Ken Matsuda
Ken Matsuda

June 16th, 2022

ToneGym Hero: Ken Matsuda

Songwriter and Multi-instrumentalist with a formel songwriting and from Berklee College of Music, Currently from Sunnyvale, California. Ken Matsuda is this month's ToneGym Hero! 

Who are you, and Where are you from?

My name is Ken Matsuda, and I’m a songwriter. I live in Sunnyvale, California, but I grew up in northern New Jersey.

How did you get into music?

My mother studied jazz piano when I was really young (like 3 or 4?). I was drawn to music and pretended to write music back then. My first song was called “Leprechaun Dance” which was kind of fingers dancing on keys kind of a thing. I wrote it with my friend and we held a concert for our moms. 

I started studying violin in 2nd or 3rd grade and really got into the violin's sound. When my parents bought me a nice violin, I practiced for 4-5 hours a day just to listen to how it sounded. I got an electric guitar in high school and loved the sound of distortion. I played in bands with my friends, studied music, and went to Berklee College of Music for songwriting and performance.

I ended up working in tech after transferring and getting an electrical engineering degree. I toured Germany with a friend's band called Thunderegg, gigged in a jazz duo with a talented Japanese singer, performed with a few Japanese bands in the Bay Area, and performed on my own as well. I turned 50 this year, so I've been playing music for about 43 years.

What do you like to do for fun outside of working on music?

I enjoy spending time with my family. My son is a college freshman and plays soccer (football) at a D1 soccer program in Brooklyn. I drove him to almost all of his games and shot videos of his games since he was seven years old. Our weekends and vacations were planned around his soccer schedule. I love to watch him play and miss getting to watch him play on the weekends.

My daughter just turned 15 and is a visual artist. She comes to draw in my studio after school. We work on singing and recently I created a songwriting workshop for her and her friend. I enjoy working with and teaching kids and when she was younger, I coached her soccer team. Guiding her and her friend through the process of writing music and lyrics has been really interesting and rewarding. I didn’t expect them to be so fascinated with the process of writing songs, but they get into the different aspects of writing. It feels like I’m teaching magic.

What's your most useless skill or talent?

I grew up playing video games (Atari, Nintendo, Sega, Playstation) and always played Mario Kart with my close friend. Some of his friends in college were annoyed that I kept winning, so I left it with them for a couple of weeks. (I’m not an amazing gamer, but I did own the console…) 

When I played his friends, I developed a habit of watching and continuously following my side and my opponent’s side, so that I could anticipate when they were getting close. There were moments when I could get into a zone and follow both sides simultaneously. I imagine that skilled gamers do this all the time, but it felt like I was on the edge of what my brain could handle. I wish I could say this helped me with overwhelming situations, but it didn’t, I still get overwhelmed.

What inspires you to keep making music?

Sometimes I struggle with writing a song and other times, it is like I’m discovering a song that just existed. I love writing those songs, the craft, and adventure of creating stories, and translating images in my mind of feelings into music. I like learning how other people approach writing music. Recently, I’ve enjoyed co-writing and hope to do that more.

If you could sit down to a session with any artist, who would it be?

This sounds super intimidating, but I would want to sit with Max Martin and work on a song. Even though he has been around for a long time, I first learned about him when Taylor Swift came out with "We're Never Ever Going to Get Back Together Again". I really liked the change in her music and found that the songs I enjoyed more were ones that he produced. It was eye-opening to see what a producer brings to a song. I was fascinated by the process of how he created pop songs with a team of people contributing different parts. 

Any habits you have before starting a session?

I start with meditation every morning before I work on music. I feel that the focus allows me to get deeper into the music and the sounds I'm trying to hear. I start my days with music and then work on my day job. The meditation helps me dive deep into a focused state throughout the day.

What have you been working on lately?

I have been working on finishing up songs I wrote with my band during the lockdown and working on sting new music on my own. I’m fascinated with the process of recording, mixing and mastering and have been steadily improving my skills (and listening skills with SoundGym). I love writing music and capturing sounds. I’m fascinated by mixing workflows and am really excited when I can apply and absorb parts of somebody’s workflow. For the band’s music, we recorded in our homes, but some bandmates have moved away. There are limits to the quality, but I want to do what I can to put the songs in a form where we can listen back to the music we wrote.

If you could pick one, what would be the theme song of your life?

It is probably going to be “Shape Of My Heart” by Sting. My personality is subdued and I enjoy the pursuit of music for the journey. I go through phases where I perform in bands or on my own, but I also enjoy learning and improving as a songwriter, musician and producer. The song is about a gambler, and I like the description of how he does the art and the meditative aspects of it rather than the money or recognition.

What's your favorite musical instrument?

For the last two years, I have been playing bass. It has always been on my list of things to do and I’ve been taking classes online through and their accelerator courses. I really like Motown-style baselines and worked on improving my timing and understanding of the fretboard. I’ve enjoyed creating lines for the songs I write and getting the right feel when building a groove with drums.

What's your favorite ToneGym feature?

This is a result of a collection of “features,” but I like that ToneGym keeps me motivated to work on ear training each day. I use both SoundGym and ToneGym, and I like that they set up my training each day. It’s funny to say this, but I’m motivated by the overall and per-game percentages. I take a snapshot each day and paste it into my practice log.

What does the future hold for Ken Matsuda?

I think that I want to revisit the songs I wrote on my own as well as with the band during the last couple of years. I’d like to finish up the band songs and record some of my own music. I feel like I need to challenge myself to put more of my music out there over the next year, and I also would like to connect with and collaborate with musicians I haven’t met yet.


Cuantas Vacas
Jun 16
Congratulations! Great interview. I personally would love to hear the 'Leprechaun Dance' revisited!
David Alva
Jun 16
Congratulations Ken!
Colin Aiken
Jun 17
Very cool write-up. I really like that Sting tune as well.

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