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Tough Cop Turned Nashville Music Agent

Hard lessons—and great joy—from pursuing a passion.


by Kerry Hannon

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Excerpted from What’s Next: Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties, and Beyond.

To be the toughest female cop alive, you have to run three miles uphill, climb three hundred stairs, put the shot, climb ropes, bench-press, run a hundred-meter sprint, swim one hundred meters, and complete an obstacle course three football fields in length—eight events in one day.

Jill Angel has done that. And won. She captured the state of California’s Toughest Cop Alive endurance competition for women and came in second in the worldwide event. For twenty-two years, Angel was a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer, rising through the ranks to oversee more than a thousand officers. It was a job she prized, and for a while, she was unstoppable. Then it all fell apart. Handling nothing but the worst stuff on the Critical Incident Response Team for five years had taken its toll. Physically, she was spent: she had high blood pressure, migraine headaches, depression, and an inability to sleep soundly.

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A single mom with two young daughters, aged ten and thirteen, Angel realized it was time to make a change. She handed in her badge and retired. But it was the power of music that really helped her turn the corner. Now she’s in training to be the toughest music agent alive, working as a fitness director to make ends meet while pursuing her passion.

“People told me I would meet the worst people in the music business. ‘They lie to you’ and so on, they cautioned,” Angel says. “I said, ‘Are you kidding? I just spent twenty-two years as a police officer in South Central L.A. The music people are some of the nicest people I’ve met.’”

Since moving into her new gig managing singers and songwriters, Angel has worked with a half-dozen artists, but her biggest success to date is her cousin, Ilene Angel, whose song “I Don’t Think About It,” sung by Emily Osment, costar of the TV show Hannah Montana, hit the Radio Disney Top 10, where it stayed for over four months.

I asked Jill to share her thoughts on her career transition.

What did the transition mean to you personally?

What drove me was wanting as many people as possible to heal from the music I was healing from at the time. Twenty-two years of law enforcement and I was really sick, completely stressed out. Multiple fatalities, line-of-duty deaths . . . after years of that I was depressed.

Any second-guessing?

I was totally confident. I actually craved trying to make Ilene happen.

Anything you would have done differently?

I would have been more selective about how I invested the money. I spent everything I had on it and at the same time went through a divorce that finished me off financially. You have to know where to spend the money and where not to. I learned all of that the hard way. I was so confident. I actually thought I could make it in three months.

You can spend a thousand dollars recording one song demo, and everything my clients wrote I was having demoed if I liked it. If someone said they would listen to a song, I would overnight it. A month later I’d be in that producer’s office, and I would see my envelope in the corner on the floor with all the other piles of stuff not even opened.

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I spent so much money. I didn’t know once we had a number one song that it wouldn’t bring in enough money to make my venture really take off. If I knew years ago what I know today, I would have a ton more money. Do I regret any of it? Absolutely not! I feel like I’m just beginning.

How do you measure your success?

The success and rewards have not been financial for me. Helping people make a living singing at gigs four nights a week, maybe not a record deal, but doing what they love and sharing their gift, that’s an achievement.

How did your preparation help you succeed?

I found a mentor who can answer my questions, whom I can bounce ideas off of, and who can open doors for me sometimes.

I got my kids excited about it, so I have that support at home. They love being in the studio. Now they are in performing arts schools. One takes voice lessons. One takes guitar lessons. All of this came out of my pursuing this endeavor.

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And I was confident. I may have overdone it, at least initially. I just jumped. And I learned as I went. It has kind of been that way my whole life. In the past, doors have opened for me. I learned not to be afraid to run through them. I’ve always been able to make things happen for myself.

I’m so glad I didn’t know the things that happened for me don’t usually happen. There are thirty thousand songwriters in Nashville and here I was taking Ilene’s songs directly to heads of record labels. These were people I shouldn’t have been able to get a meeting with, but I just called them, and they met with me.

Any unexpected rewards?

One of the songs I recorded saved someone’s life. It’s called “Time to Fly,” written by Ilene. A colleague from the California Highway Patrol was suicidal. She bought the CD and played it all the time—and eventually decided not to take her life. I spent six years and every penny I had throwing heart and soul into that album. If all of that was about one person hearing that one song, it was all worth it.

What’s Next, copyright 2014 by Kerry Hannon, published by the Berkley Publishing Group.

Photo Credit: Barry Winker/Photolibrary/Getty