Freelance art director and designer Kelly Serrao was created to create. She is also the art director and head of design at NOX Media, a company that helps artists, entrepreneurs, and brands grow and convert fanbases online.
Kelly, “…believes in order to succeed in life you have to go after your dreams, and be willing to do whatever it takes to make them happen.”
I had the chance to interview Kelly for our March 2021 Women’s History Month feature series! Continue reading to learn more about her experience as an art director and designer along with how we can promote equality in our scene, especially within the creative industries.
Hey Kelly! Thanks for chatting with us! Tell us about you and your work. What makes you, you? What’s your story? What excites you to create?
Hey! So great chatting with you guys. My story is a little different then most, but I wouldn’t change how I got to where I am, that’s for sure. I’m currently an art director and designer based in NYC. I freelance as well as run design for a company called NOX Media, where we work with several different artists and major labels. I was a college athlete so going through my program was a little different for me because I had to balance you know the demands of being an art student and crafting my work and trying to get internships, etc., while also balancing playing a sport. So it was often hard to really focus on my work because I didn’t have as much free time as other students, but I really just spread myself thin and worked as hard as I could.
Straight out of college I got a contract job at MLB and after a few months I was offered a full time role as a designer at iHeartRadio. I worked at iHeartRadio for 3 years. It was an amazing learning experience that helped me grow, but unfortunately it just wasn’t made for me, so I decided to just up and quit with no real plan. At the same time I had started freelancing for NOX as it was in it’s very early stages, there were just three of us. So once I quit iHeartRadio, I decided to just focus on helping build NOX and create a career for myself that was what I wanted it to be and not what others have outlined as careers in corporate America.
It’s been a challenge for the past 2 years building a company from the ground up, but I fully believe in our vision and the people I work alongside that we’re doing great things. It also has helped me fulfill my dream of designing an album cover, which I got to do last year. I feel like I’m on the right track and I’m so excited for what’s to come.
So that’s my story hahaha, my one piece of advice is do quit your day job, but only if you’re willing to hustle and put in the work to project you forward in life.
I love creating so much, I feel like it’s what makes me, me. I even have a tattoo that says ‘created to create’. What excites me is that I get the opportunity to use my artistic ability to not only showcase how I’m feeling, but really when I’m working with artists it’s a different look at their brain and being able to help them take what they’re feeling in their music and turn it into something visual is just such a special thing for me.
Can you talk about the role of being a graphic designer and art director? Like, walk us through what you would do in one project.
Being an art director and designer is so exciting, yet so challenging and a lot of work at the same time. For example, single art: it varies by clients but the usual process has a lot that goes into it. We get the song from the client, I force myself to listen to it on repeat for hours and hours to really understand what the artist is trying to portray emotionally, and figure out the best way to show it visually.
From there, I’ll create a little written creative direction, and then moodboards showing the aesthetic of the direction I want to go in, including fonts and colors as well, and then we present it to the client.
Once the direction is approved by the artist and their team, if a shoot is needed, we pull some reference shots and then have the shoot and then get to work. It’s really exciting how it all comes to life behind the scenes, and how it takes a whole team to do this type of work.
March is Women’s History Month. Who are some women that have helped you and inspired you to grow within the music industry?
It’s hard to say, because from a design standpoint there are so many different people who have inspired me, even if they aren’t specifically in the music industry. I think as far as women creatives, just seeing major artists like Drake or Ariana Grande have a woman creating their art and creative in any aspect, whether it be just an AD or a lyric video is so inspiring to me. There is opportunity for women to work with major artists, and that in itself just shows that there’s enough room for all creatives at the table to eat.
You said, “I feel like women in the music industry, especially within design/creative are often overlooked and don’t get too much light shined on them!” Can you talk about this and your feelings more? Why do you think this is?
I’m not sure if this is because of my experience, or if just who is highlighted more but I feel like whenever you look into who is actually doing creative it’s often just so many men, you don’t really seem women, ya know? And I know so many great women photographers, designers, etc. I just feel like they’re not as well known, but they’re equally as great.
What do you think we can do to make sure that there is more light shined on women in the music industry, especially in the design and creative fields?
Put yourself out there.
I think it can be intimidating as women creative to try and show what you can do and really prove your worth, but just doing it and going for it I think can really make an impact.
Along with that, just in general, what is something that we can all do to promote equality in our scene?
Don’t overlook creatives, really do your research when you’re sourcing creative directors, art directors, designers, photographers, producers, etc. There are women out there who do great work, don’t always narrow down to who you know, really try to see who the best would be.
What would you say to a woman who is just getting started in the music industry?
My advice would be to never stop trying, I know things can be defeating sometimes but if you just find it within yourself to keep pushing forward I promise good things will happen. The nature of it is that you have to be willing to hustle in this industry, especially if you want to get ahead. It may seem scary or overwhelming but just know the hard work will be worth it in the end
How do you choose to survive your bad days?
Oh this is a hard one, hahah. My love for what I do keeps me going. There are days when I would rather do anything but work and then I think about how far I’ve gotten, how cool my job is, how I get to do what I love for a living, and I just keep pushing. If I get in a creative rut, I’ll just do something to take my mind off it for a second and then get back into it. I love what I do, it makes me who I am and the fact that I have the opportunity to do what I do, keeps me moving forward
If you wrote a thank you letter to yourself, what three things would be on that list?
My thank you letter would say thank you for always believing in yourself even if others don’t. Thank you for trusting your gut and leaving places you know won’t advance you forward. And thank you for just being you, and following your dreams.
What were your favorite music releases of 2020 (released by women)?
Chelsea Cutler, How to be Human was one of my favorite albums of 2020, as well as Manic by Halsey.
Leave the readers of For The Punks with one final message…
Don’t ever give up, because if you can push through the struggle there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but you have to work to get there.
Connect with Kelly on Instagram, hire her or recommend her for your next creative project, and be sure to tune into her For The Punks Instagram takeover on March 4, 2021!