Insights from Studio Moross
With a wealth of experience garnered from working with the likes of the Spice Girls and Kylie, Kate Moross chats through the ever-changing creative demands of the music industry
Looking behind their chameleon-like hair and array of tattoos, Kate Moross strikes an iconic figure. Before leaving education, they’d already created a billboard campaign for Cadbury and amassed a collection of creative collaborators from Myspace and across the club scene. Since their student days, their passion and ability to create has seen them collaborate closely with musicians. Today, their clientele includes some of the most well-known names in the world such as Kylie Minogue and the Spice Girls. More than having the potential to drop some stories, Moross has become somewhat of an advocate for learning good business practice and knowing your rights as a worker. Of course, all the above amalgamate making them an ideal person to chat to about the changing virtual demands placed upon musicians and creatives alike.
RH: Hey! Thanks for making time to chat with us today. Could you introduce yourself?
KM: I'm Kate Moross. I'm a creative director and director of Studio Moross. And I'm a bit of a jack of all trades. I've worked mostly in music, live performance and TV, specialising in working with musicians, mostly in pop and dance genres.
RH: Could you share a bit about the start of your journey into the industry?
KM: I studied graphic design and visual communication at Camberwell... I didn't necessarily feel like my course was exactly right for me when I was at uni, but whilst I was studying at uni, I got involved in the music industry in London. Then, I started working as a freelancer in the United Kingdom and Europe. Like during University, mostly working as an illustrator, designing like flyers and posters, websites for bands, in exchange for tickets to shows. Off the back of that, I got some commercial work as an illustrator designing ads, which got me paid because obviously, the music jobs 50 quid here or there doesn't really suffice! Then, I had this nice mix of commercial work through advertising and editorial, which was like designing stuff for magazines, illustrating stuff for magazines, and then the music projects I was doing. So, I actually started a label when I was in my third year because I wanted to design records, and no one was really hiring me to do that. So I started a record label, so I could design my own records. Then, I sort of stumbled into art direction because a band asked me to be their art director, I didn't really know what it meant! Through that experience, I learnt more about lighting, moving Image and running a live show. Then, I moved on and started my studio in 2012. With the hope of doing even more work like that, it was slow at first, but over time, we sort of worked up to doing more motion and we hired motion people to work with us and we started working on more live projects. For example, we did big stadium tours and arena tours for acts like One Direction, Disclosure and Sam Smith. Before COVID, tours were sort of a priority. Currently, we’ve designed one live experience but as a streamable show. We continue to work in music but we’ve stayed in the packaging/ print world but hoping to pick up the live stuff again!
RH: Amazing - could you tell us about how you managed to translate your graphic skills and your creative experiences into the virtual show space?
KM: In the early years of my career as an Art Director, I would often get a project which needed a music video. Almost like the commissioner, I would write the treatment and send that out to directors. But, then, people would be like why wouldn’t you just direct? So, I ended up directing a lot of music videos! Some of them I wanted to make and some I didn’t! From that, I developed an understanding of how to put together a promo or music video. With working in the live performance landscape, I have never been a show director on my own which means you're in charge of the entire show. There could be a creative director and there could be a show director. So, the show director tends to be a bit more nuanced in the sense that they may actually have a really clear vision of the narrative. But, I’ve kind of been one step below that in many tours and I was hoping to do that a bit more this year. But, of course, that didn’t happen. As there are so many ways to do a show, you’ll often find departments will team up to design the show together especially if you don’t have budget for all these different roles. For example, with the Kylie show, I teamed up with Rob Sinclair, who is a lighting director and who had been creative director and production designer for all of Kylie's shows, for the last like two albums. As I was already doing the creative direction for Kylie Disco and the campaign for the album - which had been very successful - I think they were keen for us to team up and like do it together. And obviously, that can be quite scary. But, we also were a bit scared of what we were going to make! Neither of us had really made a bit of content like this before, which is essentially, you know, I think it was like, a 40-minute music video!
RH: Can we talk about the Kylie project a bit more? It is so stunning and feels so unique to this period in time.
