“Waco to Hollywood”: An Essay by JD Hinton for Mental Health Awareness Month

JD Hinton © 2024
JD Hinton © 2024
Throughout the year, Atwood Magazine invites members of the music industry to participate in a series of essays reflecting on identity, music, culture, inclusion, and more.
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Today, singer/songwriter JD Hinton shares his essay, “Waco to Hollywood,” as a part of Atwood Magazine’s Mental Health Awareness Month series. From working as a disc jockey in Sacramento to pursuing his dreams in Hollywood, Hinton’s journey was fueled by a passion for the creative process, the support of friends, running, and faith, ultimately teaching him the importance of starting, adapting, and finding his true place in the world.
JD Hinton’s musical journey has taken him from sold-out performances in Los Angeles and New York to the hallowed halls of the Vatican, where he had the honor of performing for the Pope. His versatile career, spanning from his days as a midnight to dawn disc jockey to acting roles in popular TV shows (Mork & Mindy, The Morning Show, Jane the Virgin, etc.), reflects his boundless creativity and improvisational skill.
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by JD Hinton

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My first trip to Hollywood started in Sacramento where I was working as a disc jockey and music director for the top radio station there at that time. I grew up in Waco, Texas, and California runs at a different speed. Sacramento was an easy and friendly bridge into California. When I moved to Hollywood, I saw how I needed the time in Sacramento.

In school I learned piano and guitar. So, while I played hits on the radio, I began to think about writing songs. Without planning it, I was also learning the music business from the record company execs and artists who called or came to visit me with their latest releases. I wanted to see LA and not just hear about it. I wrangled an invite from a record producer to his next recording session. I took the first plane to Los Angeles I could. Sunset Blvd. here I come.

That trip and my two years in Sacramento convinced me I could move to Hollywood. I did not feel like a complete stranger. I didn’t know a lot, but I knew just enough to get started. That’s a big lesson: START.

JD Hinton
JD Hinton © 2024

What compelled me about Hollywood was the creative process. I wanted to be where the songwriters and singers were… where the actors and movie makers were. I wanted to do what they did. I wanted to find out a way to do that.

The first thing I did was look for the rules. I thought there must be a school or class somewhere – a short cut – past all the uncertainty. Just tell me what I’m supposed to know. I’ll show up early and do it. Of course I found nothing of the sort. That’s not the way it really works. That “paint by number” approach doesn’t get you very far. In the end it’s not really a painting, it’s just a picture. The creative process is why I moved to Hollywood. I began to see my answers weren’t enough. I needed better questions.

The first big difference I found in Hollywood was how good everyone was. Now instead of 1 or 2 talented people around you, everyone in the room was a pro. This was their job – their life. I’m in. All in. I decided to get serious about working here. Everyone else looked casual, but they were completely serious. You couldn’t just show up and get by. My first year I was the proverbial dog who finally caught the car.

Did this feel crazy? Did I ever feel lost? Did I start to second-guess myself? Yes. Yes. All of that. I always say if this was easy (even easier), the line to get in would be longer. I knew Los Angeles would be different, but I did not know how. Change can be difficult and there were plenty of times I had to… adjust. Adapting is not a given or smooth process.

JD Hinton © 2024
JD Hinton © 2024

A few things helped me keep my feet on the ground.

FRIENDS: I had a few friends already, and I developed friendships in acting classes and on auditions. From their stories, I found a way to feel more at home.

RUNNING: Initially, I began to run a mile a day as a way to keep up my energy. I liked it and began taking longer runs. Running took care of daily stress, and long runs gave me a way to daydream, to sort through questions I faced, to feel stronger and better about myself.

FAITH: My parents taught me the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. They also taught me to pray. They prayed. The way I think about it now is: When things get dark, I know where to find the light switch.

I love L.A. Still. It is challenging. It changed who I was. It did not change who I am. I learned some rooms I don’t belong in. I also learned there are places where I was born to be. Cheers from here. – JD Hinton

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