Thinking in Sound: Kayla Monetta
A former college radio DJ, Kayla got her start writing about bands and doing digital marketing in New York at VICE’s Noisey. She went on to work for indie record labels such as Downtown Records and Cult Records. Kayla continued her career in Los Angeles, working as a music publicist while learning about the world of music licensing and supervision ─ a career she had always dreamed of pursuing. She landed a position at Third Side Music Publishing where she learned the ins and outs of creative licensing, before moving on to The Greater Goods Co., then Butter Music + Sound. In her spare time, you can find her making mixes for her weekly East Side Radio show, Nocturnal Transmissions.
LBB> When you’re working on a new brief or project, what’s your typical starting point? How do you break it down and how do you like to generate your ideas or response?
Kayla> After speaking with the client about what they are looking for, getting set terms for the project, and hopefully collecting a handful of reference tracks, I like to put together my own 'dream list' of tracks I see working with the spot. This usually helps as a guide to narrowing what the spot is looking for sonically, before breaking down what will actually clear for budget, terms, etc. As a music supervisor who was once on the licensing and pitching side of things, it’s really important to me to not rely solely on tracks I receive from briefs or searches, AKA songs sent to me by someone else. In some ways I feel like that’s taking the lazy route and doing a disservice to the client you are working with--though granted, you have a good amount of time to present the best music possible for the spot. Once I have a few tracks that I personally select, I like to run the terms by the label/publisher before doing a wider search to publishers, labels, and sync reps for more ideas.
LBB> Music and sound are in some ways the most collaborative and interactive forms of creativity - what are your thoughts on this? Do you prefer to work solo or with a gang - and what are some of your most memorable professional collaborations?
Kayla> On the music supervision side of things, I very much prefer to work alone and honestly need that autonomy in order to deliver my best work. Listening to music has always been a very personal thing for me, and in order to use my best judgment on a spot, I need to be completely alone in a room listening to music. If someone would have told me this would be a key aspect of my job as a kid, I would not believe them! Alternatively, I do enjoy the collaboration with a team when sharing new music, or potential signings for our sync roster. I will always listen to something that someone I trust recommends to me.
LBB> What’s the most satisfying part of your job and why?
Kalya> The main reason why I decided to pursue a career in music is for my genuine desire to help artists get treated, and compensated, fairly. There are two sides to my current role at Butter. As a music supervisor, I have a hand in guiding musical choices that can ‘break’ an unknown artist, and hopefully provide a paycheck that will bring them closer to being able to pursue music as a full time career. Having the ability to do either of these (hopefully both) is by far the most satisfying part of my job. As Butter’s head of A&R, I have the unique opportunity of not only being able to sign artists to our roster, but to also dictate the terms in our artist contracts to be as artist friendly as possible. My friend Jen Pearce at Low Profile is really paving the path of transparency across the sync world, which has been long overdue. I have learned and taken a lot of pages out of her book, including our efforts to create contract terms that feel less like a binding contract for our artists, and more of an open friendship where both parties are held accountable for mutual success. My hope is that more companies follow in these footsteps to create a more equitable and transparent industry.
LBB> As the advertising industry changes, how do you think the role of music and sound is changing with it?
Kayla> I think that music is one of the things that is responsible for pushing a change in the advertising industry. Popular music today is diverse - it’s not any one artist or genre. I love that because it completely erases the idea that people are numbers to be reached by an algorithm. With this in mind, along with the various movements that have taken place this past year, the pressure for advertising to diversify both sonically and visually is huge. This has created many more opportunities for unique artists that you wouldn’t have normally heard in ads even five years ago.
LBB> When you’re working on something that isn’t directly sound design or music - are you the sort of person who needs music and noise in the background or is that completely distracting to you? What are your thoughts on ‘background’ sound and music as you work?
Kayla> Whoever said ‘silence is deafening’ is right. Silence was probably my main distraction in an office setting before I had the ability to work from home, which has been such a blessing for my focus. I am really uncomfortable sitting in a room in silence alone, and even more uncomfortable in silence when surrounded by other people. Because of this, I always have music on. Usually I like to listen to the radio in the mornings and have something like KCRW in the background, and end up keeping it on throughout the day. If I am not listening to the radio, I’ll usually have mostly instrumental, ambient, or score on my speakers in my apartment.
