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