J Bonilla on Chipotle, 'Doja Code,' and Other Heart Openers in Music
J Bonilla is the co-founder and creative director of award-winning music-for-media company The Elements Music, which has teams and locations in Los Angeles and London, is an official custom music/sound partner of TikTok, and has a client list that includes brands such as Nike, Samsung, Pepsi, Audi, Google, NBA and Porsche.
J began his career engineering, programming, remixing and producing records for some of the world's biggest artists, including Taylor Swift, Black Eyed Peas, Maroon 5, Keith Urban and Christina Aguilera.
We caught up with J for our Liner Notes series to learn more about his musical tastes and journey through the years, as well as recent work he's proud of and admired.
J, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up in Santa Maria, which is on the Central Coast of California. I've lived in Los Angeles for many moons now.
Your earliest musical memory.
I got a Mickey Mouse drum kit when I was 4. I beat the heck out of that thing for a year or so, and apparently showed that I had a pretty good groove. I ended up getting an upgrade, and I was off and running. Drums were definitely my way in.
Your first concert.
Huey Lewis and the News. Please respect the courage it took to type that.
Your favorite bands/musicians.
I can't get enough of Amber Mark, Joy Crookes and Chlöe right now. There's something really special about how these ladies are drawing on such diverse influences, backgrounds and skillsets, and turning out such stunning work.
How you get your music these days.
I can generally bask in the glow of all the folks on our team who are out at shows and up on every new release. I just keep an ear out and grab onto the stuff that hits me between the eyes.
Your favorite place to see a concert.
I love The Greek Theatre here in L.A. It doesn't get any better than watching a great show under the stars in a place where the weather is almost guaranteed to be gorgeous.
Your favorite music video.
Missy Elliott's "Work It." Pure swag.
Your favorite music-focused TV show and/or podcast.
"Broken Record" with Rick Rubin. I love how Rick ends up getting reverse-interviewed by all the amazing artists that come on and have such respect for him. He also never remembers any details or dates about anything he's done, which I find hilarious.
A recent project you're proud of.
We just won a Clio Music Award for a project we did with Kacey Musgraves for Chipotle. Super proud of how that one turned out, and it always feels great working on a project where the creative bar is ridiculously high across all disciplines. Huge shout to Observatory for bringing us on for that ride.
Someone else's project that you admired recently.
There's an amazing project by Girls Who Code and Doja Cat that allows folks to "control" a Doja Cat video while essentially learning to code. I first encountered this project as a Clio Music judge, and it really stood head and shoulders above the competition, and was very deservedly awarded a Grand Clio.
How musicians should approach working with brands.
Artists should only partner with brands in ways that feel genuinely authentic to who they are and what they stand for. Just "taking the check" for projects that suck or don't really line up with who they are could ultimately bite them in the ass.
How brands should approach working with musicians.
I respect when brands come to us to facilitate an artist/brand partnership, and are genuinely willing to look at emerging talent. Don't get me wrong, enlisting an A-list artist doesn't necessarily mean a brand isn't being creative—see the above examples—but it's always great to see a brand build creative around an artist who they're also genuinely excited to help break to a wider audience.
What music can do that nothing else can.
I have a playlist called "heart openers." If I'm feeling shitty, I can get in there and spend 15 or 20 minutes listening, and usually feel a ton better. Music is one of the quickest, most potent mainlines into human emotion. It's why I've loved it dearly my whole life, and also why it's such a powerful tool for marketers.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the music world.
This is honestly painful to even think about, so I'll respectfully pass on this one!
Liner Notes is our weekly interview series, publishing every Monday, where we chat with folks in the music industry about their creative inspirations, their favorite bands and musicians, and generally what music means to them. For more about Liner Notes, and our Clio Music program, please get in touch.