LBB> I guess the quality of the listening experience and the context that audiences listen to music/sound in has changed over the years. There’s the switch from analogue to digital and now we seem to be divided between bad-ass surround-sound immersive experiences and on-the-go, low quality sound - how does that factor into how you approach your work?
Kayla> *TRIGGER WARNING* I’ve never been much of a gear-head or speaker nerd. I can always appreciate listening to an album on vinyl and hear the difference; same goes for listening to music on an extremely nice sound system. But to be honest, if a song is good, it’s good, and if it sucks, it sucks. No speaker or format is going to change that for me, and I would rather be caught dead than go around saying a song sounds better on vinyl than it does digitally. A lot of people say that listening to vinyl accentuates the listening experience in terms of frequency spectrums used during the recording process, but all of that sounds exhausting to me and I would rather just listen to what I want to listen to without getting a lecture about it.
LBB> On a typical day, what does your ‘listening diet’ look like?
Kayla> Lately while working, I mostly listen to instrumental music or old film scores if I feel whimsical that day. I’ve been on a Piero Piccioni kick lately, which I really think has positively affected my mood on a daily basis. I also really love the new Molly Lewis EP that came out on Jagjaguwar this year and have been listening to a lot of that lately.
LBB> Do you have a collection of music/sounds and what shape does it take (are you a vinyl nerd, do you have hard drives full of random bird sounds, are you a hyper-organised spotify-er…)?
Kayla> Piggybacking off of the previous question, there was a point in my life where I collected vinyl in pursuit of being a purist, but I have moved across the country four times now and it just doesn’t make sense to schlep my entire record collection back and forth each time. These days, I am a hyper-organised Spotifyer until I can find and commit to a better, more equitable option for artists. I have hundreds of themed playlists I am constantly updating and organising based on a handful of things: mood, theme, words, genre, etc.
LBB> Outside of the music and sound world, what sort of art or topics really excite you and do you ever relate that back to music?
Kayla> I relate everything back to music. If there are films or TV shows I love, I usually remember specific parts because of the music. Most of my childhood music memories stem from movies I would watch, which explains why I was super into bands like The Psychedelic Furs as a kid, which I discovered from The Wedding Singer (along with the entire soundtrack with my favourite songs). If I see art, I usually think about songs I would pair with whatever I am looking at. I’ve always used music as my main language of understanding and connecting with most art.
LBB> Let’s talk travel! It’s often cited as one of the most creatively inspiring things you can do - I’d love to know what are the most exciting or inspiring experiences you’ve had when it comes to sound and music on your travels?
Kayla> I’ve had numerous amazing experiences traveling all over the world for shows, festivals, etc. but when I think about my relationship to music and travel, I think about the albums I listen to when riding the subway, driving in my car, or flying on a plane. There is a visceral feeling I get listening to an album in headphones while traveling that is hard to replicate when just sitting at home, listening on speakers. An album that comes to mind when thinking about this is Death Cab For Cutie’s Transatlanticism. I was gifted this CD when I was 12 years old and took it on a family trip to Italy. I forgot my jewel case, so this was the only album I could listen to on multiple planes, trains, and car rides around Italy for two weeks. It’s one of my favourite albums of all time because of the nostalgic, adolescent memories I have spending time with it.
LBB> As we age, our ears change physically and our tastes evolve too, and life changes mean we don’t get to engage in our passions in the same intensity as in our youth - how has your relationship with sound and music changed over the years?
Kayla> I think my relationship with music has changed over the years simply because of the ways in which we listen to music today vs even a decade ago. As a kid, I would listen to full albums in my CD player. My relationship with purchasing music was involved on a deeper level. The act of going to Amoeba or Tower Records to buy a CD, ripping off the plastic and popping it in your CD player for the first time, all felt very ritualistic and special. The same goes for how I digested the music as a full album and not random tracks from various artists thrown on a playlist. I try my best to listen to albums the way they were intended to be listened to, but I do find myself listening to playlists a lot more. This has definitely helped with music discovery for sure, but I am some sort of purist at the end of the day and like to listen to full albums as much as possible!
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