As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Akeel Henry.
US Gold-Certified and Juno Award-nominated music producer, audio engineer, and musical prodigy Akeel Henry is making a name for himself in the industry, working along such illustrious artists as Grammy-nominated Desiigner, Shawn Mendes, Ty Dolla $ign, Jeremiah, Trey Songz, Toni Braxton, Swae Lee, and Daniel Caesar. Toronto-native and Los Angeles-based Henry trained under Noah ’40’ Shebib of OVO Sound, the record label co-owned by Drake, and is currently signed to R&B singer Babyface’s record label Laface. This year, Henry has been nominated for two 2021 Juno Awards, “Jack Richardson Producer of the Year” for his work producing Trey Songz’ “Rain (feat. Swae Lee)” (co-producer Mike ‘DZL’ Holmes), Trey Songz’ “BACK HOME”, and Toni Braxton’s “Spell My Name” (co-producer Antonio Dixon), and he is credited as a composer on Savannah Ré’s album Solid which is nominated for “Traditional R&B/Soul Recording of the Year”.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. Growing up I was heavily raised in the church. My father was and still is the head Pastor of a church called House Of Prayer. I started playing piano on Sunday services starting at around 6 years old and that’s where the love of music started for me. I would switch from the piano to the drums, and at 9 years old I started learning the Bass guitar. Just wanted to know how to play everything, but the piano was always the main one for me.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was graduating high school, I was having a hard time deciding what I wanted to do. I always wanted to go into music, but it didn’t really seem practical. One of my teachers told me about an ‘Audio Production and Engineering’ program at a school called Metalworks Institute. I ended up attending there and that was where everything really started for me.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I don’t know if it’s the MOST interesting, but here’s the story of how I got signed to Babyface. I was reached out to by his team for a songwriting camp he was doing in Toronto. It was a weeklong camp, with about 5–6 rooms and everyday he had a different big artist/writer join him and walk between the rooms giving input on the songs that were being made. One of the guests was Daniel Caesar. That day they started with our room. It was myself, Savannah Re, & a co-producer Jessy Aaron. Babyface and Daniel Caesar came into our room and didn’t leave for hours. We just wrote together and caught a vibe. I’m sure the rest of the camp wasn’t the happiest haha.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I finally decided to do music full time many years ago, I opened a studio. I thought it would be best to have the cheapest prices so I could build a clientele. Great idea if you have a ton of money saved up, I did not. I was charging so little that I was struggling to get close to breaking even. Looking back, I realize how crazy I was to think I could sustain that for a long time. I really thought I could.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I can’t speak about most of the stuff I’m working on, but out of the things I can speak on, I’m very excited about LOONY’s EP. I’m the Executive producer on this one, and LOONY is starting to get real traction and good numbers. I feel like this is going to bring her to another level.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
I feel like everyone knows the power of the media. Everyone has a device in their pocket with Netflix or some other streaming platform. Lacking diversity in the media would definitely have clear effects on the way people live.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Just make music you like, don’t worry about trying to fit in
Work with people you like. The best vibes create the best music
Work hard but don’t forget to take days off and do something else regularly. It’ll keep you more creative.
Don’t rush your production. Just because you can make a beat in 10 minutes doesn’t mean you should.
Use social media to make connections. It’ll change your life.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
As mentioned above, it’s very important to take breaks. I’ve worked 5–6 days a week every week for the past few years. Anytime I try to push it to 7 days, it really takes a toll on my creativity the following week. It’s important to rest and take breaks. It will make your music better.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
DZL, a Toronto producer is really the one who helped me get my start in the professional music industry. I was doing a lot of local work before I started working with him. We ended up getting a bunch of big placements, Including Trey Songz, Swae Lee, Ty Dolla $ign, Jeremih and more.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Your Education Is Never Complete”. That’s a huge one for me. I’m a nerd with this stuff. I’m always trying to stay ahead of what’s new, learning from everyone I work with. I feel like once you stop learning, you stop getting better. That scares me.
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 might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
I’d love to sit down with Quincy Jones. He’s the real goat when it comes to production. Would love to pick his brain about some of the classics he’s done
How can our readers follow you online?
Follow me on Instagram at @akeel.music
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!