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Meet Kenny Eng

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

Kenny, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I started playing piano at a young age- probably 5 or 6 years old and I hated it. It was torture and I would go out of my way to figure out ways to pretend like I was practicing or practice just enough that my teacher (and mom) wouldn’t know that I wasn’t taking it seriously. That lasted just over ten years.

Curiously though, I still had a strong passion for music, despite my animosity towards piano lessons. I loved listening to music and had almost a fanatical approach to memorizing popular songs ranging from top 40 hits to Motown classics to hip-hop chart-toppers.

I was given a John Mayer album around the 11th grade, which happened to coincide with the discovery of my mom’s acoustic guitar. It was the first time I was introduced to guitar-driven singer/songwriter music or really any guitar-centric music.

I became obsessed with the instrument and began to explore more and more music genres I had never really known before except in passing. This included everyone from Bob Dylan to Jimi Hendrix to Prince to Jeff Buckley and so on. It was like a whole new world had opened up to me and I jumped in headfirst.

I tried my hand at the singer/songwriter life and put out two albums but a major accident sidelined me for almost six months. I had done as much as I could to be the next big San Diego-based singer/songwriter, but that just didn’t seem to connect with me as much as just sitting around entertaining people with songs they already knew.

I always had a knack for being able to pick songs up by ear, which probably came from my years of piano lessons (and later getting a degree in music theory) and in 2013, I was presented with an opportunity to play at a bar in Little Italy for three hours. I immediately thought there was no way I had enough material to even do 90 minutes by myself, but they were looking for something less of a singer/songwriter ambiance and more “entertain a room full of drunk people” vibe. And I’ve been doing that ever since.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I wish I could say that it has been a smooth road but I still deal with the same issues I’ve always dealt with in the music scene, both the singer/songwriter community and the live entertainment industry.

These range from just getting your foot in the door without having previous relationships with people responsible for things like entertainment booking, and this is in no way unique to me or even to the music industry, in general. In order to get booked at places early, early on, I would hang out at open mics every week for months on end, just hoping to get an opportunity to play two songs that no one probably had any interest in listening to.

Luckily, a happy bi-product of all that time investment was a wonderful community of fellow musicians who have become lifelong friends both in and out of the music scene.

There are countless other struggles that I deal with, which includes (but is not limited to): finding a balance between this work and regular life (I play 3-5 times a week on top of a full-time job), evolving with the music scene and technology, constant stage fright, and perhaps more unique to me, being a Chinese singer/songwriter that plays music from Bob Dylan to Prince to Britney Spears to Drake to essentially any song that I personally like and seems to connect with an audience. It has been an interesting experience to see how people first react to me when I walk through the door with my guitar. I’m never really sure what they are expecting from me, but more often than not, it is skepticism.

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I am a singer/guitar player that specializes in playing a very wide but also the unique brand of cover songs all over San Diego. I am confident that I play songs that many of my peers would never think to play and that audiences would not expect to hear on an acoustic guitar.

I am most proud of my longevity and consistency in this industry. I have been at this in San Diego since 2007 and I have seen many talented people come and go, yet I am still around and, in my humble opinion, am a bit of a fixture in the acoustic music scene. I am proud that I have done this completely independently and have taught myself valuable skills ranging from website and graphic design, photography, marketing, business management, all in the desire to continue to build on my love of playing music for people who enjoy it.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Success is relative but one thing that I have to remind myself of constantly is that I get paid to go play music, something that I would be happy to do by myself on my couch. I have been given the opportunity to perform for amazing people who I consider to be close personal friends, play at venues that I would have never imagined like Petco Park, the House of Blues Mainstage, Belly Up, etc. And I’ve gotten to meet and perform with people who I have admired and idolized since before I even had the nerve to sing in public. It has also given me the ability to purchase a home in a time when that is not a viable option for many hardworking people my age, and most importantly, my journey in music brought me my amazing girlfriend.

If I can continue to do this at this pace where I can sustain my own sense of contentment and excitement for the opportunity to play music, that will be all that I need. If I can do that at a high level, not have to worry about the business side of things, and constantly improve my skills as a musician, that would be heaven.

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Image Credit:
John Hancock, Cory Immele, Last Week Tonight

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