This month’s feature is Kenneth Shelton of Ken-He Music Productions. His most notable credits have come alongside Jonathan Nelson and he remains an integral part of the sound and success of Nelson’s camp. His work with Nelson began with “Live in Baltimore” and continues today and beyond. Shelton hails from a musical family and his gift was cultivated in his home hearing his mother sing and his step-father play keyboard on the quartet scene.
Shelton has created and produced music for several gospel artists including artists in his Ken-He Music camp and is working feverishly to introduce new music to inspire the Body of Christ during this pandemic. You may have a favorite song associated with Kenneth Shelton, but here are a few of his favorites that he’s worked on: Jonathan Nelson “Redeemed”, “My hope”, “Name of the Lord” and Kim Burrell “Father I Stretch”. It’s always good to get to know the people behind the sounds and music you love and are inspired by and Kenneth Shelton has shared liberally with Gospel Producers as this month’s featured producer. Shelton understands that music production requires a thought process for the future. He understands the importance of creating music that will influence and impact listeners for years to come. For 20 years, Shelton has been an integral part of the sounds emanating from Jonathan Nelson’s camp. We enjoyed learning so much about Kenneth Shelton in this interview and couldn’t wait to release it to you. Comment below in the comment section and let us know your thoughts!
GP: When did you start playing and what artist/sound influenced your playing?
KS: One night, while at a joy night with my family, I heard an organist whose playing struck a chord within me. I later discovered a cassette tape of James Hall’s debut record “God is in Control” and from there, I was heavily inspired by the Brooklyn sound by way of the late Melvin Crispell and Butch Hayward. Day by day, I would listen to this tape and discover chords. This was the beginning of my career as an organist/piano player. When my step-father introduced me to Billy Cobham, George Duke, Chic Corea, and Yellowjackets, my musical taste transformed from rhythmic to melodic. I remember being inspired by Steven Ford and his production on Marvin Winans and Perfecting Church record with songs like “Jesus Saves”, “Worthy is the Lamb Slain”, and “Now Are We”. I’ve consumed so much music and there was no limitation to genre. I was also a fan of the hard-knocking new jack swing in the early 90’s, Kris Kross, Teddy Riley, Fu-Schnickens and Wu-Tang Clan just to name a few. Years later I started the habit of learning every song on the record. Music was my passion and love that drove me to learn, not realizing my (musical) palette was being broadened and shaped for production, years to come.
GP: What is your favorite album of all-time? (any genre)
KS: WOW of All times?!?! I’m such a sponge when it comes to music, here are a few I’m influenced by:
Kim Burrell: Everlasting life
The Billy Cobham/George Duke Band: “Live” On Tour In Europe
Yellowjackets: Live Wires
Andrae Crouch: The Journey & Live in Los Angeles
Quincy Jones: The Wiz Soundtrack
GP: Describe your transition from musician to producer?
KS: In the late nineties, I played for a group called The Heaven 600 choir led by a key player in my development, William Lynch. He allowed me to borrow his 88-key Ensoniq board which had a sequencer because I was intrigued with the idea of tracking. I also had other musician mentors like my brother Ismael Monay (Wow Jones) who showed me the ropes on the Akai MPC 2000. These two guys helped me in my matriculation from musician to producer. I became infatuated with turning an idea into a manifested, complete thought—from nothing to something. I can recall my first trial period of producing in high school when I took on creating rap tracks for a classmate. I went home to make my first real beats on cassette tape and when my classmate listened the next day he said, “Yo don’t you ever make these whack tracks for me again!” In retrospect, those words challenged me to become better and understand the difference between musician and producer. Just because you can play, doesn’t mean you can produce, and I learned that lesson the hard way.
GP: Who else have you worked with in the gospel music industry?
KS: I’ve been blessed to work with Jason Nelson, Asaph Ward & Kim Burrell, Crystal Rucker, Stephen Hurd, Maurette Brown Clark, I’ve done work for Donnie McClurkin, Marvin Sapp, Anthony Brown, JJ Hairston, and Amber Bullock and have also produced Anaysha Figueroa-Cooper, Melonie Daniels, and Javen.
GP: What is your favorite album that you’ve been part of and why?
KS: My favorite album is Jonathan Nelson’s “Live in Baltimore”. It launched my career in production and had a great impact on listeners. I can go back 20 years later and still enjoy it—it was memorable.
GP: Jonathan Nelson has a unique sound, how much of that are you responsible for?
KS: This sound that everyone speaks of is created by my brothers in a unit comprised of: Justin Savage, Adam Johnson, Mike Reid, and myself coupled with the penmanship of Jonathan Nelson. We all have our assignments and roles. My role within the unit has always been to think “left”. Whenever there was a moment to be out the box, I was the guy. I can’t take complete credit for this overall sound, but I do have a fundamental role in its creation. I have produced every Jonathan Nelson record and I consider it my job to sustain that sound which was birthed since with “Live in Baltimore”. Over the years I have explored changes in our sound which come with time and growth, but there’s no denying the foundation we all laid. It’s prophetic and timeless.
