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Ken Lewis Interview
Old 22nd July 2008
  #1
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Ken Lewis Interview

Part I

Introduce yourself and give a brief rundown of your professional resume

I'm Ken Lewis and I'm a part of a production team called The Skywalkers. I'm also a mix engineer, songwriter, musician, vocalist you name it and I can do it. I've done a lot of work with Kanye West including hits songs like ‘Gold Digger' and ‘All Fall Down' as well as ‘Never Let You Down'. I've done additional mixing for Kanye as well as produced for John Legend. I also mixed back to back no#1 album's in the country with Danity Kane and Day 26; 5 songs on each album. I have 6 Grammy Awards and a total of 29 nominations, 46 Gold and Platinum records and 24 no#1 album's.

Congratulations on all of your success

So far so good and I want a whole lot more, double those numbers and then I will be happy.

Where are you from originally?

Born and raised just outside of Cincinnati Ohio, came to New York in 1993 and I've been here ever since.


Did you move to New York with the intention of gaining success in the business or was it a personal move?

It was a very single minded goal of moving from Cincinnati to New York so I can make it in the music business. I saved up every penny I could before I moved and after I paid first and last month rent I had 10 cent left to my name. I got a job to keep me going and eventually landed an studio internship and worked my way up to assistant and then eventually engineer and then started producing. Somehow I figured out a way to make it all come together and work.

What made you decide to venture into the creative sector of the music business?

I remember being 8 years old begging my parents for a guitar and after 2 years they finally bought me one because they knew I wouldn't stop begging so I been playing from the age of 10 ever since. At the age of 16 my parents got me my first cassette 4 track recorder and I thought I died and gone to heaven. All these cats nowadays with Pro Tools its like wow what a luxury, I couldn't even imagine something like Pro Tools existing back then. I spent so many hours of my teenage years in my basement with my 4 track recorder, drum machines and guitars making song after song after song.

Later on I eventually got the chance to go to Berkeley College of Music and graduated with honors. Then I went back to Ohio and worked for a year as an engineer and after that decided that I really needed to make that move to New York City.


Talk about the music scene in Cincinnati versus New York

I actually go back to the music festival in Cincinnati every year and there are some extremely talented producers and engineers based in the city. You have established producers like Hi-Tek that operate from out of the area. But like many other small markets it's extremely difficult to get opportunities because they're simply not too many to begin with. One of the things I always tell people about the PMP is it's a site that acts as a great equalizer because you can be anywhere and have the same opportunities as the people based out of the major markets. When I go back home people often come up to me saying they're stuck out here and they don't know what to do and I'm like your in the wrong place if you're really trying to make a name for yourself but for now here is a few things you can do and utilizing a site like the PMP is one of them.

We appreciate the support and participation.

Absolutely I don't talk up things I don't really believe in so thank you for the opportunity

So what made you decide to spread your creative talent across the different parts of the music process instead of just focusing one aspect?

That's a real good question lol. One of the motivational factors was that I discovered I was actually good at all of these things across the board. I genuinely love mixing records and I also love producing records and I'm kind of selfish, I don't want to totally give up one to focus on the other. At times this has been a great facet of my career but I also fully acknowledge the fact that it has held me back from reaching the top level of any one aspect of the process because I'm never focused on getting that one amazing thing happening for me instead I'm always focused on 10 ‘kind of' amazing things. However it does keep things very fresh for me because I'm doing something different every day, 7 days a week. On Monday I could be mixing a hip hop record, on Tuesday producing an R&B record, Wednesday handling songwriter sessions and so on. I don't think I would have been able to grind for as long as I have for the last 17 years professionally if I wasn't able to change things up on a regular basis.

What's your current focus?

I'm steadily shifting a lot of my focus into songwriting and producing. I have one platinum record as a producer officially and several major label credits including a Grammy for co-writing the ‘Last Call' along with Kanye. So I'm off to a good start on that side and hopefully I can find a way to turn the success I've had as a mixer into the success I'm going to have as a producer.

Is this shift financially or creatively motivated?

