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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: Spenser Liszt

Spenser Liszt

B.M. in Jazz Studies, 2011
M.M. in Jazz Studies, 2013

Spenser Liszt on stage with his tenor saxophone

What sort of work do you do?

I am a freelance musician, recording artist, composer, arranger, contractor, educator, and marketing coordinator.

What led to you doing this sort of work?

I studied violin and piano at an early age. After picking up the saxophone in 6th grade music naturally took over my life. My father's love of jazz gave me the desire to pursue music professionally. I had no idea at the time what a music career would actually entail.

How did you prepare for it?

Developing a career in music was a slow process for me. Almost all of my work blossomed from a seed planted in the past. One opportunity led to another over the years. As an Eagle Scout our motto was "Be Prepared," which is key considering the wide range of expectations put on musicians.

What's a typical day like?

On weekdays I typically do a fair amount of correspondence with different clients about gig details or what to record on their project. I teach at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts in downtown Dallas. I also work from home marketing for Lone Star Wind Orchestra, which involves managing their email newsletter, social media accounts, attending concerts, live streaming content, going to board meetings, etc. On weekends you can find me on stage in Dallas and a number of other cities throughout Texas or nationally performing at private parties, weddings, clubs, and other venues.

What do you find most rewarding about it?

Performing for people generally makes them happy, which is incredibly rewarding. I enjoy hiring my colleagues for gigs to keep them working and passing the torch, so to speak. My work with Lone Star Wind Orchestra is especially rewarding because they are a non-profit helping kids in need experience their first concert, awarding scholarships to high-school students, and impacting the community through music.

What do you find most challenging about it?

Balancing my time and saying no to work.

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

My education at UNT helped me develop a solid network across the globe. It was also a reminder that achieving success in music does not mean being the best at music. I learned that musicians are replaceable and the ones who continue thriving offer more than musical talent alone.

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

I would have focused on building relationships more than worrying about achieving success within the program. Juries, recitals and grades are extremely important in school, but students, including myself, might over-stress and lose sight of the big picture. School is the best time to make mistakes and learn from them!

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

I am currently working on my second album, entitled Patience. It will include various styles of music and a plethora of instruments including hand bells, opera choir, strings, timpani, and more. I love to share my knowledge and experience with others so if any readers would like advice on a career in music please do not hesitate to contact me. You can find me at www.SpenserLiszt.com and @SpenserLiszt on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Daniel Porter's new video single

Daniel Porter, 2014 Jazz Studies grad, has released a new track from his trio project, Q&A, with fellow alumni Mike Luzecky and Jonny Harmon:

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.

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