Ken Lewis is a man who possesses the Midas touch. He has 57 platinum and gold projects to his credit and has been instrumental in seven Grammy award winning albums and songs during his career. Not one to usurp the spotlight that often shines on him, this New York adoptee is about paying it forward. Launching his own website Ken gives producers a chance to learn from someone who truly knows what they are doing in the studio. Having worked along side Kanye West, Jay Z, Drake, Rick Ross, 50 Cent, John Legend, you know this multi-faceted musician has his skills on point.
Ken took some time out of his crazy schedule to answer some questions for us here at Skope as to how he got his start in the business and how he has remained on top for the last two decades. Speaking on his online audio hub, there is no denying the encouragement Ken has for the next generation of studio wizards while his discography grows and grows.
Can you give us a break down of your greatest achievements? I am sure it will be hard looking at your discography but the three you are most proud of would be great.
HA!!! My greatest achievement is having survived in the music industry for 20 years and I’m still making hit records and #1’s. That is hands down my greatest achievement. The honorable mentions along the way might be arranging the horn section for “All Of The Lights” or mixing “Down On Me” which was a double Platinum #1 single that stayed on the singles charts for an unheard of 7 months. I think my other greatest accomplishment is my versatility between roles and genre’s. I have credits on Grammy winners and nominee’s as a producer, mixer, arranger, songwriter, musician, vocalist, and engineer and on everything from hip-hop to gospel to pop to you name it. I don’t really know anyone else with such a broad base of top-level experience.
How did you get your start in the music business?
At 8 years old, I started begging my parents for a guitar. after 2 years of begging they realized it wasn’t a passing thing and I got my first guitar at 10 years old. I graduated with high honors from Berklee College of Music then went to NYC where my real education began in record making. Nothing can compare to spending 80 to 100 hours a week, every week, for years in the studio. I still pull those hours on a regular basis. I started at the very bottom of the food chain and I’ve clawed my way up and I’m still climbing. I have ALOT more to accomplish, you have no idea what’s coming.
You have worked with some of the most successful acts on the Billboard charts. What do you think it takes to be successful in your field of work?
Well, everyone’s path to success will be different. It’s not a traditional job path at all. But probably the biggest trait that has gotten me where I am going is work ethic, not only working hard but always putting in 110% into everything you do, every client, every song, every project, big or small. Whether you love or hate the music you are working on to always give it 110%, because those people are hiring you to do your best and they are counting on you to help them have a shot at having a successful album or a successful career. I always have to keep in mind that tomorrow I get to go work on another record, but this person’s record I am working on today, that means everything to them, that is their world and that weighs heavily on my work ethic. And along those lines, I work on a good amount of indie records and I put just as much effort into those as the majors, because talent and skill need to be honed and to stay sharp. I cant just slack on the next 5 records and then Kanye calls and I can expect myself to switch into 110% mode. I am always ready for that big call.
What do you think has been the best technological advancement for studio professionals over the last ten years and why?
Well, technology has been a double-edged sword. It’s allowed anyone with a small budget to begin to create fairly high quality music. The flipside to that is that the sheer number of people making music and trying to “make it” has exploded. so there’s a ton of great music out there, but it’s actually harder to find. Also the art of engineering and recording is being lost because anyone can go buy a microphone and record now, but there is really an art to doing it right and doing it very well and that art is being lost. People need to spend more time perfecting their craft, if its as an artist or producer or engineer, the vast majority of people just don’t put in the time or don’t have access to the knowledge needed to really up their game.
Now in amongst all the mixing and producing, writing and arranging you have launched your own online audio school. Can you break down to us what that actually is?
Well, your last question is a good set up for this, my school is www.AudioSchoolOnline.com and its basically me teaching you the exact techniques and skills that I use to make records for people like Kanye, Eminem, Drake, etc… There is no enrollment, no commitments, you just find the Video Lessons that interest you and grab them, and often I package the downloads with the full pro tools session I’m using during the Lesson so you can try your own mixing and your own techniques at home and compare them to mine. I’ve earned 58 gold records, I’m pretty sure with my wealth of experience in so many different roles, that I have a lot to teach. I am always going to have major work when I want it, so my “job security” gives me a desire to give something back and this school passes along a lot of that experience to the aspiring guys and girls coming up now. The toughest part for me is finding time to do my school AND keep up with my record-making schedule. its not always a perfect balance but I don’t think people using the site will mind me dropping out for a week to go work with Drake or 50 Cent then come back to the site and teach them more stuff :-)
What inspired you to set this up?
