At the Height of the Recession, This Entrepreneur Struck Out on Her Own. 10 Years Later? She’s Still Going Strong, With Clients Like Google and Coca-Cola.
Kelly Bayett is the creative director and co-founder of music and sound company Barking Owl.
5 min read
In 2009, music producer Kelly Bayett was in the midst of a divorce, raising two young kids and overdue for a raise after three years. She was also starting to wonder if she could do a better job leading than the people she was working under.
So she paused to think things through. And, her thinking was that if she got the raise, that would be a sign that she should stay. But if she didn’t, it was time to reconsider what she really wanted out of her career. She made the ask, and her bosses, citing the recession, said sorry, no.
That’s how Bayett left that job and co-founded her Los Angeles-based music and sound company Barking Owl. “I really had nothing to lose. I had no money. I had a divorce. I had two little kids and I just had to figure something out,” she told Entrepreneur. “And so I opened the business in my house. I didn’t have a reel. I had to just go to people and find a way to be involved on jobs without showing any work.
“And it was definitely a hustle. And it was a really interesting time because I had to be so resourceful.”
A packed resume
That resourcefulness, Bayett said, stemmed from her varied career in the industry. She’d done everything from specializing in voice-over acting and singing and radio to scoring feature films and ads, to working for commercial music companies. Along the way, she’d learned from directors and editors about how to create an end product that would really resonate with people.
And that kind of packed résumé meant she wasn’t without work for long. In addition, Bayett was very careful about the kind of work she took on. She wanted to make sure that Barking Owl had a reputation for turning out beautiful, high-quality work. And that strategy worked: About a year in, the company got its biggest client yet, doing the sound design for a Coca-Cola Super Bowl spot.
That was ten years ago. Today, with a decade of business under her belt, Bayett has a roster of sound design and mix clients that includes big names like Adidas, Bumble, Google, the Grammys, Macy’s, Microsoft, Netflix, Nike and Toyota.
Making space for women
Barking Owl has 16 full-time staffers and 24 freelancers, with 73 percent of the full-time staff made up of women and minorities. Bayett said she is committed to making space for women, especially those just starting their careers in such male-dominated industries as advertising and music.
“In another job, for conference calls, I used to just put an assistant on the phone so people could just hear a guy’s voice and feel comfortable,” Bayett recalled. “Even though he knew nothing, he just had to say ‘hi’ and didn’t even talk anymore after that. I wanted to change that perception. A lot of these sound-mix places are very white, cisgender, male run places.” Of course, Bayett is long past operating out of her house. Her business has expanded to three mix studios, a sound-design room, a foley stage and a music room. And growth has been one of the most exciting aspects of the business, but also the most daunting, Bayett said.
“How do you know when is the right time to open another studio?” Bayett said she asks herself. “What is the right time for me to have another location? It becomes scary in a lot of ways. Growth is a big challenge because you can’t do it wrong.
“If it fails, now you’re over-leveraged. Now you have to sacrifice something, where before it was perfect, and maybe you had to turn down work. I think that’s the challenge we’re facing right now: Is it time to grow, or do we just stay where we are?”
Bayett said that for women entrepreneurs thinking about going out on their own, her advice is to seek out work that helps you creatively thrive. And don’t try to lead like anyone else.
“If you try to compete by not being authentic to yourself, then I feel like success is fleeting. You always have to be true to yourself,” Bayett advised. “You have to keep your side of the street clean always. I just do everything straightforward and with my full heart. I will say that that approach has brought forth the greatest clients and talents and people. I always feel like you don’t have to play the game in what is considered ‘a man’s game.’
“Business can be personal. It doesn’t have to be one or the other; you can really invest in your people.”