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Tell me about your work is a new interview series published by the Division of Jazz Studies at UNT. We're interested in knowing more about the work life of our alumni, what role their musical education plays in the work they do, and what their musical lives are like now. Knowing this will give current students a broader sense of the career paths they could follow, and could suggest ways to prepare for them while they are still studying at UNT. --John Murphy

Tell me about your work: Ben Jackson

Ben Jackson

B.M. in Jazz Studies, 2006

Ben Jackson playing drums

What sort of work do you do?

Like many professional musicians of my generation, I split my time between a few different roles. I am a freelance session drummer, as well as a producer and mix engineer.

What led to you doing this sort of work?

Studio work was always something I knew I wanted to do, even before college, and while the focus was on honing my craft as a player at the time, I was very curious about the processes and skills involved in making records. After several years of working out of Nashville as a touring musician, I felt that I wanted to contribute more to helping artists create their music than by simply playing drums for them, so I began studying and learning about recording and producing. I now spend much more of my time producing than as a freelance musician.

How did you prepare for it?

Living in Nashville, I was able to take advantage of the resources of the community here to help me learn and widen my skill set. In the beginning of the transition, I played a less encompassing role in my productions and chose instead to hire the people who I wanted to learn from and did so by collaborating with them closely in a studio situation. I take on a larger role now, but still collaborate with many of the same experts as when I started.

What's a typical day like?

My days vary pretty wildly depending on what part of the process I currently find myself. I have discovered that I need to get an early start every day in order to properly prepare for what's on the schedule. I typically spend an hour or so in the early morning communicating with clients, hired freelancers, assistants, studio mangers etc., coordinating the various tasks that need to be completed so the production process can run smoothly and on time. Then, as is typical in Nashville, I break my day into two blocks of time that coincide pretty well with the standard morning and afternoon session times here. My goal is to get two things done every day, whether that be recording a guitar overdub session in the morning and tracking drums for a remote client via the web in the afternoon, or editing a session in the morning and dialing in a mix in the afternoon.

What do you find most rewarding about it?

For me, the driving factor has always been to be able to create music that when played through the speakers, sounds like you envisioned it in your mind prior to recording. When that expectation is met or exceeded, it's very rewarding.

What do you find most challenging about it?

Finding the balance when playing a different combination of multiple roles to different groups of multiple clients is pretty high on that list. I try my best to put on one hat at a time and stay there for as long as possible to make it easier to maintain my focus, but some weeks you just find yourself switching gears a few times a day every day. Having a really well laid out plan and schedule really helps with those weeks.

What role, if any, did your musical education at UNT play in preparing for this work?

My music education plays a huge part in my daily skill set, from performance techniques to music theory and composition. However, I think the greatest role my education at UNT plays in my daily work is that it was at UNT that I really learned how to LEARN a concept, and to constantly challenge myself to continue learning and improving.

What might you have done differently during your time at UNT if you knew you would be
doing this sort of work now?

If I could time-hop backwards and tell my younger self what he should do it would be this: Start learning about the recording process NOW, and spent time honing that skill while in school. Become proficient on at least one DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). Start by learning to record yourself and your own instrument, and then record every ensemble that you can. Get as much experience working with singers as possible, as well as bands playing pop, rock, country, etc.--the popular styles, because the production styles for that music are much different than a chamber or jazz ensemble. Learn your theory and start composing music now as well. It will come in handy when producing.

What else would you like readers to know about your work?

My work has transitioned greatly from the time I moved to Nashville to become a touring musician until now as a producer/session musician. It continues to expand and shift as time, experience, and opportunities change and grow. I feel that my openness to trying new things, even when I'm not good at them yet, has been an enormous asset that has enabled me to shape my lifestyle to more specifically suit my preferences. Also, the advancement of technology and its effects on the music industry are a frequently discussed subject, but I feel most of what's out there focuses on the negative impacts technology has had on the 20th century musician's way of life. However, there are many wonderful opportunities within those advancements to be creative and stay busy as a full time musician. It's a new frontier where worldwide collaboration is more commonplace, and the creators who are familiar with both the language of music and the technology of capturing it are experiencing the benefits of the modern era. Kinda heavy, I know, but I feel that it's something worth thinking about at the student level.

