Viewing music production as a puzzle-solving exercise, composer and sound designer Denis Kilty loves the process of experimentation, finding ways to balance emotional narrative with challenging time constraints. “Trying to tell a story effectively while contending with all the other components of film is a satisfying exercise. Once I had the bug for it, I was hooked,” he says.
Founder of eponymous music and sound design studio, denis.
, the composer/sound designer creates cinematic audio for advertising and motion-picture from his hometown of Dublin. “It’s rare for a composer to also be the sound designer,” he admits, “but I found as my career progressed, it was the natural step towards creative autonomy over the audio world-building process. Once I began to step into this space, it fundamentally changed my writing habits, style and opportunities. It has allowed me to build deeply immersive audio for some huge brands and creative projects, and it has developed my music style considerably.”
These huge brands include the likes of Audi, Volkswagen, Jaguar, Three, Sky, Allianz, Budweiser and many more. On his experience collaborating with them, Denis comments: “The industry nationally and internationally is run by really nice, creative people, and as a social person, every project has been a positive experience. Creating compelling content that is simply enjoyable is the key to unlocking the power of branded projects. People seek out entertainment every day, all we need to do is meet them halfway.”
Denis’ journey into the world of music began at a young age, singing in choirs and performing in bands before eventually creating music of his own and producing for his first clients. “Before music though, I studied business at university,” he reveals. “And I think that has stood to me in the crazy world of advertising. It’s a tough business and the organisational chops come in handy every day.”
Before stepping into the commercial sphere in 2015, Denis was a freelance music producer. “I found myself getting increasingly involved in song arrangements, putting together string parts and often ‘cinematic’ elements to give the music an extra dimension. I enjoyed this part of the process the most, and it led me to eventually pivot toward creating my own music. There was a natural tipping point towards scoring for picture and I ended up working on a few shorts, but very quickly, was asked to score a commercial. It was my musical arrangements that opened the door and things escalated rapidly. I found myself catapulted into a new creative medium.”
Indulgently Immersive Sound
Operating under the name of his studio, Denis’ decision to brand himself was no accident. “I made the decision early on that I needed to treat myself as a brand and not a service - I want to be hired for my unique approach, not because I tick a box in the production process.”
His ethos, he says, is fairly simple. “Just make the best work, and don’t be shy about getting your hands dirty in the process. Every piece should be a statement piece - you never know who is watching.”
And the key to achieving that? “No one likes to be told to be sad or happy, so the focus for me with music and sound design is more about making the storytelling experience immersive, almost indulgent. The best-received stories are the ones that almost compel us to engage by making us think about what we’re looking at, or question our own reality.”
“I love to work on projects that have particularly in-depth audio requirements - where music and sound are intrinsically reliant on one another to deliver the message,” he says. “Visual effects-driven films for example, often require immersive audiovisual experiences to tell their story, but the same applies for live action. I even sometimes find myself editing pictures to highlight from an audio perspective what might be achieved - always ask the editor first though!”
Just last year, Denis won a Young Guns 18 award, becoming one of only two people to ever receive the award for sound design from The One Club. “It’s a huge privilege to be selected and so satisfying to see sound design being recognised as a craft in such a highly contested and respected award like Young Guns,” Denis comments. “Having your creative output approved by a brilliant, diverse jury makes the hard graft worth it.”
Other award wins include the likes of Gold for Best Original Sound Design and Silver for Best Original Music at Lisbon Intl. Awards 2019; Bronze for Best Original Music at London Intl. Awards 2019; and Silver for Best Use of Music at Kinsale Sharks 2019. He has also made numerous shortlists including Outstanding Sound Design at Cresta Intl. 2020 and 2019; Best Sound Mixing at Kinsale Sharks 2020; and Best Original Sound Design at ICAD 2019.
Reflecting over some of his favourite career highlights so far, Denis says, “The first commercial I ever did was The Loneliest Whale. It was the first film that Three Mobile made after acquiring O2, so it was a big one for them. That set the scene for all my future work. Not long after that, I ended up on a huge commercial for Budweiser featuring MMA fighter Conor McGregor. He was blowing up at the time and the commercial ended up going viral, broadcasting all over America and creating a huge amount of coverage. I even caught footage of it playing to the stadium at Madison Square Garden, which was insane!”
Just last year, Denis scored a Christmas campaign for SuperValu which received millions of hits, going internationally viral overnight. “It was ranked right up there with Coca Cola and John Lewis, which was rewarding to see being recognised,” he says.
“I also have a soft spot for a film called Celebration that I made with Jose Cuervo. The director Brian Williams is a genius and the experience was one of the first times a creative team placed full trust in me and let me do my thing - it was so empowering.”
The film went on to win several awards for music and sound design, and opened up even more opportunities. “It goes to show that trust by agencies in the supplier can yield impactful results,” Denis states.
Although Denis runs a one-man boutique sound studio, he is deeply respectful of the truth that filmmaking is a team player’s game. “I work remotely with fantastic agencies, VFX houses and directors on a wide variety of projects all over the world. I take care of music, sound design, VO editing and final mix personally, so will always be at the heart of every project.”
This agility has proven massively effective during the Covid crisis. “Since Covid, the creative world has grown accustomed to international remote collaborating - creatives and agencies are realising that it’s possible to complete projects in different time zones and territories with a wide variety of artistic contributors, and are seeking creators with a unique edge. This is where I thrive, and I am extremely excited about what is to come.”
This significant shift in taking on more international work led Denis to complete a record number of projects in 2020/2021. “My studio is based in Ireland in the most beautiful location right at the edge of the Irish Sea, and 70% of my clients now are located in London, New York, and Los Angeles. Creative people are everywhere and with almost zero friction, there are unending opportunities to create.”
He is also experiencing a rise in clients asking for music consultation on agency briefs before they’ve formally kicked off. “More and more I find myself developing ideas at their core and teasing out the best version of an idea before it even starts. It’s a benefit to being a lone ranger - I’m always just one phone call away and have developed a shorthand with so many creatives as a result. You wouldn’t believe the impact a conversation beforehand can have on a creative idea.”
On projects coming later this year, Denis highlights that “they will really speak to the benefits and success of this way of creating. There are a handful of extremely cool international and local projects that are already in progress this year, one in particular that has the potential to be career-changing (and world-changing).”
“I can confidently say that my best work is yet to come. 2021 is going to be a transformative year but that’s as much as I can say right now!