I basically saw a huge need for people to get really high quality knowledge directly from the people making the records that they are currently listening to, so they can learn that knowledge and make their own great records. There really isn’t an all-encompassing site like that on the internet, so I created one, and I’ll continue to create new in depth content as often as my schedule permits. there are other good learning sites on the internet but I don’t think there are any that have someone with my experience teaching you, and I am really good at not talking over your head, making you feel like I am speaking directly to you. I want the experience to feel like we are SKYPE’ing back and forth and the feedback that I’ve gotten tells me I’m on the right track.
What do you hope it achieves?
I set my Lesson prices super cheap for a specific reason. I want everyone to have access to this information worldwide. I want the aspiring producer in South Korea or the up and coming artist in Mexico to have the same access to great knowledge as the Americans have, we’re very lucky and very spoiled here, myself included, and I try not to take that for granted. Overall I hope I can play a small part in helping out the next wave of talent to emerge.
If I was a producer who was looking to pick up some tips from you using http://AudiSchoolOnline.com, what lessons would you encourage me to check out on there and why?
“Mixing For Mixtapes” Lesson is one of the best because so many people are doing mixtapes and demos, and I really cover how to mix vocals in with a 2-track beat. And you get the whole session included in the download so you can practice your own mixing on it. Also, “Pro Vocal Recording: Master Class” is crucial for anyone who wants to learn how to prepare to capture a great vocal. This doesn’t teach vocal production, but it shows you exactly how and why I would set up and record someone like Kanye or Beyonce or Usher, how to put them in their comfort zone and give them the best chance of delivering a great vocal take. There are a ton of lessons on specifics like EQ and Compression and lots of broader lessons on mixing.
This is quite a unique idea and being that you have such a strong presence in the music industry, has it proved successful thus far?
Well, the early feedback on the site has been tremendous. I’ve had Full Sail and IAR Grads telling me that they learned things in one Lesson that were never taught to them in a 2-year course! That is incredibly rewarding for me. I want to be the counterbalance to Berklee and Full Sail. Both excellent programs but most people cant afford them or don’t live near a great school. I am the other side of the pendulum swing, I can teach the real deal super cheap because I don’t have a sprawling college campus to maintain. And with me, you can learn what interests you and skip the stuff that doesn’t. I always keep in mind that my real education in how to make records began AFTER I graduated from Berklee and got into the real world. I teach the real world at the top level.
Time and time again we hear about artists, producers etc. not understanding how much they need to invest in themselves in the infancy of their careers. Do you believe this?
HIGHLY. So many people say “once I start making some money from this, I’m going to buy XYZ”. 5 years later they are still saying the same thing. I have made HUGE investments in my career so many times. I have put myself in deep debt many times because I believed in positioning myself for success and it’s (almost) always paid off. Making sure I have the tools for any gig, making sure I have what I need to write and produce the songs I want to create. So as far as my school goes, if your not willing to spend $5 or $10 or $15 on some knowledge that could greatly improve what you are doing, you might want to rethink your strategy :-)
What projects do you have on deck right now?
Well, the most exciting new prospect is our new managers, my production partner, Brent Kolatalo, and I are now managed by Danny D and Tim Blacksmith – they manage the legendary production teams of Stargate and Espionage, and now us. So we are in a really great place in our careers right now and things are going to get bigger and bigger. Just wait ’til you see what happens in the next 12 months. As for right now immediately, well, I just mixed the new Kenza Farah album for Sony France. I just mixed a big single for the UK coming soon, Kanye’s camp just reached out to me to work on the new G.O.O.D. Music Compilation album. And I’ll be producing some up and coming major label artists in the coming weeks as well. there are always ten things on my plate.
How easy or difficult is it for you to multi-task with so many things going on?
Well, I’m very good at multi-tasking. the trick is to make sure your not slacking on anything, not just getting the work done. Sometimes that requires less sleep and longer hours. your clients don’t care what you have to do to get it done, they just care that what you deliver is great.
And finally, the art to be good at what you do is……
Tenacity. Humility. Focus. Knowing I can always improve, remembering where I came from and what it took to get me here. Remembering that it could all go away tomorrow if I don’t give it my all.
To check out Ken’s website got to http://www.audioschoolonline.com
By: Lara Croft — Crate Raider