Front And Center: Joy Cafiero, Marketing Director, Kala Brand Music

By Myki Angeline

I have to admit, in the beginning I was very much looking forward to interviewing Joy Cafiero simply because she represents Kala Brand Music. Mainly because I grew up dancing, fighting, and singing Hawaiian culture. It has always been an influential part of my life. What I did not expect was how blown away I would be at learning how she literally created her own job title and positions within the company. At how accomplished she is at balancing her demanding career and responsibilities as wife and mother. Her journey from motherhood to successfully running one of the top-rated ukulele manufacturers is incredibly inspiring.

Kala Brand Music are widely known for manufacturing ukuleles, guitars, and their signature U-Bass. Based in Petaluma, California, the company was founded in 2005 with the idea to build ukuleles that were both high in quality and affordable.

Despite the demands of her high-ranking position as the Marketing Director, Joy maintains a healthy, home life; working all day then filling her nights and weekends preparing dinner for her family and completing household chores. Of her four children, two are away at college, while she has a high school senior and seventh grader that keep her busy at home. Her career has taken her all across the globe from Los Angeles, Hawaii, New York, and New Orleans to other countries like France and Italy. And yet with all of this keeping her busy, Joy carved out a few moments to share with us what makes Kala Brand Music stand out as a company, and exactly how she came to be the empowering woman she is today.

Learn more about Kala Brand Music :

WiMN: What led you to becoming the Marketing Director for Kala Brand Music?

JC: Back in the fall of 2009, after being a stay-at-home mother to my four children for thirteen years I felt I needed to help out my household financially. I put an email out to a select group of friends asking if anyone knew of any jobs. Our friend, Mike Upton, emailed me back and said he needed help in the office at Kala Brand Music Co., or Kala Ukulele, depending on the formal or informal title of the company. I literally came in the first day without any idea what I was going to be doing. I often joke to the Sales Director, Leanne McClellon, who was my boss at the time (and now we work together on everything) that I pretended to understand everything she gave me to do. For one thing, as a Mac girl, I had not used a PC for years, and I had never used Quickbooks. She gave me a stack of orders to enter into Quickbooks. I didn’t even know how to spell “ukulele”. I sat quietly everyday and worked to get as much done as I could with no mistakes. I entered orders in the morning and invoiced in the afternoon. I was essentially the sales and accounting departments.

Over time, I moved from doing that job to doing graphic design for the company. I say this loosely because I am not professionally trained in graphics, but I’ve taught myself a lot and I am creative and have a good eye. The first time I had to do an ad, it was too big to send in an email. I kneeled on my hands and knees on my bedroom floor and tried to resize it in Adobe Illustrator, willing it to get smaller. That was when I thought deadlines were carved in stone. Now I know that publications don’t want to go to print with a blank page, so they will work with you to get it done and get it in the magazine.

As catalog season approached in 2012, someone had proposed a picture for the cover of the catalog. The concept was good, but the picture was terrible. I went to my bosses and said that I didn’t think we should use the picture, but I believed we could replicate it much better. And that is how I started overseeing the catalog processes. I hired a photographer to take lifestyle pictures as well as a photographer to take stock photos. I got models and traveled to each photoshoot and planned out how they would look. This was the beginning of my road to becoming the Marketing Director.

As time went by, I continued to see needs that I was able to fill. We had an empty room upstairs in the building and I thought I could put the photo studio in there. I no longer wanted to outsource our photography. It was expensive and we constantly needed new pictures of product. I personally had taken the pictures for a while, but I have no ego with it, and I don’t think I’m very good at it. I asked to bring on two young men who were still in high school, one was my son who had just taken Photoshop at school and the other was his friend Jack, an excellent photographer. I went up to the empty room and painted it all by myself. I got some of the guys to help me hang curtains to divide the photo studio from the rest of the room with medical curtain track. And the Kala Marketing Department was born.

Since then, we have added people to specifically focus on: Social Media, Trade Show, Photography, Video, Graphic Design, Artist Relations, Copywriting, etc. You asked what led me to become the Marketing Director at Kala? I created my own job. I saw a need and thought how to fill it. I built a team that loves to work together, to brainstorm, to be creative, to think about the “what’s next” of what we are going to do.

WiMN: Kala provides a unique array of ukuleles, guitars and U-bass. What is unique about Kala that sets them apart from other ukulele manufacturers?

JC: In the past, the only ukuleles on the market were very expensive custom Hawaiian made ukuleles or very cheap toys you could buy at ABC stores around Hawaii. There was a need for a high-quality ukulele that was a real instrument, yet affordable. That was the premise of how Kala was started in 2005. Kala was started as an answer to bring something new to the market. We work very hard to make instruments different from what others are offering. We work hard to have original marketing and messaging and content. Of course, over the years we have been imitated in almost every way, but we still meet and work hard at being innovative.

WiMN: Kala endorses an eclectic array of artists, with many female artists on the list. (I never knew there were ukulele orchestras!). What criteria does Kala look for in an artist?

JC: According to Nick Fletcher, who handles our Artist Relations, he looks for 3 R’s – Reach, Relevance, and Resonance:

Reach – is this a micro or macro influencer?
Relevance – does this influencer live in one of our vertical spaces (music, education, toy, surf or lifestyle)?
Resonance – if we nail the first two, we have found a like-minded individual who will champion our brand message beyond our network and into theirs?

I would add that likability is a huge factor. We have MANY female artists we are working with, but two of my favorites are Mandy Harvey and Emily Arrow.

Mandy Harvey is the deaf, singer/songwriter from the 2017 season of Americas Got Talent. We will be releasing a signature ukulele with her with online lessons of her teaching her own, original songs. Mandy is a strong, independent woman who is not defined by her inability to hear. She has perfect pitch and memorized the sound of notes before she lost her hearing at age 19. She is very ambitious and won’t let anything slow her down. It is very inspirational to watch her.

