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Tell me about your work: Spenser Liszt

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


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.

Tell me about your work: Ben Jackson

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

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.

Tell me about your work: Tahira Clayton

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


Tahira Clayton

B.A. in Music, 2015

Tahira Clayton singing in a recording studio

What sort of work do you do?

I am a freelance musician (instrument: vocals) and early childhood educator.

What led to you doing this sort of work?

As a 16-year-old, I booked my first professional work with a corporate variety band as their lead singer. During my time at UNT, I started performing with my own groups as well as being a side-woman with other small groups throughout Denton and Dallas. Now based in New York City, I realized quickly that if I hustled hard enough and diversified myself, I would be able to sustain a living being a musician. The early childhood education came during my UNT years as well, sort of out of necessity. I didn't realize how much I enjoyed teaching younger kids until I started doing it and have stuck with it.

How did you prepare for it?

I don't know that I consciously prepared for life as a freelancer. I was fortunate enough to gain gig experience at an early age that undoubtedly prepared me for present day. Getting a degree in music certainly gave me skills I would need to be diverse as a musician and educator.

What's a typical day like?

Lots of travel! My time is spent a little differently every day, however a typical day for me right now involves teaching chorus at 2 public elementary schools in NYC, then heading to a music academy in Long Island where I teach private voice, piano, and early childhood classes, and usually ending the day with a gig (either my own or a private event type of deal) or a rehearsal of some kind. That being said, today I did none of those things and was in a recording studio for most of the day. A little different every day.

What do you find most rewarding about it?

I can go home knowing that I shared a little bit of the joy I have for music with someone else, whether it be a student, client, collaborator, or audience member. I get to see folks' reactions to a new original song, or old standard, and celebrate with a student or choir when they've learned something and applied it to their own music. That will always be cool to me.

What do you find most challenging about it?

Money is certainly the first thing that comes to mind, but even more so dealing with the personalities of different people in different situations.

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

Though I was playing before UNT, I didn't really know anything about music except for artists and songs I liked. The UNT environment shaped me up on theory, vocal technique, sight-reading--all things that help me do my work well. Also: a major shout-out to my jazz keys teacher and all my applied piano lessons teachers. I never knew I would be playing so much piano/sight-reading now!

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 definitely take more pedagogy and music education courses.

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

Don't be timid to do music full time. It is possible. Diversify and conquer!

What other jobs have you had since leaving UNT?

I did have a brief stint at a neighborhood grocery store my first summer in New York City. Word got out to the customers that I was a vocalist, and I would sometimes sing for some of the older ladies when they came through my check-out line. That was a fun time.

Music can be found at my website: www.tahiraclayton.com.

Tell me about your work: Colin Hinton

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


Colin Hinton

BM – Jazz Studies - UNT (2006-2011, not completed)
BFA – Jazz Performance – City College of New York
MA – Music Performance – City College of New York

Colin Hinton playing drumset

What sort of work do you do?

I am a freelance musician, composer, bandleader, and educator.

What led to you doing this sort of work? How did you prepare for it?

I've been playing music since I was four years old. When I realized that I could do it professionally (around age 12-13), I made it my goal to achieve that dream. I prepared for this by studying and practicing intensely. I spent almost 10 years in college pursuing (and finishing) both an undergraduate and advanced degree in music. I spent many years of my life practicing 4+ hours a day with no days off. I still actively take private lessons in both drumming and composition. I plan to go back and pursue a DMA in composition in a few years.

What's a typical day like?

There's really not a typical day, but generally, I try to be up by 8 a.m. (this obviously is subject to change if I had a late gig the night before). By 9 a.m., I'm answering emails and figuring out what my goals need to be for the day, i.e. if I need to focus more on practicing, composing, organizing, promoting, etc. This can also change depending on my rehearsal/gig/teaching schedule for the day. If I have a night "off," I try to go out and hear musicians I'm either friends with or want to work with.

What do you find most rewarding about it?

I love creating work that I find valuable and portrays an accurate reflection of where I am in my life. I've done 9-5 jobs outside of music and I quickly realized it was not the path for me. I honestly don't know what other career path would have worked for me.

