The Hot Seat: Brian Kennedy

Published in The Music Network


US producer Brian Kennedy has a name which suggests he’ll go right to the top. At 28 and with two Grammys to his name, Kennedy is already one of the hottest producers in the game, working with a growing list of artists from Jennifer Hudson and Chris Brown to Natasha Bedingfield and Australian singer Jessica Mauboy.

The Kansas-born, LA-based music maker got his break in 2006 when he produced and co-wrote My Love on Ciara’s second album, The Evolution, and took a giant leap forward when Disturbia – the track he produced for Rihanna – became a global smash in 2008. Kennedy is also buzzing with entrepreneurial spirit. His business activities include the publishing company Team BK and recording studio Kennedy Compound. TMN caught up with Kennedy during his recent stay in Sydney for Alberts’ inaugural International Songwriters Camp.

Brian, when you’re in the studio, how far ahead are you taking your music?
I always think ahead to the next one or two years. Some songs are immediate. Right now, I’m working with Cee Lo to give him a single. I’ve done something new for him which is out-of-this-world. But generally, I’m thinking next year. Unless I put it on the Internet now, it takes a while for people to catch on.

How fast do music tastes change?
Music is like fashion, it’s trendy. It’s 3-5 years at a time. Really great music doesn’t date. The legends, like Prince, their music doesn’t go anywhere. For the last three-four years I’ve heard dance music non-stop.

Some producers live in a bubble. What do you listen to for inspiration?

Deadmau5, Dr. Luke, Skrillex. I try not to study. I don’t mind living in a bubble either. With the hits I have, I wasn’t sitting there thinking “This has got to be the next.” I was just making it happen, creating a beat. What makes great collaborations is in-common personalities and being able to collide with each other. Every great producer has a great team around them. Quincy Jones has a team, Dr. Luke has a team.

Do you carry frameworks of songs in your head?

Sometimes. And other times I just go. I’ve learned how to turn off. I don’t want to be at a movie or out on a date and thinking of a melody. That’s just stupid. I just save it. You turn on, turn off. If you’re in a gym, you work out. If you’re in a kitchen, you cook. If you’re in a studio, you work on music.

Do you have any tips for when one hits a creative wall?

Get away from it. Go to the movies, go out, hang out. Talk. Some people don’t know how to let it go. You have to learn how to breathe and figure out how to take your mind off it. I bring DVDs with me. If you want to get on a social network, that’s cool. But it has to be something that takes your mind off writing. When I’m creating music, I’ve got to keep moving. But I always come back to it. It’s like painting. It takes time. You start something, but you don’t have to finish a masterpiece in one day. I’m great at finishing things. I’m a good starter too.

What’s the ambition with Team BK?

To make great songs and publish great writers, and to be responsible for the next big wave of great writers and producers. The majority of writers I publish are from my hometown, Kansas. In a way, you’re branding people, but you’re also teaching them the business. A lot of guys who come into big hits make money and throw it all away because they don’t understand the concept. I’m still in the process of building myself; I haven’t arrived yet. There’s art to it, but business is serious.

How have you dealt with the tag of being a child prodigy?
Oh, I don’t understand it. I think to people considered prodigies, geniuses, maths freaks, it’s just normal.

You’re working with country artists like Rascal Flatts and Faith Hill. In the music world, this is a world away. How do you approach different genres?

The same. I know it sounds crazy, but I look at all music as one genre. Different rhythms, different structures, but it’s still all the same thing. It’s like speaking different languages, learning how to be fluent. If you play a song on piano and it’s a great song, a country artist can sing it, it sounds country. If an R&B artists sings it, it sounds R&B. If a pop singer sings it, it sounds pop. Technically, music is really one thing. It might be played with electric guitar, or acoustic, to make it sound different.

What’s the next sound?

Tribal. Being in Australia, I’ve heard some dance records, organic percussion. The Latin influence in the drums and rhythm. Melody is always going to be at the forefront. The kick will drive it, the drums will sit behind it. I think that’s the next movement.

Is there anyone you’re desperate to work with?

Coldplay. And Mumford & Sons. I want to tap into that.


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