KM: Essentially, the piece is a hybrid between a tour and award show performance and music video, but like none of those things at the same time. When you put together a tour for a new album, you do all that musical direction, you'd like plan the segues, how everything's going to work with the narrative, what's the concept? How are we going to get from this world to this world? All of that stuff… We did that all I mean, we did have more time in the sort of talking about it stage where Rob and I worked for maybe about two months, pitching it to different people to fund it, who to back etc. So we did a lot of like business work alongside the creative. We had two weeks of production and we’ve got choreography, live vocals and new music which is essentially a tour’s worth of work for one performance.
RH: It’d be great to hear more about the specific considerations, or challenges, about taking the show virtual or online.
KM: I think there were lots of challenges specifically with making it feel as live as possible when it was clearly not a live, live stream. And also, we had no desire to make it live, because actually, the audience misses out on so much additional production value when you try and make something live, live online. Because obviously, in real life, you want to see a live show like you don't want it to be pre-recorded; you don't want to have a pre-recorded vocal, you want to be in the moment. But for a live stream, you have to spend so much more money and time making the technology for live work and you don't necessarily get the best out of everything you've got in the room. Instead, we decided to have the polish of a music video but the sentiment of a live show. We achieved some of this through using a steadicam and making sure she was performing to Thomas English, our DP. As well as maintaining magic moments that you cannot achieve in a live setting such as a costume change or transition. However, we contrasted this with moments where she did a whole block of 20 minutes of performance with no break. It was a massive gamble because we weren’t totally sure what it would feel like to the viewer.
RH: You also work with other really well-known artists, such as Anne Marie, in the capacity of creative director. Have you noticed more of a pressure to create filters and further explore the world of augmented reality?
KM: As the music industry always changes, we have new platforms that we have to create for like, as someone that started out, like on the dawn of YouTube, like that's when my career started, YouTube was just finding its feet. We've always just had to adapt and filters have become necessary, and an artist will kick off, let's say if they don't have a filter ready to go, because it's so important. We actually did one filter with Facebook creative for Kylie, where they built it. So this was a, it was quite an interesting one, it was a live filter, which I don't think has been done before. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure it's one of the first times there's been a filter that you can only use for a period of time. And you could record like, to your stories, but for long periods of time, for a whole song. I think it was just under a minute. Of course, the filters also need to be good and they need to be connected to the treatment and the concepts within the music.
RH: Do you have any projects that mix technologies that you feel really excited about?
For a collaboration with Disclosure, we worked with a company called MetaStage in Los Angeles. They use volumetric capture with surface-based data. So, we get essentially like a 3d scan with a texture in real-time! 30 frames per second! We filmed multiple artists who I can actually talk about because they're on the album and the album is out now! So, for example, we shot Sam Smith, Slow Thai, Kelis and some more vocalists. We filmed them all in LA in a mixture of volumetric capture and in traditional video cameras, which we're working into a live show. So we're like importing that volumetric data into cinema lighting, re-filming it well with motion cameras and stuff. It is super exciting! So, the processing power of the servers and stuff that they have to use to process the data is crazy. Hopefully, after the live show is complete, there'll be some digital experiences, like where people can have a hologram of the artist on their phone, like rotate them, watch their performance and stuff like that!
RH: Lastly, what do you look at in portfolios?
KM: I look at what people send me. So I think I would always encourage people if they're looking to work with or for an organisation freelance or full time to always be sending in your portfolios and updating and doing it every year. If you haven't heard back from that company that year, then do it again. No harm in sending one email, i.e. it's not going to make you look bad. And always keep up to date with your portfolio because I'm sure it's always evolving, make sure you update your portfolio regularly. But yeah, I think I think people are just too self-conscious about their work, unfortunately. And I think what's really important is you need to remember that a portfolio is like an evolving organism, you'll replace and add things as you go. So rather than already editing all your work out your portfolio from the get-go, just put it in there. And then if after a year, it's out of date, or it doesn't fit what you want to do, and you can replace it, but don't just not have it there. People need to see as much of you as you can show to show your skillset. Even if the work’s a bit lame, or the client might not be the coolest thing ever.
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