Oh definitely creative, I can make more money consistently as a mixer than I can as a producer outside of having that one super hit that can completely change your life and I believe I will get that one day. The amount of work you usually have to put in on the songs that are not that one big hit before you get to that one big hit kind of evens things out. Making music, working with artists and the buzz you get when you created something truly great is what motivates me.

How does one actually become a professional mixing engineer?

What I often tell high school and college students when they ask me this question is I didn't officially call myself a mix engineer at the beginning. Even though I was doing mixes here and there I wasn't looked at by the industry as ‘Ken Lewis the mix engineer' until after 8 years of being a engineer in New York City working almost every single day of my life. I literally worked with some of the biggest people in the world as a tracking engineer and stacked up all these accolades and still wasn't looked at as a mixer. So one day I said you know what? I'm no longer Ken Lewis the tracking engineer I'm Ken Lewis the mixing engineer and I stopped taking any tracking work which cost me a fortune but sometimes you have to take that step back in order to make the leap forward. As much as it was a painful transition by not taking any more tracking work my perception in the industry started to change. People started to listen to my previous work and after a while they started referring to me as a mix engineer.

People who think they're going to just walk out of their bedroom or graduate from Berkeley or IAR and think they're going to be a full time mixing engineer well I'm letting them know that's not how it goes in this business. Of course there are exceptions to everything but for the most part it's a matter of one gig leading to the next, and a steady build up until people trust your ability.

Young producers often ask if it matters if they have a good mix or not on the tracks that they are shopping. What's your take on that?

Well of course I'm going to say yes you need a professional mix but I would refer to someone like Zach Katz who stated in a article in Scratch Magazine a couple of years ago that if you're going to be shopping material spend the money to get a professional mix on your tracks because you have a higher bar of standard placed on you compared to those that are already through the door. You can't be walking into meetings with great songs that sound mediocre because you didn't spend the money to mix it down. You shouldn't depend on an A&R, manager or artist to hear through a bad representation of something great because there is just too much material out there to not step up to the plate with your best.

You're known for the work you've done with Kanye West. Give us the story on how that went down

I've been working with Kanye long before he got signed and before his accident. I had been doing a lot of mixing for Just Blaze as well as some guitar work here and there. So one day I got a phone call from G Roberson and Jay Brown talking about how they sampled a Paul McCartney ‘Wings' and can't get it cleared and asked if I could replay it. Up to that point I never did anything like that in my career but I'm kind of a cocky bastard so I was like ‘yea no problem just send it over' so that was the first thing I did for Kanye. They loved it so they sent me some more work with Memphis Bleek, etc... Kanye got into the car accident and was stuck out in L.A. for a while but than I ran into him in N.Y.C. when he was in the middle of making the College Dropout album. You have to remember back then at that time people weren't really checking for him as an artist but I certainly was. I remember being in the studio with him face to face doing this Memphis Bleek track and I was putting down some music for him and he was in the back of the control room with a couple of his boys kicking line after line after line. I remember telling myself that this dude is kicking some **** that nobody else is kicking in a completely new and different way. I knew from back then that either he was going to sell 10 million records or 10.

So when I ran into him after his accident I told him I needed to work on the project because I knew it was going to be great and pleaded for him to get me in there. He looked at me like I had three heads because nobody was checking for him like that. So the next week I got a call and ended up working on 7 songs with him which 5 of them made the release. For a long time he didn't even know I was mix engineer even though I assumed that he did. So one day I'm doing some mixing for Maria Carey up at Red Track and I was suppose to be back at my other studio doing Jay-Z for Kanye and he hears the music blasting in the background and he's like what's that? I told him I'm at Red Track mixing Mariah Carey and he's like what you mean and I told him that I'm a mix engineer so he starts grilling me on who have I mixed for in the past. So I ran down my credits and then he was like ‘oh, let me get you to mix some joints for me'. To this day Kanye usually hires me to do some music work not mixing although I've done a fair amount of mixes for him over the years.

How has your stock risen in the industry in general after getting that first Grammy award?

The 05 and 06 Grammy Awards really broke things wide open for me. In 2005 I actually attended the Grammy's as a nominee and I was up for 8 awards including 2 of them for album of the year off of Usher's Confession album and Kanye's College Drop Out album. In 2006 I was up for 7 with 2 by name for Gold Digger and Late Registration. Engineers and producers do not normally get nominated by name unless its album of the year, record of the year or song of the year but your still included in the nomination.

