effects to Dave. And I was like, “You pick the ones you like. Just pick eight or ten, or whatever.”
Brent: We should put those all on the Omni album.
Aaron: That would be insufferable.
Brent: Yes, it would.
Aaron: It would be an album where there's eight tracks of music that are each 30 seconds long, and then 80 tracks of one second long sound effects.
Brent: I would just put it on loop. I would just listen all day long.
Aaron: Yeah, wouldn't that be great?
Aaron: Yeah. And the great thing about the iTunes store is it's 99 cents per download, so each one of those... I mean, that could be really adding up.
Brent: Yeah. I think we're onto something.
Aaron: Who wouldn't spend 80 dollars on that?
Brent: I know. Is there no way to give an album discount, like make it 70 bucks?
Aaron: I think what you would do at that point is, so if you buy each individual track, it's 99 cents, or you can buy the album for $10.00. So, it's hard to imagine that somebody would buy just one sound, and not the whole album. But I don't know. I don't want to tell people what to do with their money.
Brent: Yeah, right. We have to run this all by... we have to have meetings about it, figure out all this stuff.
You're in Boston, went back to Berklee, graduate, the economy promptly collapses, then you decide to move to Seattle. Why'd that happen?
Aaron: Well, I kind of decided to move to Seattle before I left Boston. I really, really loved and still do love Boston, Massachusetts area, the Northeast. I love the fall, and all the weather and stuff, and the people. I made a lot of great friends there. But when I was graduating, I was at a time in my life where a lot of the people that I went to school with were all moving on and leaving the Boston area. I still have a lot of friends who remain in Boston, but at that point I was thinking to myself, "If I got a job here, I would live in Boston for the rest of my life.” I wasn't totally ready to make that commitment, so while I didn't have too much tying me down, I figured I would explore some different places to live and [inaudible 00:31:18] and try some different styles of life, and the allure of the mystic Pacific Northwest kind of called out to me, with all the pine trees. I heard it was cool in the summer, which was a big plus for me. I'm from Florida, but I kind of don't like the heat. I say “kind of,” but I make it known to anybody who interacts with me that I don't like the heat. I'm very much like an upper mid-70's at the hottest kind of person, and then-
Brent: So you're an indoor cat?
Aaron: Oh, yeah. For sure. You don't play that much piano without staying indoor all the time.
Brent: Yeah, that's true. Though I have liked it when... Seattle's had outdoor pianos from time to time. Other cities too. It's kind of fun.
Aaron: Yeah, I played that around the South Lake Union a couple years ago. Man, those things get out of tune.
Brent: Yeah, they do.
Aaron: I moved out here without much of a plan. I just graduated. I was looking to get into Indie game development and working on music for commercial stuff. So I moved out here just because I liked the area, and at the time I thought, well I might as well be anywhere where, as an artist, I can derive inspiration. I need to be in places that fuel my inspiration. And since then, I've learned that you kind of just come up with inspiration from within. You don't need to be in a specific place in order to make that happen.
Brent: But you could have only learned that lesson in Seattle.
Aaron: I know. Exactly, right?
Aaron: I mean, I'm also saying that from the comfort of my inspiring place, which is Seattle. Who knows. If I moved to New Mexico, I might be in a...
Brent: It's gone.
Aaron: ...creative drought for the rest of my life.
Brent: That right, that's right. It's probably linked, literally, to the water.
Aaron: I would say so, yeah. Anyplace that is either air conditioned or cool without air conditioning is a place where I can be creatively fruitful.
Brent: There ya go.
Aaron: So I moved out here, and like a lot of creative people that graduated in the recession, I found work at the Apple Store.
Brent: That's like the new social safety net for millennials, is Apple retail.
Aaron: I was kind of in that wheelhouse for... All throughout school I used Apple computers. I used Apple computers growing up as well. I was creatively inclined, so I was familiar with Apple's software already, and I had some of their devices. I didn't have an iPhone at the time, but there were a lot of people like me that I met at the Apple store, including Steve and Ainsley, who now both work here as well.
Brent: So, how'd you end up at Omni. You're at Apple retail. So you're Omni-adjacent practically at that point.
Aaron: Yeah, so I did tech support at Apple retail, and one of my colleagues at the time, Steve Schenk, great guy, super close friend—
Brent: Great dog.
Aaron: Oh, yeah, he's got a great dog too. Is that... who's the... Mona?
Aaron: Mona. That's the one. Glad I got it right on the first try.
Brent: I know. If you had said Mabel, you'd have had to press the eject button, and—
Aaron: Yeah, it started with an M, and I was hoping that my brain would catch up as I started forming that word.
Brent: Yeah, you got it.
Aaron: Nailed it. So, Steve Schenk started working here, and then he recommended to me a few months later when they had another opening. He said, “I think this would be a great opportunity for you. You'd be a great fit for the company culture." And that was about the time that Ainsley also applied. She was in the same round of hires as me. We've already heard the story from the Ainsley episode, so if you wanna hear about how I came to be employed at The Omni Group, listen to episode number whatever , with Ainsley.
