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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.

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