As a piano and art instructor, it is such a treat to stay in touch with students who grew up in my studio. Recently, I caught up with one of my very first piano students, Krystal Hill who is building a successful career in the field of communications. What better way to honor her achievements than with an interview on the school’s blog! I hope you find it inspiring.
LRW: Our history goes back to the 1990s or as I refer to it, the “Days of the Condo”. Do you happen to remember how old you were when you started piano lessons with me? Had you ever studied piano before?
KH: You know, I want to say I was eight or so. I believe it was around 1996 so if I wasn’t eight I was seven turning eight. I hadn’t studied piano before.
LRW: Good call! I stumbled upon the above photo of you at your very first piano recital and it indeed shows 11-3-96. Adorable! (unlike my 90s “big hair”. Hahaha.) Your beloved grandmother, Rethola Hill was dedicated to your piano education. I don’t believe you ever missed a lesson because of her. It was an honor to befriend her over the years. Do you happen to recall how Rethola found me back in the days before Google searches? Was it the Yellow Pages, or perhaps a referral?
KH: I think I might have missed one, but I got an earful from her for doing so. Knowing her and who she was I am all but certain she found you through the Yellow Pages. My grandmother wanted me to do something other than school and she always wanted to learn the piano. That very quickly turned into me learning the piano. She looked up everything in the phone book (as she would call it) and she kept a bunch of them at the house. Was it a current phone book? Probably not. However, it worked out for her.
LRW: Love this anecdote! I can only imagine what a Rethola scolding was like… I remember her mentioning in an email something about having wanted to learn the piano. Ah, the Yellow Pages. Phone books proved useful as footstools for young piano students, too. 🙂 You had completed the beginner and intermediate piano books and went on to study the baritone horn in high school, performing in marching and jazz bands. Do you still play to this day? What styles of music speak to you the most? Any favorite composers you’d like to share with our readers?
KH: Yeah, I started studying baritone/euphonium in middle school. Once I went to high school, I continued to study them. I also picked up trombone for jazz band. I played in an All-Age drum and bugle corps for six or so years after I graduated.
I also was playing with a community group out in the West Hollywood area for a little bit. I very rarely pick up a horn now. However, if the time allows and an alumni event comes up, I’ll try to make it.
As for styles of music, I really do listen to everything. Every space that I’m in, someone is fascinated by the wide scope of genres that comes up in discussion. I enjoy musicals, but I’m currently listening to a lot of neo-soul and freestyle. At work we’ve been arguing about the validity of “post disco” which is upsetting and shouldn’t be a real thing. Music is still sort of everywhere for me, which I find funny in retrospect. I think there is something to be said about even the musicality of current music when you break down each song to its bare bones. It’s fascinating. Composer wise, Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Frank Ticheli to name a few.
LRW: I’m kvelling over how you continued your music education and keep it in your life to this day. I’ll have to check out neo-soul and freestyle genres along with Frank Ticheli. Love learning new things from my students! So happy to learn you are a fellow fan of Ralph Vaughan Williams! Sergei Rachmaninoff wept when listening to the premiere of Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music. Whenever KUSC plays his music while I’m driving, I have to pull over and listen to the whole thing! But I digress…back to our interview!
After the studio moved from my condo living room to the Valley Glen studio, piano lessons switched to art classes. You became proficient in drawing and painting in several different mediums, participated in numerous student art showcases and even sold a painting.
Do you still draw and paint when time permits? What styles of art resonate with you?
KH: Actually, I think I switched to art before you moved to the studio. I’m pretty sure my brother picked up art and he was doing that and I was doing piano. After a bit I stopped piano and he continued art. After maybe a month or two I joined him, and the move was very shortly after. He never made it to the studio if my memory serves me right. Aside from that fun story, I don’t really draw or paint much. I have a white board at work that I will occasionally doodle on to pass the time, but that’s usually a group effort with the other two guys that work on the show with me. I still enjoy art even if I’m not an active creator in it. I’ve enjoyed impressionist paintings, and I’m currently finding myself looking at more African art and art by Black artists.
LRW: Yes, thank you for the memory jog. You and your brother worked at the cozy dining room table. You’re right, he did not continue art at the studio. I hope he enjoyed the lessons at the condo. I’m so glad you continued. May I ask, what degrees you have earned so far? From which schools? Are you continuing your education? In what fields?
KH: Sure! I earned my AA in Broadcasting from Los Angeles Valley College in 2015. I transferred to Cal State Northridge and finished my BA in Cinema and Television Arts with an emphasis in Electronic Media Management in 2017.
I’m currently completing my MS in Digital Audience Strategy from Arizona State University. I’m scheduled to graduate this April. It’s a nice trajectory from media production, to media management, to media analytics.
LRW: Wow! I’m ginormously proud, especially knowing you are a fellow CSUN alum. Yay! I’ll treat for a graduation dessert and coffee in April to celebrate! What is your current career? Can you describe to my students and readers what an average workday is like? What work experiences or life lessons would you like to share with my readers?
KH: The overarching theme of my career is audio production. I started in radio as a board operator in 2015 with the now defunct NBC Sports Radio, made a brief stop at KROQ, and signed on with Premiere Radio Networks (the syndication arm of the iHeartMedia family) in 2016. I kind of bounced around from show to show until I started full-time on the Steve Harvey Morning Show as an editor.
I’m currently a producer on the show, and I wish there was an average day on this show! No two days are really the same (well until the pandemic) because Steve is always on the move.
Typically, my day consists of ensuring the show goes over the air, getting elements cut from our talent, edited and sent off to continuity or to our affiliates. I guess the easiest way to think about it is ensuring that the show is functioning operationally. A typical workday is 1am-9am and then being on call for anything else that might come up. Outside of that, I’m also a podcast producer for a podcast vertical that should be releasing in Q1 2021, an editor, consultant, and everything else in between.