What other jobs have you had since leaving UNT?

I've been fortunate enough to have been in music 100% of the time since leaving UNT. I've worked as a touring musician for country and rock artists such as Sister Hazel, Joe Nichols, Frankie Ballard, Greg Bates and Aaron Tippin.

Tell me about your work: Andy LaViolette

Tell me about your work is a new interview series published by the Division of Jazz Studies at UNT. We're interested in knowing more about the work life of our alumni, what role their musical education plays in the work they do, and what their musical lives are like now. Knowing this will give current students a broader sense of the career paths they could follow, and could suggest ways to prepare for them while they are still studying at UNT.

John Murphy


Andy LaViolette

B.M. in Jazz Studies, 2011

Andy LaViolette at his desk

What sort of work do you do?

After being a freelance cinematographer for eleven years I just recently was brought on board to an amazing company called Shutterstock where I work as Senior Video Editor. I still work on projects for my video production company, Mr. Magic Carpet Ride Productions (MMCRP), where we create music-films, documentaries, fictional work, and commercial videos.

What led to you doing this sort of work?

I got into doing video production when my dad bought some software for his computer that allowed him to capture his Hi8 camera's tapes and edit them into DVDs. I started filming performances of my jam band in the early 2000s and quickly found the limitations of the consumer video gear. After having some friends with professional cameras donate their time to come film a concert I was playing in Dallas I immediately fell in love with the quality of the footage. However, the cameras were never pointed in the right place at the right time and I was sure if I bought a camera like theirs that I could make great videos of our band. After doing that for years I began learning enough to charge money to film other people's bands and other kinds of projects and I realized this was something I really enjoyed.

How did you prepare for it?

I didn't specifically prepare for being a cinematographer on purpose. I was raised on television and movies and have always loved music and tech-oriented gadgets. Everything I learned about film-making was driven by maddening frustration of not being able to figure out the answers to problems and spending countless hours of research on the web for answers and guidance. As I transitioned into a legal business owner I turned to my wife for support and advice both creatively and from a business point of view as she is a talented photographer and learned a lot from seeing her dad as a business owner several years back.

What's a typical day like?

As a freelancer a typical day is often spent communicating with other people about their projects. Scheduling, planning, building budget suggestions, researching gear, and constantly analyzing other works as sources for inspiration are a big part about the job. I would shoot 5-10 days out of the month and spend the rest either in pre or post-production for other projects. Working at Shutterstock has been an amazing change because my focus is to work creatively with the marketing team in NY via video conference and then edit content related to our short and longterm marketing goals. It's kind of amazing to take out the aspect of logistics and just focus on creating content with the amazing content they've gathered from all over the world.

What do you find most rewarding about it?

The most rewarding thing about where I am at professionally is that I truly enjoy my daily life and I've finally gotten to a place where I can focus on being a husband and a father. Myself and my family have paid dues for so long just to be able to survive as creative professionals. It has meant making many sacrifices of things that many people take as a basic necessity of life and learning to live without them. So the balance of doing something that really enjoy now and being able to keep the lights on every month while still having time to appreciate my life is something I hope I can keep until the day I die.

What do you find most challenging about it?

There are still challenges even though I am very happy with where I'm at professionally. For me it is how to find the time to focus on my own creative initiatives while balancing my career and family life. I am currently working on a feature documentary film and another short film and I have to force myself to carve out time to keep moving them forward.

What role, if any, did your musical education at UNT play in preparing for this work?