What do you find most challenging about it?

Surviving in NYC off a gig-based economy can be depressing at times, but I find the rewards outweigh the financial hardships. Teaching college students who seem to have no interest in the tradition of the music (not that I am a traditionalist--at all) can be incredibly trying, and I often find myself being needlessly frustrated due to this. However, teaching students that DO listen to your advice and hearing them grow exponentially as improvisers is incredibly rewarding.

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

Though I did not finish my degree at UNT (even though I was there for five years), my time at North Texas was invaluable. Studying with Ed Soph for five years was amazing. I owe Ed a great deal for helping me become the musician I am today, and I'm happy that him and I are still in touch. I also had the opportunity to play and work with Lynn Seaton, Fred Hamilton, Brad Leali, Stefan Karlsson, and John Murphy frequently throughout my time at UNT. Working with the faculty opened me up to all types of different ideologies behind improvising and showed me different ways to think about and listen to music. Prof. Murphy inspired me to become involved in ethnomusicology and is largely responsible for my branching out from the "jazz" world.

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

I think about this often. The music I am involved in now is drastically different from what I did at North Texas. However, my studies at North Texas gave me the foundation I needed to branch out and pursue a different path. I would have invested more time in composition and studying classical music. This was not an avenue I had much interest in during my time at North Texas, but as I became older, my interest (see: obsession) in the avant-garde, 20th century classical music, and the AACM became the focus of my musical world. This was the focus of my graduate studies.

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

I try to stay active as a performer/composer across multiple musical platforms. I still play "standard" gigs, but I'm also incredibly involved in Brooklyn's "new-music" scene. I'm also writing for classical ensembles now. I am having a few pieces premiered in Italy in July. I lead a band named Facehugger. We'll be recording our first record in the fall (this will also be my first record as a leader), and I hope to have it released this winter.

What other jobs have you had since leaving UNT?

Upon moving to NYC, I secured a job teaching at a small music school. I quickly left this job as the company was poorly organized and drastically underpaid their teachers. I've had loads of horrible day jobs. One summer in NYC I flipped burgers at an outdoor restaurant. That was the job that made me decide to go back to college to finish my undergraduate studies and continue to grad school. For about a year while finishing my undergrad I worked as an assistant manager at The Jazz Gallery in NYC. This was a great way for me to meet/hear musicians while still getting paid. I was fortunate to be a TA at City College for four of my five semesters as a grad student. I taught Jazz Rep III and IV (very similar to UNT's improv III and IV classes) under Steve Wilson.

What advice would you have for a current UNT student who is preparing to move to NYC? Try to form relationships with people who are already established in NYC, and visit the city as much as possible before moving. Probably the greatest thing I did while at North Texas to prepare me to move to NYC was sublet in Brooklyn most summers. I would come up for 1-3 months at a time, study with one or two people while visiting, and go to sessions/hangs/gigs every night. The biggest thing to be aware of when moving to NYC is that you must be patient. Even if you are a "first call" at North Texas, when you move to NYC you will be surrounded by everyone else who was a "first call" in their hometown, too. Be prepared to expand your musical horizons beyond what you already know, and take ANY gig you can. One of the best paying gigs I have is being the first call sub for a German polka/top 40 band!

Colin Hinton with Facehugger:

Colin Hinton with Ingrid Laubrock and Joe Hertenstein:

 

Tell me about your work: Matt Wigton

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


Matt Wigton

B.M. in Jazz Studies, 2003

You can hear Matt's music at app.soundstripe.com/artists/46.

Matt Wigton playing electric bass in a recording studio

What sort of work do you do?

I am a freelance touring/session bassist. I am also a staff composer/producer for Soundstripe, which is a micro licensing company. Both of these jobs are based out of Nashville, TN.

What led to you doing this sort of work?