I met Emily Arrow from an email she sent to us. Emily already played a Kala and created music inspired by children’s literature. Everything about Emily is wonderful. She is imaginative, and fun, she has a graduate-level teaching certification in Orff-Shulwerk Levels I & II from Berklee College of Music in Boston and has received multiple songwriting awards. We patterned our Color Chord Ukulele after her arrows and recorded lessons with her that can be accessed on our website. She has just opened a shop in East Nashville called “Singalong” and is teaching children, parents, and teachers how to play the ukulele.

WiMN: What specifically is Kala doing to support women in the music industry?

JC: More and more women are playing the ukulele these days. We love supporting our female demographic with different sized ukes, string types, and instrument styles. What is interesting, is when I first started at Kala, the ukulele was predominately used by males. Our social media following was about 75% male. This was a concern to me when I took over marketing. We wanted to reach more females. Who would these females be? They are mothers and grandmothers, tweens and teens, they could have any kind of occupation, live anywhere, have many different interests because the ukulele is so universal.

One of the first decisions we made to shift the demographic was to do ukulele giveaways to schools. In 2016, we donated over $250,000 worth of instruments. The purpose was to help schools start or supplement their music programs. While doing this we were able to capture the mother and teacher demographic on social media. We saw the shift in our social media audience become about 40% female. Giveaways to schools support teachers and students. The ukulele is great because children as young as four can start to learn and it can also be enjoyed in senior citizen ukulele groups. We even have donated to a school for the blind.

Not only that, but more and more young girls are independently taking up the instrument. We noticed this happening on Social Media and then at Surf Expo, little girls would come hang out in the booth playing ukulele together. When we are at trade shows around the US, there are many more girls than boys coming by the booth to play.

We really enjoy featuring women in our ads. Especially in ones for U-Bass. It breaks the stereotype of what a bass player is. We have more than ten prominent women artists that play the U-Bass. Most notably is Nik West, previously the bassist for Prince. We have recently done a collaboration with her, making her a custom, purple sparkle California made U-Bass. Nicole Row is another artist of ours, playing with Panic at the Disco.

Women are using our instruments in many settings, from traditional Hawaiian music to Jazz to Pop to Rock.

WiMN: Do you have a background in music?

JC: I do have a background in music – I started playing the piano when I was five years old and took lessons until I was seventeen. But, as an adult I didn’t have a piano for quite a while and sadly, I am very unpracticed. I do understand music and how it works. Playing the piano is something I want to do more of.

I do not however have a background in the music industry – And, I have to say that I am thankful for that. The music industry tends to have a “good-old-boys” atmosphere that I am completely immune to. I don’t know how things are supposed to be done, so I tend to do things that are good for Kala and for the ukulele.

WiMN: What was your career prior to working for Kala? Were you able to apply any prior work experience to your position as the Marketing Director with Kala?

JC: I actually didn’t have a traditional career before working at Kala. As I mentioned before, I was a stay-at-home mom for thirteen years. I have four children. Before Kala I had been a Pastor’s wife and made and edited videos, created Power Point presentations, advertising materials, and pretty much anything that needed to be done for 12 years. When I was in high school I was involved in leadership.

At the same time as coming on at Kala, my children’s school asked me to come on board to teach the art elective for junior high and to be athletic director for the middle school. Because I must be a little crazy, I agreed to both. So, I was working at Kala in the mornings to early afternoon and then helping with sports and teaching art a couple of afternoons a week. Of course, I could not sustain this forever, so after teaching art for five years, I stepped down and I am just now passing on the baton of my athletic director duties.

My previous experience that translates into what I’m doing now comes from being a mother and understanding others needs, plus work and volunteer work that put me in contact with eclectic types of people. I think marketing is very intuitive and is mostly about understanding what the person on the other end will see and understand. Because I’ve dealt with so many types of different people and personalities, in all the things that I have done, I have a unique insight into the outside world. My love for art, architecture, literature, music, and design has easily translated into what I do now. All those little pieces of me get used in marketing.

WiMN: Do you have any advice for women wanting a career as a marketing director – especially in men-dominated fields?

JC: I do have advice for any job you might want…Look for a company that is growing and you can grow with. Maybe take a lower-level job just to get your foot in the door. Do the job you are given with excellence. Always be watching for where you can help.

When I do a review with my employees I advise them to always be working themselves out of a job. There is always plenty of work to do. Three attitudes will bring certain death to your career: 1.) “That’s not my job” (when you are asked to do something), and 2.) Not training someone else to do your job in fear you will be replaced, and 3.) What you do is too important to be replaced. Every time these three attitudes are pervasive, that person doesn’t last long.

I grew up with very strong men in my life and I actually feel more comfortable with men than women a lot of the time. My father never treated me “like a girl”, so I never understood making excuses for my gender. But, the reality is being a woman doing anything is a challenge. Whether women like it or not, we will be judged on how we present ourselves. I think women have a unique opportunity to stand out in men-dominated companies by being willing to serve where needed. Don’t just point out problems, help fix them or get someone to come alongside and help you. Work well with others. Be collaborator. Be consistent. If you’re having a bad day, don’t bring it to work. Don’t stand out for being a negative person. Be someone everyone is happy to see and everyone wants to work with.

WiMN: What does Kala have in store for 2019?

JC: We are working on a fresh, new catalog that gives us direction for the year. Last year we moved into a new building and we are finally starting to feel settled-in and getting it set-up the way we like it. Lots of new ukulele models coming out, all creative and very different.

The mission for my marketing team is to focus on our various markets and plan the best messaging and the “look” for that market. I foresee working more with international distributors and domestic dealers this year and creating more cohesive marketing across the board.