For many years I felt really guilty that I didn't end up being a professional guitarist as my career path. But it wasn't until I really made my mark in music-oriented film-making that I understood that I am a unique ambassador to those that speak deeply in the language of music and those that are career video professionals. First of all, I've learned that the crazy expectations of being a UNT music student make many other things in life that seem impossible at first glance become quite achievable after being dedicated to accomplishing something. I am also very thankful for the core classes I took and now see how higher education is a fundamental right that everyone deserves as it expanded my perspective and understanding of the world around me in ways that are beyond measure. So now that I'm 37 and I seem to have found my path, I don't regret any decision I made because everything I did was a contributing factor to the life I've accidentally created for myself.

What might you have done differently during your time at UNT if you knew you would be doing this sort of work now?

When I was at UNT it took me several years to not feel terribly ashamed of my playing abilities. I see now how that was completely unnecessary and that even the best players at UNT have so many shortcomings compared to rest of the world outside of academia. I also began to associate music with deep feelings of guilt as I really don't know so many things that any trained jazz musician should know. If I could do it again I would have worked to start playing live gigs sooner than I did. Even beyond the hours of practice, I learned so much by working on the balance of entertaining a crowd while still feeling artistically satisfied with the music I was making.

What presence does music have in your life now?

I try to keep music as something sacred as it was when I first fell in love with it. I would never play the guitar ever again for any other reason than because it makes me feel good. In fact, I rarely listen to music. But if I do put music on it is to listen to an entire album, loudly, with no other distractions. I think too much emphasis has been put on recorded music. I am moved by seeing musicians play live with no PA and being true masters of their sonic environment to make people feel high from the vibrations only possible from instruments and not speakers.

What else would you like readers to know about your work?

I think people only know my work from the amazing musicians in the GroundUP and Snarky Puppy families. The work I've done with them will forever mean so much to me with unbelievable memories of seeing the world and hearing music I never knew existed. However, I would love to release motion pictures that involve dialogue and focus on the infinite number of beautiful characters that exist in story-telling. I'm very excited to slow down my musical work and focus more on screen plays and non-music related documentaries.

What other jobs have you had since leaving UNT?

After I left UNT I played in a church band (that's when I began to really look at guitar as a job and not a passion), I taught at The Music Academy as a guitar and piano instructor, I played live jazz, I played in a Western Swing group, and was a film-maker the entire time. I'm very excited as of 2017 to be working full time as Senior Video Editor at Shutterstock.

Tell me about your work: Ashley Hamer

Tell me about your work is a new interview series published by the Division of Jazz Studies at UNT. We're interested in knowing more about the work life of our alumni, what role their musical education plays in the work they do, and what their musical lives are like now. Knowing this will give current students a broader sense of the career paths they could follow, and could suggest ways to prepare for them while they are still studying at UNT.

John Murphy


Ashley Hamer

B.M. in Jazz Studies, 2008
M.M. in Jazz Studies, 2010

Ashley Hamer and two colleagues in the Curiosity.com office
Ashley Hamer, on the right, and colleagues at the Curiosity.com office.

What sort of work do you do?
I write about science for Curiosity.com.

What led to you doing this sort of work?
When I first moved to Chicago and was working full time as a musician, I ended up applying to be a freelance writer for Groupon for a little extra cash. They ended up offering me a full-time position with benefits, so I took it. It ended up being an incredibly educational five years of on-the-job training as a writer and editor, and I realized along the way that I really loved it. I had become a bit of a science buff in college and had been doing science writing in my free time--I even worked to earn a certificate in medical writing so I could better interpret scientific journal articles--so when a friend alerted me to an opening at Curiosity I jumped at the chance.

What's a typical day like?
If you're talking from dawn until dusk? It's a doozy. I get up around 6 to work out (usually running, but I'm training for a triathlon right now so there's some floundering in the pool these days too), then bike into work around 9. Lately, we've been between managing editors so I've been taking over that role in addition to my writing. On the best days, I edit a few articles, write a few articles of my own (my favorite topics deal with outer space and quantum physics), and plan the upcoming week's editorial calendar. Once a week a coworker and I ask trivia questions on Facebook Live, which is a lot of fun, and our weekly pitch meetings are full of cool stuff I never knew before, so I love those too. After work, I'll either have a gig or a rehearsal, or I'll go home and make dinner...if I don't go to the gym first.