I've been fortunate to have very few moments in my career where I didn't get much work so I don't really think about it much but as of lately I've been trying to focus on exactly where I'm trying to go and how will I get there and the moves I need to make happen. I'm doing great but I still have to work everyday in order to make a living.

Generally speaking would you say right now you're living a lifestyle that matches the success you've earned in the music business up to this point?

I'm not rich but I'm doing well. I live comfortably but I work my ass off. I take a couple of great vacations every year and enjoy life while I have it. When I'm not on vacation I'm working everyday because if I stop working everything that I got will be taken away from me pretty soon. I'm not at the point where I have hit records all over the radio that's making me money while I sleep but hopefully those days are coming. Overall I'm comfortable but definitely not content.
Old 22nd July 2008
  #2
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Synthy08's Avatar
 

Ken Lewis is so cool....good interview!
Old 22nd July 2008
  #3
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tonymission's Avatar
 

hell ya, big ken!!


"I have 6 Grammy Awards and a total of 29 nominations, 46 Gold and Platinum records and 24 no#1 album's."



jesus h christ ....




... keep working tony, keep working ....




thumbsupthumbsupthumbsupthumbsupthumbsupthumbsupthumbsup
Old 22nd July 2008
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phillysoulman's Avatar
 

Cool interview.thumbsup
Old 22nd July 2008
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Ken -- I didnt know you did mixing for Just Blaze ... I imagine you know my boy David (Brown I think is his last name)?

He just moved down here, Im trying to get him outta Guitar Center and into some gigs here in town... great cat! (dope sample finder dude too!!)
Old 22nd July 2008
  #6
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congrats ken, great interview...



....but if this post is up for more than a couple days i'll know that there is some definite bit.ch-ass-ness poppin' here at gs
Old 22nd July 2008
  #7
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Most of important of all, he's down to earth.
Old 22nd July 2008
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deuc647's Avatar
 

Nice interview ken, keep doing ya thing.
Old 22nd July 2008
  #9
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frank lyon's Avatar
 

Great interview from a great man.
Old 22nd July 2008
  #10
ken seems to be very down to earth and sympathetic. i think hes got a good spirit of working and making music!
Old 22nd July 2008
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by frank lyon View Post
Great interview from a great man.
Old 22nd July 2008
  #12
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rickrock305's Avatar
 

Damn Ken, you brought out the silk shirt and tie for this one huh? heh


good interview.
Old 23rd July 2008
  #13
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Ken Lewis's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by tonymission View Post
Ken -- I didnt know you did mixing for Just Blaze ... I imagine you know my boy David (Brown I think is his last name)?

He just moved down here, Im trying to get him outta Guitar Center and into some gigs here in town... great cat! (dope sample finder dude too!!)
Hey Tony,
David is a great guy, and has engineered on some of the classic hip hop albums of our time!!!

Thanks to all for the compliments and well wishes. Glad you liked the interview. I'm also doing a regular blog now for iStandard Producers: home. I just did a video blog last night that should be posted by tonight or tomorrow. Lots of tech type info on this latest installment.

-Ken Lewis
Old 23rd July 2008
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rickrock305 View Post
Damn Ken, you brought out the silk shirt and tie for this one huh? heh


good interview.
come on now, dont over sell me, only the tie is silkheh Thats actually my press photo for the time being, so you'll probably see it again in other places
Old 23rd July 2008
  #15
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jb4play's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Lewis View Post
come on now, dont over sell me, only the tie is silkheh Thats actually my press photo for the time being, so you'll probably see it again in other places
haha, all you need is the shades man, all you need is the shades!
Old 23rd July 2008
  #16
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phillysoulman's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Lewis View Post
Hey Tony,
David is a great guy, and has engineered on some of the classic hip hop albums of our time!!!

Thanks to all for the compliments and well wishes. Glad you liked the interview. I'm also doing a regular blog now for iStandard Producers: home. I just did a video blog last night that should be posted by tonight or tomorrow. Lots of tech type info on this latest installment.

