10 Questions with ... Howard "HK" Kessler
March 22, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
DJ, remixer, producer, artist, syndicated radio host, consultant, label and studio exec., and founder and president of HK Productions LLC.
- Connection Records - New York (Head of A&R & National Dance Promotion)
- WAVP/New Jersey (MD/afternoons)
- WKTU/New York (Music Programming)
- Eastern Artists Recording Studio - New Jersey (GM, Producer, Remixer)
- Sanctuary Recording - New York (GM)
- Tommy Boy Records - New York (A&R Executive/Staff Producer)
- HK Productions - Minneapolis (Founder / President)
1. What initially drew you into music?
The power, emotion and rhythm. I was drawn to music like a moth to a flame. I remember going with my dad to record stores to by stuff when I was still in single digits. And I was always into everything. My ear was just drawn to good quality sound, regardless of genre. I was that kid on the block who always had the biggest record collection. I'm still that kid. Music moves me. Plain and simple!
2. You've done practically every job in music from being an artist to running a label. You also worked in radio. How was your radio experience?
My first radio expierence was college radio. Play and say whatever you want. Of course a total blast and education. My second was a small station in Jersey - WAVP. Then I get a call from Michael Ellis (Z100 & WKTU). He says..."Howard you wanna come to KTU and help me in music programming?" At the time, I co-owned and ran a large DJ Record Pool...Garden State Record Promotions, had a dance label and was pretty wired into the club scene. Michael was getting the dance station going and that became a huge opportunity for me to really learn more about the biz in the number one market. It was a wonderful experience.
Then 92KTU flipped to K-Rock. When the smoke cleared, I was hangin' out with some guy called Howard Stern and a real class act by the name of Mark Coppola who took me under his wing. So imagine this...one day I'm helping break new dance music from unknown labels and artists that are happening in the clubs and the next day I'm having dinner with people like Roger Daltrey, Pete Townsend, Cyndi Lauper and Richard Belzer. For a kid who loves all things music and radio, I was delivered to the promised land.
Back then everyone seemed so passionate about the music and there was a great vibe between clubs, radio, retail and the labels. And it transcended to the listeners as well. Listeners really identified with their station. With so many media choices nowadays it's just harder to break through the clutter. I still LOVE radio and all of my experiences with it. Yes, the industry has changed, what industry hasn't. Embrace it and move forward or step aside. Here's the bottom line...people's desire to create, purchase and listen to music will always be there. That will never change. All that changes is the conduit through which it flows. In other words - the difference between Terrestrial, Satellite, or Internet is no different then vinyl vs. 8-track, cassette, reel to reel, CD or mp3. All have technical benefits and setbacks, but all start with a created song and end with the playback.
3. You're responsible for the biggest selling dance compilation series in music history, "MTV Party To Go? What jumps out at you when you look back at doing that project?
So many things. That is one of those projects in your life that taps into a multitude of milestones. I was so excited about the vision for that project and to this day am still grateful for it's success. It was the first "DJ Mix" CD ever made. From day one I knew it had to be all the biggest hits remixed and mixed together. It was my way of giving back to the club community what it had given to me. Volumes 1-6 which I personally produced / mixed all went gold and platinum. Millions of dollars from sales of those albums have gone to great causes such as cancer research. It was the first compilation series taken to retail as a frontline hit album. Prior to that, compilations were retreads found in the back bins of record stores. It truly changed the compilation business in this country and led to other frontline hit packages like the "NOW" series and others.
4. Mixing at a club and mixing on the radio can be a very different thing. Any advice for someone looking to develop from radio to being a great club dj?
Wow, you got that right! Although there is an overlap to the basic skill set...working the floor requires additional abilities. READ your crowd. Know how to control the floor. That may mean getting outside your own head and off your station playlist. Have your technical stuff down, but don't loose a sense of drama and ability to improvise. When on-air the playlist and sets are tight, but in the club you have an opportunity to program in-between some of those restrictions and take your floor on a wider musical journey.
5. What's the first job related thing you do in the morning?
Check email and All Access Industry Headlines.
6. What newer artists are jumping out of speakers at you these days.?
Tinie Tempah, Jessie J, Martin Solveig & Dragonette, JTX, Jay Sean, Skrillex, Nicki Minaj
7. Who would you LOVE to see on a reunion tour?
Prince and the Revolution
8. As if your resume wasn't long enough, don't you host a new radio Mix Show?
Yes. In The Mix with HK. It's a new weekly syndicated mix show geared for Top 40. Each week I take the top hits and remix them together in an extended dance club format. We've developed a great program clock and music intensive show that works in a new PPM world. The show has slammin' custom production and mixes. It will change your perception of what a mix show can be. It's the best of a non-stop music mix with a brand and identity that works!
9. If you were stranded on a deserted island for a year with only 3 albums, what there albums would you want to have with you?
The Beatles - 1, Stevie Wonder - The Definitive Collection, My current Custom Compilation of New & Recent Hits.
10. What would you consider your career highlight(s)?
First and formost - turning my love of music and broadcasting into a life long career. The opportunity to learn first hand in the clubs and recording studios. That was the foundation that led me to working with great artists and executives. It's all added up to Grammy Award winning projects and dozens of Gold & Platinum Records.
Other certainly memorable moments:
Sitting next to Queen Latifah in a studio session and saying "don't rap the chorus, let me here you sing it." The sung performance was pressed up and a rapper turned singer right at that moment.
Of course, the huge success of MTV Party To Go.
All the great artists I got to work with at Tommy Boy such as Latifah, De La Soul, Coolio, Digital Underground, Force MD's, Information Society, RuPaul, Naughty By Nature, House of Pain and K7.
Producing special music projects for Clear Channel, Emmis, Infinity, etc.
My early days at WKTU.
And especially the excitement behind my new show In The Mix with HK and all the production and remixes being done for it on artists such as Eminem, Britney Spears, Rihanna, Taio Cruz, Katy Perry, Ke$ha, Lady Gaga, Black Eyed Peas and Usher.