What do you find most rewarding about it?
I learn something I didn't know before every single day. It's amazing. I also get a real sense of accomplishment every time someone tells me that they never understood something until they read what I wrote about it. I love that I can do that for people.

What do you find most challenging about it?
It's like music--there's stuff I want to write to fulfill my soul, and there's stuff I have to write to put food on the table (or keep my company operating, in this case). Creating the stuff people tell you to instead of what you want is the nature of doing art for money. Luckily, I get to create plenty of what I want at the same time.

What role, if any, did your musical education at UNT play in preparing for this work?
In the most concrete way, Jazz Research in my master's was what first showed me that I don't just tolerate researching--I actually really enjoy it. I will always remember the moment I realized that there was a question I had that my professors couldn't answer, but I could do the work to answer it for myself. (It turns out that the answer was at least 12 pages long, so no shame, guys). That's what I get to do every day at my job--I have a question about the world, and I do the work to answer it.

In a more abstract way, planning an editorial lineup is EXACTLY like planning a set list. If you know how to throw together a mix of bebop and Latin tunes and ballads, you know how to lay out an editorial lineup.

What might you have done differently during your time at UNT if you knew you would be doing this sort of work now?
I might have taken a few more science classes, I suppose. More relevant to what UNT offered me, though, I would have wanted to take a class that taught me to do the mundane work of being a freelance musician. It's not a good feeling to have six years of schooling under your belt and still have to Google "how to write an invoice."

What presence does music have in your life now?
A big one! I gig 1–3 times a week, in all capacities--I regularly play big band, funk, ska, Latin, and musical gigs. I remember feeling like getting a day job was "selling out" when I first did it, but it's proven to be wonderful for my music career: it gives me a steady foundation of income and insurance, and that means I don't have to take the awful gigs awful people offer me, and can hold out for the ones that bring me joy (and better money!). It's funny--when you hold out for the good gigs, even better gigs start to come your way.

I think my other worry about taking a full-time job was time, and that hasn't been a detriment either. My hours are flexible and I can work from home when I want to, so leaving early for a rehearsal in the suburbs or working from the road isn't an issue.

What else would you like readers to know about your work?
Is this where I get to plug my work?! You should definitely download the Curiosity.com app. It's amazing, and I'd say that even if I didn't work there.

Music from my funk band: https://open.spotify.com/album/6TseVMCyi7Zzpv9HH417w0

Ashley Hamer playing tenor saxophone with a funk band

Tell me about your work: Shawn Strickland

Tell me about your work is a new interview series published by the Division of Jazz Studies at UNT. We're interested in knowing more about the work life of our alumni, what role their musical education plays in the work they do, and what their musical lives are like now. Knowing this will give current students a broader sense of the career paths they could follow, and could suggest ways to prepare for them while they are still studying at UNT.

John Murphy


Shawn Strickland

Jazz Studies major, 2006-2009

Shawn Strickland at his desk with code on the monitor

What sort of work do you do?

I'm a web applications developer. Mostly websites; but more and more software is going online now so that line is a bit blurry. I've made internal software for companies, music apps, and built websites for Sprint, Quiznos, Chick-Fil-A, Krispy Kreme, and other large web audiences. Occasionally, I'll work on more traditional open-source software, Musescore being the most interesting as of late (a great, free, cross-platform WYSIWYG music notation program).

What led to you doing this sort of work?

I fell into it after getting out of music school. I always had a knack for computers and technology and would often be the designated "webmaster" for my bands' websites. I had a pretty good understanding of HTML, and with a bit of practice I quickly picked up where CSS in 2000 left off. This led to my first front-end developer job/apprenticeship. Working in the trenches with high-value projects allowed me to pick up other web technologies like Javascript quickly, and that eventually led to more back-end technologies that are often a traditional computer programming language where a lot of cool website guts live.

