FEATURE: Mitch Kenny, the producer/engineer behind The Game, Chris Brown, Daniel Johns
Like most producer/engineers, Melbourne-born, Sydney-based Mitch Kenny is a quiet achiever. While you may not recognise his name, it features in the liner notes of countless albums you’ll find in collections across the globe.
The relics of his work between 2008 and 2012 are still receiving global attention. His sessions with hip hop pundits like The Game, Snoop Dogg and Soulja boy, R&B chart-toppers like Chris Brown and Boys II Men, pop heavyweights like Elton John, Christina Aguilera and Black Eyed Peas and fellow producers Timbaland, Da Internz and Hit Boy, birthed some of the most emblematic material ever released.
Another of his high-profile collaborations is with none-other than Beyonce, a team-up he calls “one of those classic right place at the right time moments.” Kenny was working at Hollywood’s Record Plant Studios with The Game, who was being produced by Pharrell Williams and tracked by Andrew Coleman. Williams had booked a second room to be used as a writing room and Kenny found himself engineering a writing session with Neptunes member Chad Hugo and producer Jeff Bhasker (Kanye, Ed Sheeran, Mark Ronson), writing with N.E.R.D in mind. The final opus was a brooding power ballad called I Care, which was recorded by Beyonce.
“Hearing Beyonce double the guitar solo note for note in that song is one of the most impressive bits of vocal gymnastics ever,” beams Kenny. “It still gives me goosebumps whenever I think about it.”
Mitch Kenny with Lionel Richie
Kenny clearly hit his stride at LA’s Record Plant Studios; in between becoming a fixture in the global music making business, he rid himself of any musical pretension.
“Before I went there I had this horrible snobbish attitude towards genres of music that I wouldn’t necessarily listen to. I remember hearing and seeing the clip for the Katy Perry song I Kissed A Girl just before I went to the LA and being completely cynical about it.
“Then I met the people who worked on it including another former Melbourne boy Chris “Tek” O’Ryan and realised that the people who made these records love doing this stuff as much as I do.
“It completely cured me of my ill-founded musical snobbery and despite getting to work with some of the biggest artists and producers in the game is the biggest lesson I got from working there.”
Remarkably, Australia partly has an ex-girlfriend to thank for his return home in 2012. “The short answer is that I was chasing a girl, it didn’t work out,” he says. “The long answer is that I only went to LA to prove to myself that I could cut it in the biggest recording market in the world and I did.” He signed a deal with Universal Music Publishing Australia not long after his return home.
His Australian reputation has grown as big as his ambition, with many of the albums he works on debuting at the very top end of the ARIA charts, and with almost instant high rotation adds at radio. Kenny’s work with Hermitude on their ARIA#1 album Dark Night Sweet Light, Horrorshow’s King Amongst Many, One Day’s Mainline, and work with Urthboy, Drapht, Josh Pyke and Spit Syndicate were predominantly generated through a snowball of coincidental organic progressions. Along with his other local sessions including with Paul Kelly, Daniel Johns, Delta Goodrem, and Marvin Priest, Kenny has accrued a plethora of ARIA major chart positions, a testament to his inexhaustible work ethic.
You won’t meet a lot of musical innovators who specialise in analogue recording either. His recording of Daniel Johns and the Australian Chamber Orchestra for Qantas in 2012 saw him helm Johns’ first commercial work – all in analogue. Titled Atlas, the work was released in 2013 as the soundbed for the airline’s “You’re the Reason We Fly” campaign.
Mitch Kenny with Daniel Johns
“The reaction in the room when I pushed it up will stay with me forever,” remembers Kenny. “It sounded absolutely perfect and it was one of those moments which reminded all of us who were there why we do this craziness for a living.
“There is still something magical about putting proper musicians in a proper studio with proper mics and a proper console in a proper control room and getting it right,” he beems.
True to his style, Kenny is currently working on two projects which couldn’t sit further apart on the genre spectrum. The first is the debut record from Sydney hip hip/electro act Joyride – “I have never had as much fun making a record and it is going to completely fuck some people up when it comes out.” The second is ABC TV opera The Divorce, which stars Marina Prior, John O’May, Lisa McCune and Kate Miller-Heidke. Kenny is also working with the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra for the project.
“I love how different the two projects are and am constantly surprised how they influence each other.”
Nearly every artist Kenny works with gets touted a mastermind in their subset, and considering his credits span pop music’s entire evolution and includes classical orchestral compositions, it’s any wonder he’s one of the most sought after engineer/producers on both sides of the Pacific.