Brent: Yeah, something, with Ainsley.
Brent: I'll link to it.
Aaron: I famously swore in my interview here, and still managed to get hired.
Aaron: I don't remember what it was about. Maybe something to ask on another podcast episode with someone who was on my interview panel. I don't know why I would do that too. But Dave swears by it.
Brent: When you're not making music, I understand you enjoy a tiki drink from time to time.
Aaron: That's right. That's my new thing. It's been a couple of years—
Brent: Is that Mark's fault?
Aaron: I think Mark is at least 50 percent to blame, maybe around 50 percent. But I grew up near the Mai-Kai, which is one of the great tiki bars in the United States, and I always thought it was a tourist trap. I've driven by it literarily thousands of times in my life, and had never paid any attention to it, and then my partner Ian kind of got me into the tiki thing, and when he was visiting south Florida once, he was like, "Oh, let's go to the Mai-Kai." I was like, "It's a tourist trap. We don't really go there." But he kind of convinced me to go anyway. I was like, "Wow. This is incredible! This is an incredible bar! And what an incredible lifestyle too."
Brent: Ah, the tiki lifestyle.
Aaron: Yeah. I'm not sure how far in I am on the lifestyle aspect of it yet, but with Mark's help, we kind of have a group of Omni tiki-ites, so it's like Mark, and me, and OmniFocus Prime Minister Dave, front end web developer Chris, and then Evan from our test department, are all participants in this fanaticism. And it's been really fun to trade recipes, and go do local tiki bars and stuff, and I would say the amateur bartending part of it is the most fun for me. Making drinks at home.
Brent: Oh, okay. So you buy the weird different rums and strange ingredients.
Aaron: Oh, yeah. Dozens and dozens of rums, man. Before I— when I first started getting into amateur bartending, I started with bourbon, and I pretty much could only make an Old Fashioned, and that was it. And then after many years of collecting, I finally have enough ingredients to make some of the recipes that tiki drinks call for. And they're all very specific over the types of rums that they call for, and mixed sugar syrups. It's a fun hobby too, because unlike pouring out a beer, you pour it out and then you're drinking it, where was the fun in that. Whereas if you're making a tiki drink, you have up to 45 minutes worth of activity before you can even start to enjoy it.
Brent: That's why I like it when other people make the drinks.
Aaron: Yeah, I learned that very thing when I had people over for tiki drinks sometimes. There was one time I did it where, as a great host, I said, well, let me make drinks for other people first. And then I started taking orders, and after an hour of making drinks, people were getting onto their second round before I'd even finished one for myself, and then after that I was like, I'm just making punch for you guys.
Brent: Seems like we should do a whole episode on this tiki thing. There's a lot to unpack here.
Aaron: That would be great.
Brent: We'll do a deep dive.
Aaron: You can have me back on that episode, for sure.
Brent: Okay. Mark, you'll be on that episode too, of course, right?
Mark: Oh, yeah.
Aaron: I mean, what could Mark possibly have to say about tiki?
Brent: Yeah, right. I know. I think we need to know more about tiki. This whole Omni tiki business.
Aaron: It's fun.
Brent: It's like discovering a conspiracy inside the company.
Brent: A cabal of—
Aaron: It's like a fun aesthetic and vibe. The whole retro, kitsch kind of thing.
Brent: Which maps to no actual time or place. It's just a made up coming together of things.
Aaron: Oh, yeah. Well, being from Florida, I've been to Disney World a few times, so I'm well familiar with the idea of creating a fantastical pastiche of different cultures into a wonderful wonderland, so tiki is right in my wheelhouse already.
Brent: Hey, Aaron. Where can people find you on the web?
Aaron: Well, you can find my music at cherof.com, spelled like my last name. That's the benefit to coming up with your family name on Ellis Island, however many years ago. It's not very popular and you can get the domain name. You can also find my music on cherof.bandcamp.com. There's a follow button there if you wanna be up to date with the new stuff that I got coming out. Working on some great new albums.
Brent: Coming soon.
Aaron: Yeah. And my music is also available on Apple Music, and Spotify, Google Play, and my last album, Anagnorisis is out now, and I'm also on Twitter @cherof. So anywhere you wanna reach me, I'm kind of available.
Brent: You're all over the web. Yeah. That's pretty awesome.
Aaron: I gotta get my stuff out there.
Brent: Well, thank you Aaron.
Aaron: Oh, yeah. This has been fun.
Brent: I'd also like to thank our intrepid producer, Mark Boszko. Say hello, Mark.
Mark: Hello, Mark.
Brent: And especially, I want to thank you, for listening. Thank you. Music.
Aaron: [singing] This was The Omni Show. You're welcome.