GP: Detail your current setup? What instruments, software, and hardware (outboard) are you using to record?
KS: My current Pre-production setup: 88 key Roland FP, Roland JP 8000, Roland 61-key Juno DS
Software- Logic Pro X, Keyscape, Omnisphere, Stylus, Roland Cloud, Arturia bundle, Toontrack, Native Instrument, Ample Guitar T 2, WAVES GOLD
GP: Do you have a favorite moment as a producer? Why?
KS: My father once told me, “Kenny you work well under pressure!” Pressure squeezes out good content and one of my favorite memorable moments was how “My Hope” (Jonathan Nelson “Fearless”) came together. Going into the recording week, I created a blueprint of the songs Jon and I wrote. The arrangements of the songs were not final so there was room for addition and development. I struggled with this song and my original arrangement was too bland and basic. Thursday came (this was our tech day) and Jon Blass and Danny Duncan were coming in to patch the cables. As we were moving instruments around I found an acoustic piano on the side while our house engineers were checking the mics. I gathered the musicians around and it finally hit me! Our last run through was that night and my band (JR Nelson, Snoop Alan, Lawrence, Will McMillan) pulled it together at the last minute— the day before the live recording! “Redeemed” from the “Declarations” album happened the same way and they both go down in history as two of my favorite Jonathan Nelson Songs.
GP: Take us through your production process from songwriting to recording.
KS: Lyrics aren’t my strong suit, but I can develop a great concept and title, so I’ve developed the habit of archiving fragmented ideas. I never trash an idea. We are our worst critic so it’s easy to shelve an idea we’re not feeling. A gift isn’t something that belongs to you but to others. With that in mind, I’ve learned to save the idea for another time though I do my best writing when I know the needs of my client. My next step is to demo the song from my pre-production setup to give the artist a picture of where we’re going. Then we move to my favorite, the part I call “building blocks”. We develop the song step by step, brick by brick until it’s complete and all elements are there. The biggest part of producing is knowing what the song needs according to the artist’s audience. Take time to learn their audience as well as the artist’s strength, that’s where you draw the attention.
The song can never be about you (the producer) and what you’re capable of. The producer isn’t the main attraction; however, there are situations that may require more. Essentially, we are not the focus. I do my best to stay true to the foundation that was laid prior to my involvement. If this is a new venture, we have the space to create and establish a sound suitable for them. Jonathan, Maurette and Melonie Daniels already had an established sound, but for new artists like Kadesh, I had the freedom to create something new which is fun!! I set the rules and determined the path, it’s a real joy. I sit down with the artist and pick their brain to discover their liking- what they enjoy. Knowing this helps me know how far I can stretch musically. I am a producer that thinks differently and love to explore new things. A daredevil, if you will.
GP: What future plans do you have for Ken-He Music?
KS: One of the many lessons we all have learned during this pandemic is you can’t take life for granted. It has caused us to place significance on time and now there’s a huge urgency to complete our God-given assignment. Now, I would like to release as much music as possible whether through my own artists, album placements, or hiring artists to record my music. I plan to release my debut single “Fallen Angels”, an encouraging song that’s also musically pleasant. I’m excited about it!
The work doesn’t stop because of the pandemic. Shelton has exponentially increased his workload while at home. He told us, “There were a few out of town engagements between Jonathan and Kirk Franklin lined up, and the pandemic occurred. God wanted to shut us down and speak, I’m not mad at that whatsoever. I must say work has increased, ironically. I’m a true introvert and accustomed to working alone, so this shutdown was heaven for me! At home with work and my wife, I was good! It allowed me to finish Jonathan’s up-coming “Reunion” record which will be released soon (August, I believe).
I was also privy to create and arrange music with Myron Butler and we released a single I wrote for Crystal Rucker (“It Is Well”). I composed a beautiful song with Jason Nelson in conjunction with the “Black Lives Matter” movement and helped create another song of hope written by my dude Ken Penceal (former A&R for RCA) called “Help now”.
I was already working with my brother Stephen Manders from Alabama producing a few tunes and we were able to release “Adoration” which went viral in April with over a million views on The Shade Room. CRAZY!! So as you see this pandemic actually afforded me more time to work, for which I am extremely thankful to God. I don’t take it lightly.
We’re grateful Kenneth Shelton took time out of his extremely busy schedule to share with us. We hope you’ve been inspired by Kenny and learned a little more about one of gospel music’s great producers of our time. The pandemic has affected all of us, but it has also opened great doors of and for creativity. You can always find great ideas, inspiration and with our featured producers series great conversation. If you missed last month’s feature (Cedric Thompson), do yourself a favor and check it out here. Thanks again for reading this month’s feature…back to the music, we go!