-Ken Lewis
Enjoyed this one too.
Old 24th July 2008
  #17
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nukmusic's Avatar
 

no need to interview Ken.

just find the biggest dude you can to gab him by the ankles and shake him til all the secrets fall out his mouth...LOLheh


anyway

good read.
Old 9th August 2008
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HoPMiX's Avatar
as a producer who also mixes, it take a lot for a mix engineer to impress me, generally im let down. But Ken just did a mix for me and im a believer.
Mix turned out great.
Plus hes loves what he does, which makes it that much better.
Old 9th August 2008
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colinmiller's Avatar
 

Who is this Ken Lewis person? Is he any good?
Old 9th August 2008
  #20
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Synthy08's Avatar
 

Hey Ken, did u play on "2 words" i cant find my booklet.
Old 9th August 2008
  #21
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Ken Lewis's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by HoPMiX View Post
as a producer who also mixes, it take a lot for a mix engineer to impress me, generally im let down. But Ken just did a mix for me and im a believer.
Mix turned out great.
Plus hes loves what he does, which makes it that much better.
Hop, that Kasper record is straight FIRE! Had a blast mixing it. Incidentally, i saw the new Nappy Roots record on the shelves today. did you produce on that? and also incidentally, i am also a producer who mixes or am i a mixer who produces? or a songwriter who..... ummmm...... yeah. something like that
Old 9th August 2008
  #22
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Ken Lewis's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by colinmiller View Post
Who is this Ken Lewis person? Is he any good?
i hear he's just awful
Old 9th August 2008
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Ken Lewis's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Synthy08 View Post
Hey Ken, did u play on "2 words" i cant find my booklet.
wasnt me. On the College Dropout, i co-wrote and performed almost all of the music for "Last Call". (thats also me singing the sped up "Here's to the Roc....")

I also performed music and vocals on Family Business (...All That Glitters, is not gold....), as well as All Falls Down, and Never Let Me Down. I also originally did all of the music for Gold Digger before they cleared the sample, but i still had a little bit of stuff on Gold Digger. -Ken Lewis
Old 9th August 2008
  #24
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Synthy08's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Lewis View Post
wasnt me. On the College Dropout, i co-wrote and performed almost all of the music for "Last Call". (thats also me singing the sped up "Here's to the Roc....")

I also performed music and vocals on Family Business (...All That Glitters, is not gold....), as well as All Falls Down, and Never Let Me Down. I also originally did all of the music for Gold Digger before they cleared the sample, but i still had a little bit of stuff on Gold Digger. -Ken Lewis
Woooowww......that familiy business track sounds noting like you. crazy how u altered your voice....any chance we'd be able to hear the ken lewis version of "Gold Digger"?
Old 9th August 2008
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mad-bax's Avatar
 

Cool interview!
Old 9th August 2008
  #26
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Ken Lewis's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by mad-bax View Post
Cool interview!
Thanks Mad Bax! I think they are posting part 2 of the interview in a few weeks
Old 9th August 2008
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HoPMiX's Avatar
My bad ken. I know u are a jack of all trades when it comes to audio among other stuff.
Nappy roots. "the humdinger"
I did produce
Executive produced
reprogrammed and replayed
Tracked and butchered a few mixes on there.
Was quite the experience.
I really wanted to get you involved but
just couldn't squeeze it outta the ballin on a indie budget.
Which is why I ended up mixing so much.
Old 9th August 2008
  #28
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Ken Lewis's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Synthy08 View Post
Woooowww......that familiy business track sounds noting like you. crazy how u altered your voice....any chance we'd be able to hear the ken lewis version of "Gold Digger"?
Unfortunately, the label owns that music i created on Gold Digger, and i am fiercely protective of my clients files. maybe one day it'll come out, but i cant release it.
Old 11th August 2008
  #29
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Jermaine's Avatar
 

thanks, good interview!!
Old 12th August 2008
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nukmusic's Avatar
 

Ken...any info on how you integrated your AWS into your existing gear? outputs from your DAW during a mix?

any changes from ? https://www.gearslutz.com/board/rap-h...ight=spl+dream
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