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The Guitar Hero Series: Mixin' It With Dr. J
Written by Ava

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The Guitar Hero series on Jemsite features interviews with guitarists and musicians who may not have star status YET, but their current situations have shaped them to be who they are--determined, fond of their craft, and heroes in their own right. Perhaps you'll see in these upcoming entries the next Jimi Hendrix, Melissa Etheridge, or Duane Allman. Or perhaps they'll become household names by doing what they do best---doing their thing.

Jon Jinright knows music. That is, he knows the ins and outs of the music biz. Jinright is what you call a mixer--someone who knows the tricks and techniques of producing music for the industry, and for making it sound its best. Still, don't just call him a producer--he's so much more then that! He's a musician, a music businessman, a teacher, and himself still a student (always learning from his own students and some of the Grammy greats he's worked with.) And he's also our new Guitar Hero.

How did you get started in the music industry?

I'm a classically trained pianist/organist/percussionist. As an undergraduate in college, I decided not to teach in public schools. My college happened to have an undergraduate music business major on the books, so I changed my major and did my two internships. My second internship was with a large regional music retailer and they hired me before I graduated. I'd say I have a masters' degree in retailing, because I worked in a top 200 store, then started a store for 3 years, then worked with a huge mom/pop-owned store.

Do you play on your own?

As a freelance keyboardist, I play pretty regularly. I try to keep it to mostly weddings, funerals and church gigs. Accompanying is part of my job at the university where I teach, so I am playing constantly. I occasionally get pickup gigs, like playing as a sideman in some traveling show, but that can be a really uncomfortable spot for someone like me who only occasionally reads/improvises with charts. The last big band gig I took made me feel completely "out of my league."

What instruments do you play?

I play all of them well enough to do basic repairs. I spent 2 years as a band/orchestral instrument repairman in a retail store. I currently teach piano, oboe, bassoon, and occasionally pipe organ, and occasionally some beginner guitar lessons, I play guitar/banjo/mandolin/bass in the studio, simply because I can always punch in/out when I screw up. Most of the stuff I do is fill-in. If someone wants a real killer guitar track, I farm it out.

Is it a hobby or would you rather it turn into something more?

I would love to do more guitar/banjo playing, but I have no time to practice and play. And I tend to avoid opportunities like joining a band, because then I'm no longer in control of my schedule.

Why did you feel a calling to the teaching profession?

The year I spent working school sales with the mom/pop music store put me into the music classroom and working closely with young people. It really opened my eyes, because I had expected classroom chaos and what I found were classrooms filled with wide-eyed students who really wanted to learn. I found myself going to school concerts and spending more of my off-time helping school bands. In the store, I began giving deep discounts to financially challenged schools and parents. That's when I knew I needed to leave retail. I was happiest when I was out visiting a music classroom. So I went back to school to get certified to teach. And Troy University wouldn't let me leave, so I started teaching there and began my post graduate work at another university.

You tried to start a new general music/music industry track at Troy. Would you suggest that music and business go hand in hand? Why do you think a music business program might be just as important as or more important than a general music program?

We have over 100 music industry majors in our program, so I'd say it's pretty well started. When I came to Troy, I immediately saw a need for an "interdisciplinary" major like music business. At that time, the entire music department was dedicated to producing music educators. Not everyone is called to teach, but some take longer to realize the connection between music and business. I know I did.

Some music education majors are in their senior year before they realize they're making a wrong choice. Conversely, lot of us musician types who tend to live in the more aesthetic world could certainly use the business skills. I know that we all basically want the same thing; to be able to support our families and also get up every morning and love to go to work.

In a more perfect world, those of us who spend so much time cultivating our musical talents would learn about the economic principles/forces that describe our relationships with our audiences.

What was it like to study mixing with three Grammy-winning engineers/producers and film/tv scoring with composer/sound designer Michael Wynne.

It was fun. I highly recommend that everyone find a mentor. A special nod to Ed Seay and Charles Dye because they made me realize that we all develop our techniques differently, but if you can step back from the trees you can begin to see the same forest. It's the sequence that is important. A lot of tricks and techniques I learned, I'll never use, but at least I know why. Here's my advice for anyone who wants to learn: immerse yourself in the best learning environment you can find. Don't think that playing with your own gear and reading a few articles here and there is enough. Take a learning vacation and jump into the water with the best teachers you can find. And for goodness sake, get some ear-training! My wish for all of you is that you'd be able to hear something in your head and write it down like little Mozart did.

When people think music, they think playing music, they don't think music production. How do you convince them that music production could very well be a viable option?

Let's not mince words. There are many more applicants for music production jobs than there are jobs. Like American Idol has way more people that think they can sing than they have real singers. It's your skill set that distinguishes you from the rest of the talent pool. It's your political, social and communication skills that get your foot in the door. Are you going to make it a viable option?

True artistry is actually more than just a bunch of skills. I firmly believe that there's a spiritual component that so many people fail to develop. Mozart said: "neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius." Think about that.

Who are some of your music influences?

That's a tough question. I think the act of playing great music is more like a conversation with great people. Listening can be a passive act. And I think that every piece I've played has had some influence, even if it sucked as bad a post-Romantic-era French classical music. It's easier to tell you what's in my cupholder (i.e. cd player, for the uninitiated); Leonard Bernstein, Tuck and Patti, Frank Zappa, Pink (--great mixes!), Paul and Storm, Pribek, The Bobs, Me First and the Gimmie-Gimmies, Kurt Weill and FRED.

What is your take on the state of the music production industry? What are you trying to get out of it? What are you trying to add to it?

I try to help students by modeling/teaching the best way I can. We are struggling with budgetary constraints, so the first lesson is always do the best with what you have. If I make any contribution to the state of the industry, it will be through my students. And I try to help them think/act ethically; it's the long-lasting relationships you form in the industry that will make your retirement possible.

The only thing constant is change. You can see the glass half full or half empty. From an engineer's point of view, it's challenging. Do I upgrade now or wait 6 months? With the economy the way it is, there are lots of bargains out there, but there's also a lot of risk. I try to choose wisely and follow the advice of one of my old bosses who said "never be the first to lay aside the old or the last to pick up the new". I don't always follow my own advice, however. I have yet to buy a blu-ray burner, but I'm on the pre-order for the new polyphonic Melodyne plug.

For the artist, I believe that this is a good age. I loved the documentary Before the Music Dies, but so many of the artists are portrayed with an invisible ceiling or some unseen force holding them down. That was obviously true back when the scarcity of the technology made production/distribution a problem and you had to go through "the man". Things are different, now. The only unseen force I've personally encountered is lack of money and we all know the kind of skill set it takes to solve that problem.

Now one real issue is quality. We've always loved quality music, but now there are no filters and you have a market that can be confusing to the consumer. I used to spend time on Amazon checking out the new releases, but now the quantity is overwhelming. The social networking model (tracking playlists) may soon be more important in determining quality than track/album. When the dust settles, we may have a new production/distribution ceiling that will give us all that déjà 'vu feeling. The folks that survive will have learned how to prepare for change and also to "do unto others" so that others will still "do for them".

Aspects of my career changed over the last 20-something years and they're still changing. I'm more interested in the film industry and we're starting a film festival here in town this spring. I've joined the local arts council board and will be the presenter (i.e. booking agent) for the upcoming performing arts season. When the folks around here don't need my teaching, I hope to play around with building a recording studio /songwriter incubation center.

Check out John Jinright's songs, yarns, videos and recipes about Music Production on his blog, ControlRoom- Mixin' It With Dr. J.
 
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