Today we’d like to introduce you to Kala Maxym.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Five years ago I was living in New York City and pursuing an opera career. I had been a professional opera singer for several years but had recently made the switch from mezzo to soprano (pardon the opera-geek side note here) and was retraining my voice and redefining what I wanted my future as an artist to look like. While doing this – and working a full-time job at a tech start-up – I began taking wine classes and attending wine tasting events. As I attended more and more events, I realized that while the wines I tasted were different from event to event, very often the accompanying visual displays, food options, and sound environments were remarkably similar… and remarkably non-specific.
On any given day I was also having two very different aural experiences: like many worker bees, I would spend much of my day in an office with very little sound, then end up in restaurants, bars, or at networking events with far too much, non-specific, largely distracting noise in the background. However, in my voice lessons or at rehearsals, I was entirely focused on the specificity of the sound I was producing and the story or emotion I was communicating. The dichotomy of my daily sound experiences was a revelation but I didn’t focus on it too much at first.
A few months after starting my job, the idea for Five Senses Tastings began taking shape. As a lover of many different types of music and an increasing lover of wine, I was inspired to consider whether you could possibly apply the idea of a flight of wine to music. By making music the focal point of an event and pairing all the other senses to our sense of sound, could we, in essence “taste” music?
I worked on the concept on the side of my full-time job for about a year and a half (hosting events with Douglas Elliman, Columbia University, Ayza Wine & Chocolate Bar, Maslow6 Wine Bar, and many other private clients) before I decided that New York and I had spent a good ten years together but that it was time for us to break up. I initially moved to Northern California, still working my day job and building 5ST on the side. I soon discovered, however, that the environment was actually not quite right for us (and to be honest, the Bay Area wasn’t for me) so I quit my job, packed up and moved to LA all in the same week just over a year ago. I haven’t looked back once!
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Absolutely, not a bump in the road. Juuust kidding! Without a doubt, there have been obstacles and challenges along the way. The biggest one for me was the initial decision to bite the bullet and pursue the business full-time. It wasn’t easy to give up a steady paycheck, stability, and the camaraderie of an office to go out on my own. Ultimately, I knew it wasn’t really a choice, but it took me well over a year finally to make the leap into full-time entrepreneurship.
Any solopreneur will also tell you that loneliness can be a real killer. There can definitely be days when I don’t talk to a living soul from sunrise to sunset. I’ve learned how to make the most of these days, carving my day into hour-long chunks so that I don’t get distracted or lose my focus, and I actually love them now!
And then there’s the fact that I am introducing a completely new concept to the world 🙂 It excites and thrills me every day but conveying the significance and value of something unfamiliar can, of course, be a challenge at times.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Five Senses Tastings – what should we know?
What we do: We firmly believe that customizing for all our senses enhances our experience and solidifies our memories of a particular moment and so at 5ST, we teach people how to “taste” music, and how to think about pairing it with wine, cheese, chocolate… or anything really. We can pair music to beer or scotch or even ice cream for that matter! All the music is presented live and comes from a variety of genres, hence the term “tasting.” At any given event, we’ll offer between five and eight different genres of music, including jazz, country, rock (and country-rock!), opera, tango, classical, Broadway, flamenco, blues, and more! We ask our guests to “taste” with their ears – and then with all five senses – as we take them on a multi-sensory journey of live music, drink, food, and chocolate.
What we’re known for: We’re known for creating eclectic, experimental, and intentional full-sensory tasting menus that encourage guests to “taste” a number of different musical genres while at the same time sampling delicious wines, foods, and chocolates or other sweet treats. Our events are informal, and we don’t want people feeling that they have to sit quietly with their hands in their laps like they do at the symphony. We offer our guests the opportunity to taste music, wine, and food they might not otherwise come across and so, while we definitely encourage them to limit their talking during the performance part of the evening, we also want them actively to engage their senses and interact with the people and the stories around them.
What I am most proud of: I worked as a freelance musician for many years, and I know how much self-discipline and hard work, not to mention education and money, it takes to get to the highest levels of one’s art. I am extremely proud of the exceptional roster of musicians we have at Five Senses Tastings, and I am proud of what we pay them. I also believe very deeply that art, culture, and beauty are necessities, not luxuries, and that spending time connecting with others and with ourselves through our senses is vital to maintaining a peaceful spirit in our hectic world.
What sets us apart: Having music, wine, cheese, and chocolate at an event is not a new idea. What sets 5ST apart is that we flip the idea that sound is just background and, instead, place it at the foreground of our events. For us, each sensory element in our events has the same significance; we just start with the sense that we tend to forget to remember, which is our sense of sound.
Wine, whiskey, cheese, bacon, chocolate, you name it… tasting events are all around us. However, the idea of “tasting” music is completely new. Much as you would taste a flight of wines, we believe that we can “taste” a flight of music as well. One of my favorite recent pairings started with a Dixie Chicks song, moved on to an upbeat Spanish art song, and concluded with a romantic French piano étude, all paired to a crisp Sauvignon Blanc from Los Olivos and a fruity dark chocolate mango bark. Each of the pieces had a musical, historical, or emotional tie to the theme of our evening, and we connected the elements to the story of the wine and the winemaker as well as the chocolate. And this is really the whole point: opening people’s ears – and all their tasting senses – to new and different sounds and tastes.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
My goodness that sure is a long list! First, we wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for our earliest supporters, the folks who took a chance on this crazy thing called a “music tasting” even before we had a logo or a website!
My friend Max from Douglas Elliman pitched the concept to his colleagues and got us our first gig; Heather, our first Wine Specialist, was instrumental in our early successes and was a wonderful and supportive partner; my friends Kate, Mikhail, Kathy, Jonela, Jorell, Elisa, Yury, Geoff, Dan, and so many other world-class musicians who offered their time, talent, and remarkable artistry, often for free, to help build the company in the early stages; my mother for actually coming up with the name of the company; and to two special friends who put the initial bug in my ear that led me to choose Los Angeles as our home.
This might sound sappy but my two orange tabbies, Caspar and Ollie, have played a huge part in keeping me sane on this exciting journey. Sometimes I’ll put my computer down for a second to go do something else and before I know it, Caspar is plopped down on my chest purring or Ollie has curled up behind my head on the couch. They remind me to stop and take a breath, and they definitely keep me smiling!
- Website: www.fivesensestastings.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: 5SensesTastings
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FiveSensesTastings/
- Twitter: @5SensesTastings
- Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/five-senses-tastings-los-angeles
Thea Juliette Stephenson, Rita Clifton, Stephanie Lowe, Soledad Urruela, Joel Bischoff, Sarah Lovrien.