After I left UNT, I really needed to do some...thinking. And work. I was lost as to what I was going to do and who I was. An inferiority complex got the best of me and kept me from breaking through technical and theory-based walls in my playing, which would have probably been all I needed to defeat my lowered self esteem. It became painfully obvious that this problem was going to branch into any work I ever did, so I used the opportunity of teaching myself to code to prove to myself that anything is possible (intellectually or physically) with enough hard work and even more determination.

How did you prepare for it?

All my programming knowledge comes from teaching myself through resources I've cultivated over time. Most of those come from the open-source community, which is really just programming code used in the real world that's available to the public for improvement and learning. I also made extensive use of the tutorial boom that has taken YouTube by storm. And there's plenty of Q&A sites online available to programmers learning their craft. I slowly built up a resume and portfolio in a lot of ways musicians collect endorsements and positions in lucrative traveling bands. With enough experience under my belt, I was able to command more desired work.

What's a typical day like?
I'm up at 6 a.m. (not by choice - was never a morning person) to do the normal morning routine of a young family. I usually get to work between 8 and 9. Projects dictate what the rest of the day is like, but usually require collaboration with other developers and copious amounts of music. I'm always home for dinner with the kids, they're really my focus being at such a young age right now. I'll usually always have some time in the evening for practice or working on tunes.

Since everything I do is on the internet, I'll occasionally work remotely from home, too. Same sort of thing, minus the commute.

What do you find most rewarding about it?

I worried that getting into something unrelated to music wasn't going to be rewarding to me, but surprisingly it is. The process of designing website architecture, building it, and seeing real people all over the world use it is very rewarding. It's a very creative process, which I think is where my mind is most comfortable. It's all art. Art is all around us. It's also financially rewarding.

What do you find most challenging about it?

Depending on the project and client, it can be stressful. But so can anything you take seriously. Web development requires constant learning of new technologies to keep up with the Ubers, Facebooks, Apples and Googles of the world, but it keeps your mind malleable and open. Occasionally a server will go down and you'll have to be the one who diagnoses the problem and bring it back up.

Sometimes I have to figure out what guitar T-shirt I'm going to wear for the day. It's an important decision. I don't want to play favorites.

What role, if any, did your musical education at UNT play in preparing for this work?

I learned to teach myself at UNT. It was an important point many of the professors made in my time there. Without mastering that concept I wouldn’t have been able to do what I do now, and without studying music I’m not entirely sure I could have dove into an unknown industry.

There's are a lot of parallels in the I.T. world with music. More people than you'd think who program computers or maintain I.T. infrastructures actually come from a music background or have music degrees. Improvisation and creative problem-solving have obvious parallels, as well as working in a development team towards a common goal.

What might you have done differently during your time at UNT?

I’m not sure I would have done anything differently, academically. I haven’t hit a wall in Computer Science or Math that I couldn’t get my head around without higher level education, and relatively few employers require a Computer Science degree over experience for programming careers.

As a guitarist, I definitely wouldn’t have worried about gear the way I did then. A minimalist attitude for that will get you further than worrying about the next new DooHicky v4 with Boost™. That really bit me later on. Guitarists: gear will come, in time!

I definitely would have been more careful with the amount of student loans I disbursed.

What presence does music have in your life now?

It’s as present as it was before. If you asked my wife, it’s probably still all I think about. Since programming can be relatively singular, I spend a lot of time discovering new music and listening while I work. As I mentioned earlier on, I have young kids, so the "me time" is compressed, but when I have it it's usually spent with a guitar in hand.

What else would you like readers to know?