I got into touring work as a bassist immediately upon graduating from UNT. I was based in NYC for 10 years and from there toured with indie-rock bands and jazz groups all over Europe, Canada, and Central/South America. Upon moving to Nashville (4 years ago) I landed tours with artists like Engelbert Humperdinck, Christopher Cross, and most recently Jo Dee Messina. The session work definitely picked up when I moved to Nashville as this is one of the things that makes this city what it is. Demos and records are made here all day long in thousands of studios scattered all around the area. As far as my life as a producer is concerned, that began up in NYC when I started ghost writing on TV spots for Yessian which is a large ad agency based out of Detroit. After relocating to Nashville I started working more in the TV/Sync world with a company called Resin8 Music Licensing and from there that led me to the world of micro licensing. I have been with Soundstripe since its inception and currently work from my home studio for them.

How did you prepare for it?

Not sure that I actually prepared for this. I just dove right in and absorbed and observed everything I could along the way. 20 years later here I am.

What's a typical day like?

Changes constantly. I could be in my home studio producing music starting around 8am and going to 5 or 6pm or I could be on a session recording on someone’s record which usually gets going around 10am and goes until around 6 or 7. I usually can’t remember what day of the week it is or where I am when I am touring. Schedules are all over the place.

What do you find most rewarding about it?

I love what I do and the fact that I get to make music for a living.

What do you find most challenging about it?

Inconsistencies with schedule, money, and dealing with challenging personalities in the various bands.

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

I had not been playing bass very long before I entered in at UNT. I had read a couple of theory books and listened to some records but didn’t know my a## from my head. UNT definitely helped give me a solid set of tools to help build my vocabulary on the instrument and to learn the history of the music.

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

Shadow an engineer and producer at a local studio every chance I could.

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

In addition to being a musician and producer, I am an avid gardener and supply produce from my garden to a fellow music producer here in Nashville who also happens to be a fantastic chef. He runs a Chinese comfort food 5 course dinner out of his house (2 seatings, once a month). The name of it is Angelhouse.

What other jobs have you had since leaving UNT?

When I moved to NYC I had all sorts of day jobs to help pay the rent, including handing out flyers, working for a contractor painting and demoing apartments, working for a catering company, web design, and doing data entry for a real estate company.

Tell me about your work: Patrick Carr

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
Chair, Division of Jazz Studies
UNT College of Music


Patrick Carr

B.M. in Jazz Studies, 2013; M.M. in Jazz Studies, 2015

Patrick Carr seated at his desk in a cubicle with ecommerce site on the computer monitor

What is your job?

I am a Front-End Web Developer for Sally Beauty’s digital commerce team.

How did you get it?

I found a listing for the position on indeed.com and submitted my resume and application online. I interviewed with my current boss and the Vice President of Ecommerce. After a few days I sent a follow up email with some of my thoughts on website improvements (one of the interview questions, which I felt I could have done a better job answering), and they offered me the job shortly after that. I later found out that the follow-up email is what made them decide to hire me; if I hadn’t sent that email, I probably would not have gotten the job.

How did you prepare for it?
I started out by learning the basic building blocks HTML and CSS on codecademy so I could build a website for our wedding announcement. I also found a free non-profit online bootcamp called Free Code Camp, which taught me more javascript and problem-solving through algorithms. By the end of the program I had built a few small example apps that demonstrated my skill set.

What’s a typical day like?

A typical day is mostly taking Photoshop mockups and converting them into live web assets. I also write scripts to automate repetitive tasks like resizing/compressing images.

What do you find most rewarding about it?

I really enjoy the problem-solving aspect of the job. Each project is a puzzle with many different possible approaches, and it is a lot of fun to try to create the best user experience possible while keeping page speed as high as possible.

What do you find most challenging about it?

I find that when working for a large company there is a lot of waiting involved. With so many moving pieces, large-scale changes are expensive and slow-coming, so it can be frustrating to deal with problems that exist for so long without being fixed because of these limitations.

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

I was told in the interview that without prior experience in this field my resume was not particularly impressive, but when they saw that I had a master’s in jazz it piqued their curiosity, so it effectively got me the interview. My music education also has taught me to be very self-managing, which has certainly helped me keep the job. My boss really appreciates that I can plan and work through entire projects without constantly asking for clarification or help, which is a valuable quality in an employee.

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 used one of my electives on a computer science course to get a deeper understanding of the actual science behind everything.

What presence does music have in your life now?

