Music is one of the most vital parts of the storytelling process. The right chord progression can tell you where lovers stand, or who the killer is. Kelly Mac has mastered the art of using music to tell a story. “Imagine a film without any music. It would kind of fall flat,” she told ESSENCE. “I think music is a really integral part of evoking emotions and bringing stories to life.”
Mac is one of the few women working in the field. According to a 2021 Celluloid Ceiling study, conducted by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, less than 8% of film composers are women.
She did not initially envision herself composing for features. “I started composing a little bit for commercials, and I really wasn’t considering doing film scores because I thought it was something that was more reserved for traditional composers,” she explained. A 2013 film expanded her understanding of what film composition could be like. “I did orchestral scores and then several years back. I was watching this movie Charlie Countrymen where Christophe Beck and DeadMono did the score, and it really stood out to me because they were using these electronic textures and instruments that were reminiscent of the kind of instruments that I was using with artists,” said Mac. “It just really leaped out to me, and I was like, wow, that’s really cool. I want to do a score like that.”
Mac now specializes in modern genres. She is using her company, Kelly Mac Music, to help other artists aid storytellers with their musical talents. She created her own firm after becoming a sought-after composer. “I was working as a composer independently, and I ended up getting so much work that I couldn’t take on all the work myself,” she said. “It kind of started out of necessity.” Kelly Mac Music represents diverse artists using their unique and authentic voices to aid in storytelling. It offers music services including original music composition, music supervision, songwriting and licensing.
Delegating opportunities to those in her network made creating her own firm seem like a natural progression. She built the business by networking across and tapping into the community of artists she was connected to. “I had all these friends that were producing music and were emerging artists, and they were really interested,” she said. “Things kind of snowballed from there, and this organic team ended up getting built out,” said Mac. “I decided to make everything official and get the company incorporated, and It’s been going really strong ever since.”
This was not her first foray into entrepreneurship. Like many artists, she had built a reputation for herself by successfully executing projects and partnerships. “I grew up playing trumpet,” she said.”I went to Berklee College of Music for music production and music business, and after college, I ended up working with a lot of roommates. Some of them were from Berkeley, some of them were from around where I grew up in the DC, Maryland, Virginia area, and so we all came together and made a production team and ended up working with a lot of emerging artists,” she continued. “We formed sort of like an artist development company, so yeah, I think I’ve always sort of had that collaborative spirit,” said Mac.
She enjoys working on “projects that are uplifting” that present “underrepresented stories around Black people.” Time of Essence, Donyale Luna Supermodel, and Block Party fit the bill. The documentaries and comedies shed light on unique experiences with joy and grace. “I was interested in doing long-form projects that were artistic and had something meaningful to say,” Mac said.
Mac worked with her team to illustrate how ESSENCE went from filling a hole in the market to establishing a five-decade legacy. They also helped illustrate the story of how systemic racism overshadowed a supermodel. “We kind of felt like we could just infuse our natural artistic sensibilities into the score, so it’s really natural and really fun,” she said about the projects.
Needle drops have received added attention in the late years of the peak streaming era. The Morning Show tapped Lil’ Kim and Waka Flocka Flame to up the drama in the newsroom this season. Succession’s theme song spawned thousands of appreciative TikToks. Mac is excited to see compositions celebrated for their contributions to stories.
“I’m definitely excited to see meaningful projects rise up and get recognition. I think a rising tide can lift all boats, and anyone that we see that is getting uplifted in that space is a positive thing for everybody.”
Time of Essence and Donyale Luna: Supermodel are now streaming on MAX.