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Terri Hinte: Co-Creating the Image of Jazz

Victor L. Schermer By

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AAJ: What are the changes that have happened during that time in the recording industry, and how does that affect the music that is produced?

TH: The main change has been the rise of the Internet, and of digital music, and of so-called free music and free everything. How is this economic model sustainable? We're seeing a modest resurgence of vinyl, and record stores haven't gone away entirely, but it's nowhere near what's going to 'save' the music business—and with it many people's livelihoods.

To sum up, obviously the landscape is radically different today. Record distribution, retail, and radio are not the robust, competitive fields they used to be. Print media is much diminished. Labels themselves are fewer in number, leaving an opening for artists to function as their own labels, which can be a liberating opportunity but also a heavy, costly burden. Artists are now entrepreneurs, producing their own music, responsible for every aspect of package design, sales and promotion, distribution, and career strategy as well as the music. Some artists welcome this challenge; some would probably be happier with an actual label performing these tasks—if only there were enough labels currently in operation to serve the music community.

Musical Careers

AAJ: Is it possible for a talented musician from a college or conservatory to achieve a satisfying career today? If so, how would you suggest that he or she go about it?

TH: As always, to put it bluntly, talent is not enough. Unless an artist is fortunate enough to sign with a simpatico label that provides career support—which can come in many forms, from vigorous promotion to helpful feedback and connections—he or she will have to make his or her own way. Taking care of the music itself is important, of course, by practicing, repertoire, developing new improvising possibilities, and so on, but also figuring out the business details necessary to secure bookings, raise money for recordings, and the sometimes amorphous task of raising one's profile among peers, press, the public. An artist just starting out also has to step back and come to an objective understanding: What is your story as both a musician and a person? And what kind of image are you trying to project in terms of visuals? Strong, compelling photos are another expense, but absolutely a must. The photos help tell your story.

AAJ: What do you hear from musicians and your clients about their gratifications, problems, and frustrations in their life and work?

TH: The number one frustration I hear from artists has to do with the paucity of booking agents. Seems like the folks working in this field are solidly booked up, so to speak, and there aren't enough of them to go around. I do know a few artists who really crash through and book tours for themselves. It's enormously taxing and time-consuming to cold-call clubs and get zero response. It's similar to what publicists often go through, or writers, or any freelancers. I can't blame an artist for wanting to outsource this particular job, but releasing a new CD without having at least one or two shows in support of the release is a lost opportunity on the publicity front, and on the overall career front too.

AAJ: What are the "tipping points" where a working musician goes from getting occasional gigs to being quite busy and in demand, to achieving top drawer attention? Above and beyond talent, what can musicians, their agents, and PR people do to elevate the status of a player?

TH: In my opinion, this is one of the mysteries, if and when the breakthrough might occur. One of my favorite pieces of advice—for myself and anyone who cares to hear—is "Always be ready to catch the ball" from The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (book by Tom Wolfe, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1968). Also, "Chance favors the prepared mind" (Louis Pasteur). The musician should always be striving for excellence in one's music, taking care of business and having quality, having up-to-date materials available such as your photos, press kit, and web site, and surrounding oneself with positive people. Through perseverance, the 'overnight success' comes when it comes.

Concert and Record Reviews

TH: It's always gratifying for an artist to be on the receiving end of a review that really gets what the musician is doing. Press coverage can yield practical results as well as personal validation. It may result in an artist securing an endorsement deal, or finally getting the attention of a particular club owner, or drawing paying customers to a gig. These results are enormously gratifying for me as well, because not every pitch produces a 'yes.'

Negative reviews also happen on occasion, reviews containing errors, or displaying an apparent agenda, or coming across as just downright mean. In a long career, these will occur; an artist has to know when to let it go and when it might be appropriate to respond.

AAJ: As a reviewer and a journalist, I want to give an accurate and sincere critique of a performance. But I certainly don't want to adversely affect any musician. How can I criticize a musician's performance or approach without unduly hurting the musician or his image?

TH: If a reviewer has an understanding and appreciation of an artist and his or her work, that reviewer should be able to write an honest, respectful account of, say, a performance that may have been less than optimal in the context of the entire career or body of work. I've spoken with artists who may have had an off night and, upon reading the review, might even agree with the writer's assessment.

As an extreme example, I was at a concert last year at which a major musician was being honored, and he also performed. Something seemed terribly wrong with him that night. He seemed like a shadow of his former self. A reviewer sitting next to me who had an assignment to review the show declined to write about it at all, out of respect. He knew he couldn't give a fair shake to the musician under those conditions.

If a reviewer disagrees with a musician's approach or direction on a recording, let's say, it's more complicated. But sometimes things boil down to taste. I don't see the value of using a review for axe-grinding.

Hinte's Interest in "Metaphysics"

AAJ: Surprisingly, in your bio, you mention "metaphysics" as one of your interests. Can you tell us a bit about that?

TH: Coming of age in the '60s, a time when metaphysics was quite the subject and object of countercultural attention, I found that I was drawn to it very naturally and very strongly. I studied astrology in depth and also read extensively on tarot and numerology. I incorporated the I Ching into my daily life as a touchstone and a tool for meditation. Over the last 15 years or so, I've added feng shui practices to my arsenal.

Bottom line, I'm interested in energy—its movement, its characteristics, how it affects our environment, the impact it has on our bodies, minds, souls, emotions. I'm interested in unseen forces, mysteries, what's behind the curtain. Who can entirely explain the effects that music has on us?

Studying astrological transits offers a valuable perspective, I have found, on the inevitable up and down cycles in everyone's lives—including, for example, a musician's career in the public eye. There are times when a person seems to be operating in obscurity or struggle, and times when everything is flowing. Going with the wave is usually the correct course of action.

AAJ: Do you apply your understanding of metaphysics in your PR work?

TH: Yes, and I apply whatever my understanding might be to walking the dog, gardening, and discussing politics as well. I apply it to just about everything!

Supporting the Music Today

AAJ: What changes would you like to see in the jazz business?

TH: I'd like to see women musicians continue to take their place at the table and on the stage, and I'd like to see girls encouraged—by these role models—to do the same. I was really struck by an observation from the pianist Peggy Stern, who booked women-led bands at her Wall Street Jazz Festival for 12 years and just started a similar new festival in Austin. She noticed that, on average, women-led bands resulted in an equal number of men and women in the ensembles. It wasn't planned that way; it just happened. That seems revolutionary to me.

Also, this streaming business, this Spotify creature: can it continue? Royalty checks in the amount of pennies are just wrong. What are we going to do about this? How is it acceptable that people feel they're entitled to the fruits of musicians' creative labors without any compensation? This has to be addressed and fixed.

AAJ: Yet Spotify, YouTube, ITunes, and other web resources do increase listening and exposure. And they're not going to go away. Do you have any thoughts about how they can be made to work to the musicians' advantage financially and otherwise? Is there a way that we can have all this music so readily available to everyone while stimulating financial gain for the players and composers, perhaps in other venues?

TH: I don't have the answers. Someone is making money off these so-called resources. The revenues have to be shared with the creators, period.

AAJ: Based upon your love of jazz and your extensive interactions, what message would you like to convey to our readers about what could enhance the future of jazz?

TH We have to support the music and all its ancillary offshoots with our time and money. That means buying CDs (or downloads); attending shows; contributing to GoFundMe campaigns; subscribing to publications that cover the music; doing everything possible insofar as we're able. If not us, who?

Photo Credit: Clifton Anderson

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