I still perform regularly and teach lessons in the evenings. My gigs are mostly on the weekends. The trickiest part of this has been finding enough time to practice as much as I would like. I am still working on finding that perfect balance.

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

Don’t be afraid of these day jobs! It’s true that they limit the time you have during the day to devote to your projects, but I can say from personal experience that it has been very liberating to have a dependable paycheck that allows me to invest in my music and myself without feeling guilty.

What other jobs have you had since leaving UNT?

This is the first full-time job I have held since graduating.

Tell me about your work: Patrick Kracunas

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
Chair, Division of Jazz Studies
UNT College of Music


Patrick Kracunas

B.M. in Jazz Studies, 2010

Photo of Patrick Kracunas in chef's uniform in a professional kitchen

What is your job?

Chef

How did you get it?

I worked for the owner/chef as a line cook previously at a restaurant she was the executive chef of. After a year there, I left to work in the city of Boston to really hone my skills and basically have my a## kicked. After a couple of years of that I became the Chef de Cuisine for a golf club on Cape Cod for one season. After the season ended I was pretty burnt-out, mentally and physically exhausted, and decided to take some time off and try out catering. I started as an event cook and then after a few months I was promoted to an event chef. I learned a lot from catering, but it wasn't exactly what I wanted to do. Andrea, my previous boss, contacted me and said that she had left the restaurant and was opening up her own place. She asked me as well as a previous sous chef of hers if we were interested in being the chefs at her new place. Out of all of the chef's I've worked under, she is the most even-tempered, kind and well-rounded one I've worked for, so naturally I was thrilled to be asked to be part of the team.

How did you prepare for it?
Studied cookbooks, watched cooking programs, cooked all day any time I had a day off, and worked my way up through the restaurant industry in Chicago and Boston these past five years.

What's a typical day like?
Get to work at 10am. Drink coffee and do general prep until 3 p.m. Around 3 p.m. we typically (if we have time) make a staff meal that everyone can enjoy and relax for a couple of minutes. Then everyone gets on their station and starts station prep (whatever they need for the evening). At 4:30 p.m. hopefully everyone is ready and can relax before dinner service begins at 5 p.m. Service begins and we make our way through the evening. Around 9 p.m., things begin to slow down. Containers are flipped and the kitchen begins to get cleaned. Around 10:30 p.m. the kitchen is cleaned. I drive home, eat something, watch some TV or play some guitar, and then go to bed around 1 a.m.

What do you find most rewarding about it?
I get to work with people of all different ethnicities, do something I love, and hang out with friends. Most of the crew spends more time with each other than their significant others. Being with someone that understands the industry is crucial.

What do you find most challenging about it?
Managing other people’s egos as well as your own can be very hard. The long hours are tough on your body. It's definitely a younger person’s job.

What role, if any, did your musical education at UNT play in preparing for or getting this job?
UNT played a huge role in preparing me for this job. I think about what I learned at UNT and how it applies to cooking all the time. Cooking and being a professional musician is almost the exact same. You practice (prep) for your gig (service), and you never get to stop learning. I was slacking off during my second semester and Fred [Hamilton] pulled me aside and basically said, "Pat, there's a lot of mediocrity in the world. Don't be a part of it." That is in my head all the time and I was very lucky to have him as a teacher as well as all my other professors, especially Paul Leblanc.

What might you have done differently during your time at UNT if you knew you would be doing this sort of work now?
I don't think I would have changed anything about my time at UNT. It was a fantastic experience.

What presence does music have in your life now?
These days I don't really play out, and to be honest I stopped playing for probably about the past five years, but recently I have gotten back into it. I am also learning to play the dobro. I miss going to Dan's Silver Leaf!

What else would you like readers to know about your work?
I have an instagram account (https://www.instagram.com/softc86/) where I post too many pictures of food.

What other jobs have you had since leaving UNT?
After UNT, Josh Murtha and I moved to Chicago and I attempted to get into the scene there, but I just didn't really dig it so I decided to start working as a cook. After a couple of years I moved back home and landed a job for Royal Caribbean as a guitarist in the orchestra. I made tons of great friends and got to travel the world, but musically, it was soul-crushing. After doing that for a year, I got back into the kitchen.