I think the main things people need to know when getting into the radio (or media in general but especially radio) space is:
1. Have a thick skin and be confident in your abilities. I started in sports radio and a lot of those guys were… interesting. You just have to remember whose name is on the door and that if you mess up you will get yelled at. No one wants to be on a show that is a technical nightmare, so be good.
10 million people listen to the Steve Harvey Morning Show every day. I don’t like being the person who makes the mistake that 10 million people will hear, but if I do I let it go immediately. You can’t get live radio back and once it is out there it’s out there. Dwelling on it doesn’t erase it. Most times it sets you up for another flub.
2. Flexibility will get you noticed. There was a moment last year when Harvey traveled to various African countries and getting him set up and tested and ready to broadcast was a mission. In addition to just getting the gear to work, it was getting it all done on a 10-14-hour time difference. A lot of the people I work with have 12-14-hour days as a norm. Your job is to ensure the show goes on the air. You have to do whatever is necessary to make sure that happens. If that’s not something you are willing to do, then this isn’t the industry for you.
3. Adapt. This industry (radio, podcast and media in general) is not fond of change. Wearing shoes to work had only become an official policy at one of my previous employers in 2016. However, the industry is changing. If you can’t adapt you’ll never get in. Be willing to do every job. We don’t really have promotions teams anymore (the folks that would hand out tickets in parking lots and the like) but if you’re passionate about radio, come in and be a call screener, work promo, do anything to get yourself in the door and start learning and networking.
LRW: Fantastic inside scoop demonstrating how those wise words are actually applied in real time. Thank you for that. I’m also looking forward to your 2021 podcast. What are some of your future career plans or goals?
KH: Future plans always get me. There are 500 things I want to do, and it isn’t feasible to get them all done. I enjoy radio and audio so continuing in that realm is the easy answer. Moving up in that space would be great because I would love to make changes in the system that aren’t performative.
Radio is funny because it’s an old game and the further up the line you go the less diversity you see outside of on the air talent. That is something that is in my long game. Outside of that, I’ve got an incredible small network of folks tied to a production company that a friend and I started. The only real tenet of the company is that we focus on hiring and creating content around Black, Indigenous and/or people of color. Ideally from top to bottom we would be creating spaces for folks who traditionally find themselves not being represented in media, above and below the line. That’s been fun, and we’ve had a few projects that have allowed us to create some amazing opportunities for folks. Just creating good content and dismantling exclusionary systems.
LRW: I know what you mean. Same. It’s as if you were meant to inhabit the world of radio with your goals for giving voice to those not well-represented in the media. Amen to that! I hope you’ll keep me posted on this timely project. When it’s fully operational, I would be honored to blog about it. What impact did your piano lessons and art classes at Pastimes make?
KH: I love a good intent versus impact conversation! First and foremost, the intent from my grandmother’s purview was to keep me busy and off the streets. Which I can say that yeah, I didn’t get caught up in the trouble that often happens to folks who have access to extracurriculars and are left to their own devices.
I received an education that set a solid foundation for the time I spent in music throughout my K-12 education. The impact though, that is an interesting one. I learned about making and keeping commitments. It was the first time I started training my ear to hear what was and wasn’t there. It gave me an appreciation for music and art that I wouldn’t have had if left to my general education during undergrad.
Outside of the education, I consider you to be one of those first mentors I had. I was a bit of a latch key kid and I remember the various shows and events that you would invite me to, and that sort of guidance was always appreciated. And my grandmother enjoyed your friendship. I also think about the friendship you and my grandmother developed over the years and am so deeply grateful for that. Most of her friends and family were in other states and I know she enjoyed talking to you about art and music and life. Plus the support you offered as she took ill was amazingly kind. The impact of that is probably the greatest value from the lessons and classes that I hold to this day.
LRW: Nice! Your words touch my heart. I loved Rethola’s emails, her wit and warmth. It is an honor to be considered one of your first mentors. Not sure if you know this but you and Rethola were my rock as I bootstrapped my art and piano teaching practice practically out of thin air. A good portion of my school’s success is due to the start you and your grandma gave me. The gratitude and admiration is mutual. As you know, art can touch people’s lives, bringing happiness and hope. For example, Pastimes For A Lifetime partners with CoachArt.org to provide free art classes and piano lessons for families impacted by childhood chronic illness. Is there a charity you are fond of or support, that you might like my readers to learn more about?
KH: You know I can’t think of any art charities that I’ve supported. Currently I’ve been supporting BLM-LA and their efforts with the People’s Budget LA and The Valley of Change who have been hosting daily Black Lives Matter protests in Sherman Oaks and doing work with the unhoused community in the Valley.
LRW: Good to know. Thank you for the links so my readers may learn more. In closing, do you have a favorite quote, mantra or process that you find inspiring or helpful when faced with a creative block or frustration, that you would like to share with my readers?
KH: You know, I have a lot of quotes from a lot of different places. I guess if I had to settle on one, it’s one I found from a poem in one of my grandmother’s notebooks. I got a tattoo of it after she passed in her handwriting, but it’s simple:
LRW: That’s so Rethola! Perfect reminder when the going gets tough.
Krystal, it has been such fun catching up with you. Thank you for your gracious time with your hectic schedule. Our culture is richer because of you and what you have and will accomplish and contribute. As a teacher, it is a pleasure to count you among my friends.
Did you enjoy this interview? If so, your comments below are sincerely appreciated. Please feel free to share it with others, too.
Want first notice on more upcoming student interviews? Subscribe now!