By: Yaakov Gottlieb
Photography by Sam Hadelman
Declan Kyle represents the newest era of savvy, self-taught young people taking their careers in their own hands by using social media to build themselves a platform. At only 19 years-old, Kyle has made a name for himself as a gifted music video director by utilizing Instagram to connect to the vast online network of other young creators. Self-determined and social media aficionado, Declan Kyle has already amassed a career that includes making videos with artists such as: Lil Tecca, KA$HDAMI, Baby Santana, Autumn!, G Herbo, Jay Critch, Jay Esco, Pasto Flocco and many more.
Kyle is a fast-emerging talent out of Milford, Connecticut, looking to help artists differentiate themselves by creating unique music videos. He hopes to revolutionize the industry in the Northeast, particularly in New York City. “There’s hundreds and hundreds of young rappers who just don’t have the visuals to match their music, and I think that really dampens people when you can’t put a face to the song. I hope to be the person who changes that. I want to be the one who changes the persona of videos in New York,” he said.
After graduating from St. Joseph High School in Trumbull, Kyle planned on attending Pennsylvania State University. Though, just two weeks before moving into his new dorm, he decided to rescind his enrollment and pursue his passion. The decision was made simple for him as no majors pointed directly to a career in making music videos and he didn’t want to be so far from all of the artists he knew he wanted to work with. He’s still confident he can be successful without school, “No production company is going to be like, ‘Oh I would hire you, but let me see your degree.’ They just don’t care about that anymore,” Kyle said.
His decision to follow his art form paid off when his career hit a turning point and he was flown out to L.A. by Chicago director, Laka Films, to co-direct “Old Soul” by 2KBABY featuring G Herbo in May of 2020. Laka Films had seen Kyle’s previous work and reached out through Instagram to ask if he wanted to work on a video. Directing on set in Los Angeles with G Herbo was a long way from Kyle’s humble start making videos with a small GoPro when he was 13 years old. He discovered his talent for videography during the summer of 2018 when he was hired to film a wedding. After that experience, Kyle saw his own potential and started to truly consider a career behind the camera. Then, at midnight on a summer day in 2019, his career as a director began in earnest when Milford rapper, Lil Anchor, asked Kyle if he wanted to make a video. He describes the experience as very sudden and how he felt in way over his head. “He hit me up at like 12 A.M. to come to this gas station everyone knows in Milford, and I had no idea what I was doing,” Kyle said.
On that very same night, under only the lights of a gas station, Kyle shot his first music video. There was little organization as random shots and sequences of the song were performed and shot using Kyle’s minimal equipment. There were none of the things that Kyle now routinely thinks about before shooting such as organizing the shots, looking at a budget, planning practical effects and props, etc. When the time came for editing, he realized he didn’t even have a full performance and had to improvise random shots to piece the song together. Despite the spontaneity of it all, Kyle started to hear from other artists that saw his work on social media and wanted to make videos of their own with him. One gig led to the next, and soon, Kyle had garnered a portfolio of music videos and started to make a name for himself in Connecticut making videos for local rappers like Lee Bezel, Jay Esco, and Smoovito.
Kyle was surprised by how quickly his career developed. From filming a wedding, to being flown out to Los Angeles and Atlanta to direct with established artists and directors, Kyle has gone from amatuer videographer to trusted director in just over a year. He credits much of his success to the power of social media. With far-reaching access to communities through Instagram, he has been able to build a vast network of collaborators, producers, and artists to work with. Social media has fundamentally changed the way music and artists are consumed, and Kyle has taken advantage of that. “Instagram is the main frontier of my business. If we didn’t have Instagram, I wouldn’t be here today shooting all these videos,” he said.
As his heart set on making music videos, he was motivated by a personal drive to make his dream happen. In the early stages of his career, Kyle said he sent about 50 direct messages a week to find people to work with. “If you want something you’re going to have to go get it in this world,” he said. Kyle’s persistence pushed his content beyond the scope of his local music scene, out even further to New York, Atlanta, and L.A.
Kyle’s first filming experiences made him accustomed to learning on his feet, opting for real-world experience rather than highly technical training. Through online videos and simply getting his hands on a camera and using it, Kyle found his style. His work is defined by his use of graphics and practical effects throughout his fast-paced and highly intricate videos. He likes to concentrate on editing together not only a video, but a story. His style is reflected back through the style of whichever artist he is working with. Kyle prefers his music videos to be a collaborative effort between director and musician, emphasizing the importance of not just showing his vision, but also that of the artist. His goal is to make the artist stand out and avoid making “one kind” of music video. Kyle believes that his best work comes when the artist is involved in the creative process of the video as well. “I love when artists want to stand out and be different. Do something that makes them stand out rather than just be in another regular video,” he said.
Kyle’s ambitious style can be clearly seen in his music video for “Everyday” by SoFaygo. Shot nearly entirely on green screen, he and co-director Poloviz wanted to be free from physical limitations and create a “mysterious and mystical” atmosphere. From ethereal shots of SoFaygo falling through storms, oceans and beams of light to the beautifully detailed graphics, the video is a captivating experience that makes the viewer feel the isolation imbued in the song. SoFaygo’s solo performance displays the power of a music video, enhancing the emotions and message experienced by the listener from the intentions of the artist.
As a result of the success of that video, Kyle got a call from Lil Tecca’s manager who was so impressed by Declan’s work that he flew Kyle to Mexico to work with the rapper. This past April, Kyle shot a video for Lil Tecca’s song “Show Me Up,” adding yet another prominent artist to his comprehensive list of projects. This was the first project which he had a budget of over $100. Having had spent the early stages of his career squeezing projects through tight budgets, this was a big difference. “It definitely means my career is taking a step in the right direction,” Kyle said about the larger budget. “I know I probably done something right along the way, and now it means I just got to go harder now, work even more toward creating these next couple videos making them better, better, and better.”
Declan Kyle never wanted to be “typical.” He is always looking for ways to surprise his audience by showing things that aren’t expected. When asked if he had any advice for newcomers to directing, he said, “Do things differently. Put things where they’re not used to being seen. Do things that are going to make people open their eyes and stop on their Instagram feed and think, ‘Wow, this is something I’ve never seen before.’”
Kyle takes much of his inspiration from Chicago director, Cole Bennett, founder of the popular multimedia company Lyrical Lemonade. After Kyle made his first video, he watched everything Bennett had put out at the time. Whether it was a music video or an interview, Kyle wanted to absorb as much as he could. In the same way Cole Bennett was essential for Chicago music, Declan Kyle wants to have an impact on music in his area, “My goal here is to do what Cole Bennett did to Chicago to New York,” Kyle said. He hopes to one day meet and work with the director.
Declan Kyle has shot over 150 music videos and has no intention of slowing down. His next steps in the industry will be through his production company, Twenty Someday. Recently founded with his friends and collaborators Poloviz, also known as Marcus Carrion, and Justin Lewis, he hopes the company will expand his content and connections, reaching into other genres of video such as sports entertainment and documentary work. The name is a reflection of how young the friends are, a reminder to “attack everything with a youthful approach to it, in new, innovative ways.” Declan Kyle had little to no guidance in the music industry and yet has managed not only to navigate the crowded feeds of Instagram, but also found a way to shine by his own merit. If one thing is certain––Declan Kyle is fully in focus.