A career path is just a path. There isn't necessarily a right or wrong one, only the one you choose. I've met plenty of people from vastly different education backgrounds who do something unrelated to their major for work. And it's not like you have to lock in once you've started. You can do anything, at any stage in life, if you have the right combination of elements to work from.

Just because you may have a degree in music doesn't mean you can pursue other interests, or other career choices. Your employers will appreciate the creativity you possess, your unique background in jazz will always come up in conversation, and you'll be a well-rounded self-teaching individual who works well in a group.

What other jobs have you had since leaving UNT?

After I left UNT and repayment started on my student loans I worked for a time at Barnes & Noble in the music department (a job I had in high school), and worked for quite some time at Texas Roadhouse as a waiter, meat cutter, and training coordinator. I picked up a lot of great grilling and smoking skills from there.

Tell me about your work: Lindsey Miller

Tell me about your work is a new interview series published by the Division of Jazz Studies at UNT. We're interested in knowing more about the work life of our alumni, what role their musical education plays in the work they do, and what their musical lives are like now. Knowing this will give current students a broader sense of the career paths they could follow, and could suggest ways to prepare for them while they are still studying at UNT.

John Murphy


Lindsey Miller

B.M. in Jazz Studies, 2006

M.M., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2013

Lindsey Miller playing guitar in a pop band with lead singer in foreground

What sort of work do you do?

I'm a freelance guitarist in Nashville, TN. My work consists of recording sessions, tours, television, musicals, and local gigs. My recent credits includes a 2016 Christmas tour I did with Contemporary Christian artist Lauren Daigle, and I also appeared in four episodes of Season 5 of the TV show Nashville.

What led to you doing this sort of work?

When I first moved to Nashville, I thought I wanted to phase out of playing and find a full time job in a related field. However, after living here a year, I was getting a steady amount of work, and it was much more fulfilling to play music than to search for a job. So I ended up staying with it.

How did you prepare for it?

Probably the most important thing I did was learn to sight read well. I know that sounds weird for a country music town, but it's a skill that's needed and not many guitar players in Nashville do it. It's brought some cool opportunities my way.

What's a typical day like?

Every day is different, and that's what I like so much about it. There are some months where I'll be traveling a lot, some months I'll be busy with sessions, some months I'll be playing at Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) or working on a TV episode.

What do you find most rewarding about it?

College, in some respects, was a frustrating experience for me, so if you had told me back then that I'd get to play with all these great musicians, I probably wouldn't have believed you. Aside from that, I love the culture and history of this town, the tight knit community of players, and I'm extremely grateful to find a small place in the scene here.

What do you find most challenging about it?

Self employed musicians have a unique set of career challenges. We don't have an employer to provide us with health insurance and 401K plans. Our taxes are complicated and qualifying for mortgages can be difficult. The good news is that with common sense and responsible money management most of these challenges can be overcome.

What role, if any, did your musical education at UNT play in preparing for this work?

UNT's high pressure, fast paced atmosphere was a good foreshadowing of what work is like here. Recording sessions can sometimes move so fast, and you don't want to be the one who slows everything down.

What might you have done differently during your time at UNT if you knew you would be doing this sort of work now?

I wish I had known more about the business side of music. Before moving to Nashville, I had never heard of the Federal Musicians' Pension, doing work on the union card, joint venture deals, or the different types of pay rates for recording sessions. These are all great financial resources/incentives for freelance musicians. On the performance side I definitely wish I had started diversifying my skill set way earlier in my college career. I wish I had started investing in guitars, utility instruments, effects, and amps earlier. I wish I had started learning about Pro Tools much earlier; not just learning the software side, but also how to come up with signature guitar parts and layer guitar tracks.

What else would you like readers to know about your work?

You can follow me on my instagram @lbmiller83 to see more about my gear and what kind of jobs I'm currently doing.

What other jobs have you had since leaving UNT?

When I first moved here, I worked as an unpaid intern at a music booking agency copying and pasting about 300 to 500 emails a day. I eventually got so fast at it, that they started paying me to do it.

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