Music is an internal component of what makes us tick. It shapes how we feel, how our emotions are manipulated. It is a crucial element of how we engage with media: television, advertisements, film. Launching endorphins that get us to create conceptions of the the things we see, music works as a sleeper cell - shifting our brain's chemistry to try and get us to a feel a specific way without being obvious.
As such, music surprisingly goes overlooked in advertising by those consuming the media. Those who actually compose sometimes get even less limelight. Enter Kelly Mac.
Kelly Mac is a composer whose work has moved you to embrace brands like McDonald's, Victoria's Secret, and Clinique. Her credits also feature brands like MTV, VH1, and a new series starring George Lopez. Her ability to shift her sound to suit the needs of individual campaigns has made her a chameleon in the advertising community, showcasing knowledge in a diverse array of subgenres ranging from electronica to straightforward pop.
An honest example of someone working in music who goes overlooked by the masses, but has influenced us nonetheless, Kelly Mac is the focus of this week's Music Monday.
Kelly - for our readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you do in the music industry?
I’m a composer and producer who makes modern music for commercials and television. I specialize in pop, hip-hop, r&b, and electronica for all types of media. I do artist development as well.
Who has influenced you the most in your career? Where do you look for inspiration in your work?
I’d say the biggest direct influence on my career was a successful composer who mentored me for 6 months. I learned a lot of practical skills from him that helped me turn music into a profitable career. He taught me the ins and outs of the sync and licensing industry, how to handle clients, how to hustle and bring in work, and keep a disciplined schedule. More importantly, he showed me how to stay flexible when creating music for media and keep in mind that this is a service-based business.
For inspiration, I like to hunt down new artists that are pushing the envelope in interesting ways. Even though I make mainstream music, I think it’s important to look outside of trends and incorporate that into pop music. I like to watch different genres of film and pay close attention to the score and try to understand why the composer and director made the choices they did. Lately, I’m even inspired outside of music. I love talking to creatives in other industries like video, photography, branding, and design and notice the parallels of our professions. We have a lot in common and it's exciting to learn about what they do. Essentially, we're all just trying to tell compelling stories and solve problems.
In many ways, music sets a tone for the media we watch. Music moves us, influences us. How do you approach concepts writing scores for TV and commercial projects?
Most of the time, I’m given a brief from the creative directors at the ad agency or network that go into detail about everything needed. I’ll typically go over that brief multiple times and try to understand what the client really wants the music to do. The brief is always outlining a problem and it’s my job to solve it. Sometimes you have to read between the lines of what’s actually stated. They can say “give us something with swagger,” but descriptors can mean different things to different people. So some psychology is needed. I try to do as much research as I can on the tone of the brand or the show before I begin writing.
In your career so far, what has been the most jaw dropping moment for you where you went, "Wow - this is a thing that's happening!"
I think seeing the shift in the types of music used in commercials and media these days has been exciting. Over the past several years, a lot of brands have been taking risks with their storytelling and that’s translated to the music. When I grew up, commercials were usually cheesy and programmed, but now they’re in a much more natural and authentic place. I think audiences now, particularly the youth, have a higher "B.S. meter" and a shift was needed in order for these companies to stay relevant. For example, the new Google ad for Pixel is using an Anderson.Paak song - the vibe is totally unexpected!
For young men and women who want to pursue careers in the music industry or in business, what tips do you have?
I’d say it’s important to figure out your niche and hone in on it. Don’t try to be all things to all people, but rather be everything to a select group of people. Educate yourself and look for holes in the industry and try to come up with ways to do what everyone else isn’t doing. Lastly, think of yourself as a business and spend a good amount of time doing sales and outreach. As creatives, we tend to shy away from networking, but it’s better to find a way to enjoy it. Going out and building relationships is imperative to turning your passion into a career.
For more on Kelly Mac's work, visit her website which features content made for companies like McDonald's, Capital One, and Disney. Also, be sure to check out her curated playlist for us below.