How This Boutique Music & Sound Design Company Scored a Touchdown With 7 Super Bowl Spots (2024)

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Few events can stitch together the various webs of American culture like the Super Bowl, and the numbers this year bear that out: With 123.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, the Big Game last Sunday (Feb. 11) was the most-watched broadcast since the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. And that means a lot of eyeballs for a lot of high-profile advertisem*nt slots, which were priced accordingly: Commercials for the event this year went for as much as $7 million for a 30-second ad, according to the Wall Street Journal.

That makes working on such ads a high-stakes game, not to mention one that’s highly coveted in the world of music supervision and production. This year, boutique music and sound design company Barking Owl Sound landed seven such spots, doing sound design, mixing and production for ads with (with Tina Fey) and Etsy; music arrangement and production for Budweiser’s spot; sound design, mix, production and original music for Starry’s ad with Ice Spice (No. 10 on Billboard‘s list of best commercials from the event); mixing and production for Paramount+’s Champions League ad; sound design and production for Kia’s commercial; and original music and production for’s Mascot ad. And that high-profile work for the firm earns Barking Owl Sound co-founder/executive creative director Kelly Bayett the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.

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Here, Bayett discusses the behind-the-scenes work that goes into the sound production of a Super Bowl ad; how she helped build Barking Owl and its creative team as well as its new music library, along with the opportunities it entails for them; and what’s next for the company. “With seven spots this year, it really solidifies our position in the industry moving forward and opens us up to new opportunities,” Bayett says. “We can accept the challenge and our team can excel with a number of projects under the highest amount of pressure. Moving forward, we are strong as ever and ready for anything.”

This week, Barking Owl worked on the music for seven Super Bowl advertisem*nts, including for Etsy, Budweiser, Kia and more. What key decisions did you make to help make that happen?

In our industry, getting Super Bowl ads is definitely relationship-dependent. An agency and client will rarely go to a vendor they don’t know and trust for a piece with millions of dollars on the line. Our key decisions are actually based on building the long term and not what feels fast and easy. [It’s about] focusing on growing relationships that last and consistently keeping the work you are doing fresh and interesting.

Can you tell me about how the company got started and your philosophy around what you do and what work you choose to get involved with, particularly as it pertains to these spots?

I was a single mom and I and my then-boyfriend, now husband, decided to start a music and sound design company in our home. Fourteen years later, we have added mix, brand partnerships, gorgeous studios in L.A. and New York as well as a global team of composers and writers. Our philosophy was to create a company that focused on creative and felt like home. We care about the craft of sound. If you look at any piece of work we have done for the Super Bowl, or anything on our reel, you will see that we don’t just grab sounds out of the library. We create them for each moment and we have been really fortunate to attract clients who value and appreciate the process.

What is the typical process for how you guys work on a commercial like these?

We will get a brief from the agency, and from there, it’s go time. We get on a call and talk about the process, creative directives, and then we start to create and build. It’s important to us to have the agency involved in the collaboration so that there are no surprises on either side. We keep it fun and light, we have amazing executive producers in New York and L.A. in Ashley Benton and KC Dossett who keep everyone on task. It’s the only time of year where every job is racing to the same finish line, so it takes incredible scheduling and organization.

Your work on these was a mix of sound design, mixing, production, arrangement and original music. How do you approach each of those roles differently?

We have different teams of specialists for each role. Original music can be the trickiest a lot of the time because we are creating themes, tones and movement with an incredibly fast timeline. You are working with personal taste, and when it comes to thoughts about music, there is no right or wrong, it’s all about feeling. Sometimes, you just don’t like something because it doesn’t move you, and that can be challenging. We have to become detectives and figure out what isn’t hitting emotionally or tonally. Sometimes the whole team is on board with the exception of one holdout, and even though majority rules, I feel like we have failed if everyone has not left happy.

Arrangements are really about timing and vision of the track. Sound design is one of the most fun pieces, and also the piece that if we do it exactly right with hours of foley recording and sound manipulation, it will feel like we have done nothing at all. Mixing is the glue that keeps all of it together, giving space for the dialogue, VO, music and sound design. A great mix is dynamic, a bad mix is overly compressed and you lose the craft of each element you have so diligently created. Having our work destroyed by lazy mixers inspired the creation of our mix department.

Music production work like this is a competitive space, dealing with both huge companies and smaller houses. How do you guys compete within that environment, and stand out against your competitors?

It’s an incredibly competitive environment and it only gets more competitive as new companies are popping up each day. I have never really been one to look around and see what others are doing. I am solely focused on our mission, our purpose and what work we are putting out there. How are we showing up each day? Is it good enough? We are also a female-founded company with female creative leads, which is highly unusual. I came up in a space that was so insanely male, we wanted to bring a different perspective and change the landscape with female composers, mixers and sound designers. Everyone matters and everyone is supported here. When people feel supported they are free to create better and more inventive work. We created a structure where we all work as a team and there is no internal competition. That is a huge difference as well. Our employee retention is incredibly high and we all know each other so well, it’s truly like family.

You’re also building out your own music library. What will that allow you to do, and how can that allow you to grow in the future?

I am so insanely excited about this. We have this amazing library of about 15,000 original tracks from years of demos created for commercials that never sold. The quality we expect from composers and the years of crafting and scoring have resulted in an incredibly varied, diverse library of tracks that are of the highest creative level. We didn’t exactly know what to do with them or how to set up a library, but we knew that we could offer something unique to the industry, as well as broadening our reach to TV and film. Last year, we brought in a partner, Kirkland Lynch, who leads these types of strategic initiatives as CEO. Kirkland brings experience from years with Sony Music, Universal Music Group, Stevie Wonder and YouTube Music. He has been a great addition to the team bringing an understanding and knowledge we really needed.

What does success look like from your point of view for a commercial like these? And with seven spots at this year’s game, what does that allow you guys to do moving forward?

We aren’t in charge of the overall idea, so the success for us is to see if we have executed the idea in the best way possible. Sound design properly in the space, the music scored and arranged in a way that tells the story and makes you feel something, mixes where each sound element complements the other — that is success. With seven spots this year, it really solidifies our position in the industry moving forward and opens us up to new opportunities. We can accept the challenge and our team can excel with a number of projects under the highest amount of pressure. Moving forward, we are strong as ever and ready for anything.

How This Boutique Music & Sound Design Company Scored a Touchdown With 7 Super Bowl Spots (2024)
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