Kenneth Williams, Engineer & Musician – Black History Month (Part 2)
By Liam Klenk
Kenneth Williams is a versatile artist and technician. He is a passionate guitarist and song writer. At the same time, Kenneth does live sound reinforcement, broadcasting and recording (Front of House and Monitors). He also takes care of concert tours and venues as a production manager. Kenneth loves what he does and literally blew me away with his inspirational ponderings and his contagious positivity. Not wanting to cut any of his words, this ended up being an interview in two parts.
Here is part two for you all… Kenneth continues in his own words:
Well what happened was, at about the same time Norman Brown wanted me to go on tour with him to be his monitor engineer, I had managed to take some songs over to Capitol Records.
I didn’t know who the president of Capitol Records was at the time. But I knew I needed to get my songs on his desk. They had MC Hammer, Peabo Bryson and some other black groups at the time and were hot!
Back then, everything was sent in a package, by courier. I got the bright idea to get myself one of the shirts with the little alligator over the breast area, a blue cap, and black pants. I looked like a courier. At best, I expected to give the package to the receptionist. But that didn’t happen…
I went to Capitol Records. They had a security guard stationed outside the door. So I walked up to him and said “I have a delivery for Gary Gersh. This package is for the president.”
The security guard barely looked up from his desk and said, “Go ahead, go up to his office and give it to his receptionist.” I couldn’t believe my luck.
I went upstairs and tried to give my package to his receptionist. But she pointed to a door and said, “Go into his office and just put the package on his desk.”
And that’s exactly what I did.
Later that evening, the president of Capitol Records called me and said “I don’t know how you got this package to me. But it was on my desk. I listened to it and I love the music! I can’t help you here though, because we just got rid of our whole urban division. But get me a few more songs and I’ll pass them around to some other people.”
Unfortunately, right about that time, my writing partner chose to stop doing anything and I was really disappointed.
Norman Brown’s offer came just at the right time. I went on tour with him and the rest is history!
During this journey, I realized relationships are everything.
People, even the most open ones, are still very compartmentalizing. Some will see you in one way. Or they will want you to fit into a certain part of their equation.
To beat the odds, you owe it to yourself to be the best YOU that you can be. And give the world all the gifts that you have to offer and want to give. Someone somewhere will be receptive. You just have to find them, or they will find you. As hard as it may be to accept sometimes, all things do serve a higher good. Even if, at the time, you might not think it’s good for you.
Going on tour with Norman opened up a whole other world for me. I started touring with different artists and have been doing that ever since.
So actually, something I didn’t think I’d care for, has been one of the greatest joys of my life for over 20 years now.
For a while, song writing took kind of a back seat. But, as I mentioned in the first part of our interview already, during this pandemic it’s been amazing what being given time to reflect and review will allow you to do.
I’ve written songs, have studied engineering, different philosophies, and so much else. I do believe a lot of us touring type of people needed a reset and re-evaluation of what we were doing and how we were doing it.
I am far from where I was when I started this engineering journey. Yet, I still love every moment of what I do.
The thing that drives me is I work for myself. I choose who with, when, and where I want to work. And, at the end of the day, I have to attempt to reach the level of excellence I’m striving for. I have to try and fulfil my own, very high expectations. Whilst always keeping the greater good for the show and the team at the forefront of my mind.
I have walked out of venues and people came up and said, “Dude, I saw you mixing the show and it sounded amazing.”
When I get compliments like that, I’m always thinking “Ah, but I could have done this and that better.” I am often overly self-critical but then my wife says, “You don’t understand how task and detail oriented you are, babe. Your worst day is better than some people’s best day.”
Shows have gotten so expensive. I want people to have a good experience. I want them to have the best sound possible. In a sense, I mix for me though. It has to sound good to me.
I’ll never forget one time when I was subbing as a front of house engineer for a friend of mine, Eric Jones, on an Anthony Hamilton gig. Bill Reeves was the production and tour manager. I mixed the show, finished up and wondered why Bill hadn’t come out to front of house. So, I said “Bill you didn’t come out front to listen.”
He said, “I could hear it Ken. It sounded great. Why would I come out front to bother you? If I walk to the doorway and something’s off with the sound, but I see you moving furiously around the desk, that tells me you are working to fix it.
However, if I look down front of house, something is wrong, and you don’t move, that will be a different story. It will tell me you don’t know something is wrong and I’ll just give you a ticket home the next day. There is nothing for me to say because you should know what you are doing.”
As I listened to Bill talk, I just thought, “That’s a great way to be.”
What Bill was saying is what Erykah Badu does as well. She puts the right people on the job.
Put the right people in the positions and you don’t have to micromanage.
Again, that’s why I have to give big kudos to Badu’s production department and to her tour manager Mike Knight. I said to him, “Mike, you are kind of how my dad was when I grew up.”
If he had to say something to you, it was already a problem.
All Mike wants to do is to take care of the essentials. He doesn’t want to have to check on you. Rather, he wants to just say, “Hi Ken… bye Ken.”
As engineers, we’re the advocates of the artists. We’re there to deliver their vision to the audience. To represent the artists in the most positive light.
And so, essentially, that’s what my job really is. To be of service. To the artists. And to the music. And, especially, to be of service to the audience. So they walk out feeling “Oh my God! I just experienced something extraordinary.”
When I mix, I want my mix to give you that feeling like when you take a bath. You know, when you first get into the tub and you slide down. And it’s just a warm immersive feeling. And you are like, “Ahhh yeahhhh.”
It’s not too hot, not too bright, not too base heavy. The music is not assaulting you, but it is enveloping you.
If you want to focus on just the high hat, or that little bell thing, or anything else, I want you to be able to hear just that.
Badu is very theatrical. She wants you to even hear even her breaths, everything.
She wants it to be real. It is a very organic experience with her.
But you’ll find that is case with most artists who don’t have pre-recorded backing tracks.
What that says is that every person up on that stage and in their crew is really doing what they say they can do. The artist has brought with them the right people to give you their vision and sound.
Every artist is different and each one provides you with their art and their live interpretation.