You are the only one responsible for making your dreams a reality. Record labels do not exist to make artists rich and famous. They are a business, not a charity, so don’t pin all your hopes on landing that recording deal. When you collaborate with others, they have agendas of their own that are different and sometimes detrimental to yours. If you can make a plan that doesn’t require anyone else’s involvement, execute that plan!
As a part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ken Powe.
Ken has worked in the music industry for decades doing live shows and recordings with some of the top artists in R&B, Rap, Blues, Gospel and Jazz. As a solo recording artist, he is now one of the Top 100 Smooth Jazz musicians in the world. In February 2023, he released his sixth and latest album, “On the Level” which has a single already charted in the global Top 100.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Born in Birmingham, Alabama; raised by two parents who are also Birmingham natives and I have one older brother who now lives in Houston, Texas. Attended Parker High School and graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in English. Raised in the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA).
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was classically trained on piano at age 8. Marching band, symphonic band and choir in elementary school and high school. Became a professional musician at age 16 playing Big Band jazz and for churches. Played in local bars and clubs after college and caught the attention of talent scouts for artists on major recording labels looking for musicians to play live. Became backup keyboardist for vocalists and jazz instrumentalists who performed in the Southeast. Started session recording with them and learned the recording studio. Started composing and producing after that.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
In L.A. in 2017, I was attending the Grammys. The opening awards ceremony was so long and tedious that I became bored and wanted to leave and hopefully return before my category came up (it was 117th out of about 175). I was sitting there for hours looking around and counting the famous people attending that I recognized. When that got old, I decided to leave the Microsoft Theatre and find some place to eat. Although there was a large buffet of Hors D’Oeuvres in the theatre lobby, I just had to get out of there! It was the middle of the day and the entire area was surrounded by people in evening gowns and tuxedos and the pricey restaurants closest to the theatre were packed. I walked about two blocks and rounded a corner and found a small Tex-Mex cafe with a few available seats at the bar. I took one immediately. Just a few seconds after I seated myself, a man behind me says, “Yo, brother, can I sit there?” It was Jason Derulo. I invited him over, relieved that I wasn’t the only one who was willing to go through such lengths to escape the overwhelming boredom of that place. For an hour and a half, we talked about anything except music and I still got back to the theatre before my category was introduced.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I finished working on a manuscript of my first novel and in the process of finding a publisher. I’m also thinking about recording an R&B or Pop song just to see how it goes.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I made a cameo appearance on the Season 2 finale of P-Valley. Because I was with other background actors, I didn’t get much of an opportunity to interact with the stars off-set or between scenes. However, in one of the scenes I was filming with one of the female leads (anonymous), I was almost sure I caught some furtive glances from her. I thought it had to be my imagination because I wouldn’t expect someone who works around attractive men all the time to be checking me out. When I turned around to see, she looked away. My suspicions were confirmed when she walked about 30 feet towards me to ask me to help her off the platform we were filming on, which was only about 6 inches off the ground. I got a huge ego boost from that.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Can you share a story about that?
There are certain musicians whom I admire greatly. Some I’ve listened to allmy life and others I discovered when I started paying attention to the rich history of Jazz. As a pianist, Art Tatum is probably most influential. As a producer, Quincy Jones. As a songwriter, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson. As a person, Jesus Christ.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Success comes in many forms. With any financial success, I give to others who need it. With success in self-improvement or intellectual development, I teach others what I’ve learned. With career success, I help others achieve by helping them to avoid mistakes that I’ve made or opening doors for them where I can. True success isn’t what you have or what you’ve achieved, but it’s actually the difference you’ve made in the lives of others.
What are your 5 things I wish someone told me when I first started, and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1 . Talent doesn’t guarantee success. So much has to do with being at the right place at the right time and making the right decisions.
2 . Persistence pays off. You will experience failure 100 times before your very first taste of success.
3 . Believe in yourself no matter what. Not everyone will think you’re so great and will tell you that to your face. Even if they’re right, figure out what you can do to be your best and do it. When you know you’ve put everything you’ve got into your craft, no one can say anything that will tear down what you’ve built.
4 . Validation doesn’t come from others. It’s easy to get depressed when your song’s chart position plummets, or you never get that prestigious trophy, or when your royalty checks get smaller, or when the room you’re playing to is half empty. You have to be okay with who you are as an artist even before people notice you. Sometimes, I listen to my own work as though it was written for me. I like what I did and I realize that it actually was.
5 . You are the only one responsible for making your dreams a reality. Record labels do not exist to make artists rich and famous. They are a business, not a charity, so don’t pin all your hopes on landing that recording deal. When you collaborate with others, they have agendas of their own that are different and sometimes detrimental to yours. If you can make a plan that doesn’t require anyone else’s involvement, execute that plan!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d like to see a fairness movement in the U.S. Laws that punish people or take away their rights because of who they are should be unenforceable by federal statute. There’s no such thing as banning books in a free country, no matter the reason. D.C. should be a state, no matter the political impact. The Supreme Court should be expanded to 1 judge per circuit, just like it was at the beginning. If you break the country’s most sacred laws, you should be prosecuted immediately, just as with the minor, petty laws currently used to justify incarcerating people of color. Corrupt Supreme Court justices should be removed more easily just like every judge in the lower courts. If we have laws, they should be fair and equal. There should also be legal consequences for elected people reinterpreting or ignoring settled law just to meet a political agenda.
We have been blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this.
Clarence Avant would have been my first choice, but he passed away last summer. Aside from him, I think I’d like to talk to Shonda Rhimes. I think her popularity and what she’s accomplished in Hollywood is nothing short of remarkable. Plus, I think my novel will make a great movie (or mini-series). I think she’d like my pitch.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media
Instagram/Threads is preferred, kenp_keys; Facebook, Ken Powe and
Smooth Jazz by Ken Powe; TikTok, @KenPowekeyartist
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Ken Powe: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.