Wendell Hanes On Life Imitating Art In "That Girl Lay Lay"
Wendell Hanes
Award-winning composer reflects on latest project and navigating the worlds of entertainment, advertising
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Among the many musical hats that Wendell Hanes wears are that of composer, creative director and company owner.  SHOOT first made contact with Hanes around 1997 when he landed a job at Vito DeSario Editing as both an assistant editor and a "sound guy" where he recorded voiceovers and went on to compose music for the editors.  Hanes then launched his own company in 2005, Volition Sound, which today provides services including original music, music licensing, branded content, music strategy, music supervision, video & film editing, film mix/sound editing and location shooting for television shows, movies, advertising and records.  Industry awards over the years include Clios, Cannes Lions, Effies, Andys, Addys, LIAs, One Show Pencils, Golden Award of Monteauxs, Billboard Awards and Gold and Platinum Records, NAACP Image Awards and an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Music and Lyrics.

SHOOT caught up with Hanes recently to discuss his involvment in the new Nickeloden show That Girl Lay Lay.

The new comedy series created by David A. Arnold and starring teen sensation and hip-hop artist Alaya "That Girl Lay Lay" High is set to premiere on September 24, 2021 and marks Nickelodeon’s first project under an overall deal with That Girl Lay Lay to develop original multiform programming and music initiatives, and build a cross-category consumer products business. That Girl Lay Lay follows Lay Lay, the perfect hype girl and best friend that anyone could ever want from their personal affirmation app. Struggling to make her mark at school and needing a best friend to talk to, Sadie wishes upon a star that Lay Lay was real and could help teach her how to stand out. When her wish comes true and Lay Lay is magically brought to life, the two friends learn that when they are together, they can accomplish anything, and navigate life as teenagers and discover who they truly are.

That Girl Lay Lay is produced by Will Packer Media (Bigger), with Will Packer (Little, Ride Along) and Carolyn Newman serving as executive producers and Toy Monique Hawkins overseeing.  The series is created and executive produced by David A. Arnold (Side Hustle, Fuller House, Bigger), who also serves as showrunner.  John Beck & Ron Hart (Side Hustle, Fuller House, Liv and Maddie) serve as executive producers.  Production of That Girl Lay Lay for Nickelodeon is overseen by Zack Olin, sr. VP, Live Action, and Shauna Phelan, sr. VP, Live-Action Scripted Content.

SHOOT: It’s said that life imitates art. In the case of That Girl Lay Lay, you are applying your art to a story that includes an element of your professional life, jingle writing. How did this inform your work on the show as you balanced/meshed your art and life experience?

Hanes: I could relate right away to the characters battling with writer’s block and the daily challenge to making something great that the client will love. Whether my task was to convey the challenging portion of jingle creation or the victorious portion, I was able to produce from a place of experience.

SHOOT: Along those lines, how has the role of jingle writer evolved over the years? We don’t hear the term “jingle writer” that much today. Does that role still apply to the ad/branding business? If not, how and why has the industry drifted away from jingles?

Hanes: I like to think there are very few traditional jingle writers these days. Competitive composers can do it all from writing a hit song for fast food to scoring orchestral battles for luxury cars. Jingles have faded over the last 20 years. More recently, the change is a result of new trends where 10 second videos with cool loop-able music phrases garner high click volumes. A true hit never loses relevancy, and that has been my approach from the beginning: 30-second hits.

SHOOT: What attracted you to That Girl Lay Lay? How did you get the opportunity to work on this Nickelodeon series? And do children’s programs generally carry a creative allure for you as reflected in your involvement in such projects as "Family Reunion"?

Hanes: I scored two seasons of Netflix's Emmy-nominated sitcom Family Reunion and was recommended to Nickelodeon by the show creator, Meg Deloatch, to compete for the composer job on That Girl Lay Lay.  I am so grateful for her. The producers chose from a large field of composers and music producers. We were all given the same array of assignments to show what we can do if given the opportunity. In the end, I was chosen, and I was so happy when I heard. I am still through the roof and loving every minute working on this show.

SHOOT: What was (were) the biggest creative challenge(s) posed to you by That Girl Lay Lay?

Hanes: Finding the right balance between edgy swag-filled music and quirky, comedic music was the key to honing in on the pulse of the show. Moreover, when one of the stars of the show is a superstar on Instagram and Tik Tok, i.e., That Girl Lay Lay, you have plenty of inspiration along the way. She is awesome!   

SHOOT: How has your work in advertising/branding informed your longer form endeavors in TV and documentaries? And conversely how has your experience on TV and feature-length fare impacted your ad endeavors?

Hanes: The advertising industry has prepared me tremendously for the TV, film world. Interpreting music briefs as well as music opinions is now a strength and I’m fearless when it comes to any deadline because no medium can pressure you like a one-hour advertising deadline. On the flip side, making music for TV and film provides a new way for advertising clients to evaluate your skillset as a composer. Much like producing hit records, I think scoring award-winning TV shows and movies allows advertising clients to view you as someone who is now potentially influencing pop culture. It’s a win win. I love my career and am thankful for everyone I’ve worked with. And like the premiere of Nickelodeon’s new show That Girl Lay Lay, I also feel like I’m just getting started this fall. Just Like “That boy Wendell!"  

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