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Check Out Kenny Eng’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kenny Eng.

Hi Kenny, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I’ve been playing music in San Diego, CA since 2008 when I moved down here from the Bay Area. I started out in the acoustic singer/songwriter scene, bouncing around from open mics all over the place to doing small showcases with other songwriters, and finally having shows of my own at many of the popular venues at the time. The surprising thing to me about my journey is that I never thought I would be doing what I actually do now, which is play cover music at places all over the San Diego area, though in hindsight, it does seem like this is what I was musically built to do.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
I don’t think any professionally creative person you will ever talk to would ever say it has been an obstacle-free experience at any point of their journey. I think there are times when things get easier by comparison, but some of the best art is formed in the difficult times, at least in my experience. Of all the obstacles that I personally have had to face, I think the two that were the most difficult were: a) figuring out how to do what I love (play music) without all the stuff about the “music industry” that I hated, and b) how to survive as a musician in these times.

In both of those situations for me, it was about really understanding what it is I love about what I was able to do. I love playing music and I enjoy being able to connect with people through it, whether that’s performing the saddest song with the most emotion I can to a small room of people, or playing until my fingers and arms and voice are numb for a packed bar dancing their hearts out for hours. What I don’t love about the music industry is really everything other than the music side, which I usually refer to as the idea of “selling yourself”.

My experience with the non-music side of things i.e., self-promotion, trying to book gigs with people who don’t care about much about me other than making money, trying to convince people to believe in you even before hearing what you can do, etc. was about as soul crushing of an experience as I’ve endured. I admire the artists that can do it on their own and make it through without being jaded because it is truly a heavy burden that not many people can cope with and as unforgiving an environment as I can imagine for an artist.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
As of right now, my specialty is cover songs that are either unique to me or presented in a unique way. I love the idea of playing a song that people would not usually hear an acoustic guitar player perform, whether that’s a classic Motown song, or 90’s R&B, or even contemporary pop music. I have a lot of respect for performers who do the classic cover band songs, and I have to admit that I do quite a few of them myself when I have to, but what really keeps me engaged and excited is when I can find a classic or even new song (for the acoustic guitar player/singer style) and make it feel new to the people who are listening to me.

For example, if someone requests a classic song that every band on the planet plays, I make it almost a mission to do something unexpected to bend people’s ears and keep people’s attention even though it’s the 50th time they’ve heard a band play that song. Or if it’s a new song, I will play something that no one expects to hear an acoustic act to play like hip-hop songs, or mash-ups of handfuls of seemingly unrelated songs all at once but definitely have a through line somehow. That’s the kind of thing that makes me excited to perform because it’s almost as if we get to experience something new and familiar for the first time together.

Do you have any advice for those just starting out?
The best advice I can give to people right now is to figure out what you enjoy doing and why. Once you can distill that experience into its most pure form, there’s a lot of other stuff that you can let fall away while still being happy. For me, I had to truly understand that I love the act of playing music and exploring how far I could go with my own musical development. I also really enjoy connecting with people through music, whether that is a joyous experience or a more contemplative one.

When I figured that out, the opportunities that I would have normally avoided (such as performing at bars or clubs or restaurants) opened up for me and I was able to let go of the things that didn’t make me happy in the music scene. It definitely took time to come to that realization, but once it happened, I learned more about myself than I would have ever hoped.

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Image Credits

Dennis Anderson Photography
John Hancock Photography
Cory Immele

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