Ken Lewis: The One Man Band …From Joe Budden to Kanye West

Music production is an art where the magic tricks usually occur in a closed studio.  Concentrating on the music and making sure the sounds blend correctly is the most important task that their work requires.  It’s because of this that many of your favorite producers are heard but very rarely seen.  Ken Lewis is a […]

Music production is an art where the magic tricks usually occur in a closed studio.  Concentrating on the music and making sure the sounds blend correctly is the most important task that their work requires.  It’s because of this that many of your favorite producers are heard but very rarely seen.  Ken Lewis is a producer/mixer/engineer/musician with six Grammy Awards, 45 Gold and Platinum albums, 24 number one albums and singles, and fourteen Grammy nominations to his credits.  This multi-faceted musician has produced or mixed many of the records you hear on your favorite radio stations.Ken Lewis took time out with to discuss everything from how he re-creates a sample, to why Kanye and Just Blaze need  Just looking at your name, people might not recognize, but you have an extensive discography.  Run down some of the people you’ve worked with on the production side.Ken Lewis:  I have a Platinum record producing for John Legend. I produced a song called ” Another Again.” I produced for Jin and Cuban Link.  I co-wrote “Last Call” for Kanye on The College Dropout. I wrote music for Kanye’s live Grammy performance at the 2005 Grammy’s.  I’m just finishing production on KK Alese.  She’s a Caribbean artist and we got Bounty Killer on the first single and Beenie Man on the second single.  It always intrigues me that there are guys like you that have done a ton of work, but their names are not recognized.  Ken Lewis:  Unless you really read the liner notes, you probably wouldn’t know of me.  I always have as much work as I can pretty much handle.  I’ve never really felt a great need to get my name out there, but that’s what I’m starting to do now.  The guys that have hired me like Kanye, Just Blaze, or Puffy, they’ve known my name forever.  Kanye and Just Blaze sought me out. So there’s a bunch of people that have never heard of me, but you’ve probably heard my  Some of the names you’ve mentioned have branched out to do different types of music at times.  If one of them called you, what might they be looking for you to do?Ken Lewis:  Kanye mostly hires me to do music for him.  That’s what he originally approached me to do.  He didn’t know that I was a mix engineer the first five or six times I worked with him.  With Kanye I do a lot of music.  Sometimes I write or co-write for him, sometimes I’ll do sample recreations if he can’t get them cleared.  Occasionally I’ll mix for him.  The first time he came to me was because he couldn’t get a sample cleared and he called me and asked me if I could re-create it.  That was long before he got signed, and long before his  Explain what sample re-creation is, and why you’re the go to guy for that?Ken Lewis:  One time Kanye announced to a crowded room that I was the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not of sample re-creation.  I think that pretty much says it best.  I don’t think there’s anybody on the planet that does it as well as I do.  Having said that it’s probably the most tedious, difficult, time consuming work that I’m ever called on to do.  How do you duplicate that sound  when you get a record from the 60s or the 70s? To me the sound is just not the same as it is now.Ken Lewis:  One of the things that makes me so perfectly suited to do sample re-creation is that you need a musical ear.  If you’re listening to an orchestra, or an old 70s section with an orchestral section playing, you need to know what instruments are playing.  You need to know what the violas are doing, what the cellos are doing, what the violins are doing, what the flute, oboe, bassoons, and all those things are doing.  Most guys don’t have that kind of an ear.  They cant even hear it like that, let alone picking out the notes.  Being a well rounded and wide ranged musician helps tremendously.  When an artist re-creates a sample, is that just because they can’t clear it?Ken Lewis:  Well in some cases, they don’t even know where the sample came from.  They may have sampled something two years ago and don’t have that record anymore.  Or they might have found the Mp3 online and sampled it.  It’s two things you have to clear on a sample and that’s the publishing and the master’s use.  If you can clear the publishing and not the master’s use, you can hire me and I can re-create the original master and make it sound exactly like the original. But if you can’t clear either of them, then you need to do what I call a “Flip.”  The goal [in a flip] is to re-create the sound and the feel of the original sample perfectly, but change it up to be a new piece of music.  We did that on one of my favorites, “Storm” by Lenny Kravitz.  It was originally a sample and they couldn’t get it cleared.  I basically re-created brand new, all original music, and that’s what was on the single.  It feels like an old sample, but it’s all  I was impressed that you have production credits with mulit-platinum artists as well as talents like Joe Budden, and Ghostface Killah.  What makes you want to work with both ends of the spectrum?Ken Lewis:  One of the reasons is because I get to be my own boss, and call my own shots much more often.  When I got called in to do the Day 26 and Danity Kane mixes, I was at Bad Boy (Records) for 40 days straight working hundred hour weeks, back, to back, to back.  Basically for 40 days and nights, Bad Boy owns me lock stock and barrel.  I don’t mind that a bit, I love it.  But I don’t want that 365 days a year.  Typically when you’re working on major projects, it’s all consuming.  A lot of these independent artists are incredibly talented.  Joe Budden was signed to a major and I think he’s one of the best lyricists on the face of the Earth. So I love working with him.  You have all the credits and experience to build a label. Do you have plans for that?Ken Lewis:  I have a production company that I have artists signed to me.  I have a pop-rock artist signed to me and another label. About a year ago, I started a production team called “The Skywalkers.”  It’s basically me and my production partner Brent Kolatalo.  That’s the next mission is to become as big a producer as I am a mixer.  I’m a platinum producer so I  know what that feels like but now that I’ve gotten my taste, I want a whole lot more.  You’re very sought after for mixing services. What makes a great mix in your opinion?Ken Lewis:  One is great sounding vocals, and the second is capturing the right vibe for the song. I’d like to think that ever song I’ve mixed is sonically brilliant, but the reality is that I’m going more to make the feel of the song great.  Those are the two most important things about a mix.  What instruments do you play?Ken Lewis:  I’m mostly a guitar player.  I’m a decent keyboard player, bass player, and  music wise I understand how to put strings together.  I can sit at a keyboard and make them sound  What kind of equipment are you on?Ken Lewis:  I incorporate live instruments into what I do, but not always.  Most of the programming and production is centered around Logic Pro.  It’s a lot of virtual synths and sound libraries. I love the IK Multimedia stuff.  I have a lot of sample libraries.  When you re-play samples for Kanye West, your sample library needs to be retarded.  Is there anything you would like to share with our community?Ken Lewis:  Just my website is and watch out for the Skywalkers.