Accomplished monitor engineer Chris Lee – who’s mixed shows for some of the biggest acts on the planet – discusses what it’s like to be back touring with the likes of J.Lo, why he can’t be without his JH Audio IEMs on the job, and offers his thoughts on the state of the live music industry in the US.
The last time Headliner spoke to Lee was in November 2020; we discussed his origins in mixing live sound, his use of DiGiCo desks and his creative approach for mixing a Kendrick Lamar show, but a lot has happened since then…
As was the case the previous year, the in-demand Lee remained as busy as ever in 2021, ringing in the new year with J.Lo in Times Square (he’s been mixing her shows for four years now).
“That was an amazing experience, and it was a little sombre to be there,” he recalls. “Despite bringing in the new year with a party and watching the ball drop, Times Square was practically empty. And then shortly after that we did the inauguration for newly elected President Biden. Then we built a new stadium here in Los Angeles for our two football teams – the Rams and the Chargers – and held one of the first full live events with I think around 50,000 people, and that was in April.
“It was also another sombre experience. We had J.Lo, Foo Fighters, Eddie Vedder and more. I was seeing crews that I hadn’t seen in a year and a half. We were all standing around the stage doing line checks and when we heard that kick come through the PA, everybody kind of just stopped. I think it was an emotional moment for everybody to be back in that environment again.”
Many of the recording gigs that Lee was involved with in 2020 also continued into 2021, including an on-location video project with SZA, several shows like the Billboard Music Awards (also with SZA, and Doja Cat) and the VMAs with Normani.
However when it comes to the live events business, does Lee feel like we’re in a better position now than we were this time last year?
“There have been quite a few cancellations lately for a number of tours, but quite frankly, anything that I have scheduled hasn’t been cancelled yet from my end. I’ve got a few things lined up, and I’m pretty positive that we’re getting past what we’ve been dealing with for the past couple of years. I’m genuinely optimistic.
The Roxannes give you that full dynamic range across the entire audio frequency spectrum that I feel no other model can really deliver.
Our conversation soon moves to gear, and Headliner learns that everything Lee does involves in-ear monitoring technology from JH Audio. His go-to is the company’s popular Roxanne model, and while he also owns all the other heavyweight models from JH’s inventory, the Roxannes are what he primarily uses on all of his big artists, including Kendrick Lamar.
“When I got my first pair and put them in, I was hearing things for the first time – subtle little nuances and tracks that I’d never heard before. It was really mind blowing,” he says. “The Roxannes give you that full dynamic range across the entire audio frequency spectrum that I feel no other model can really deliver. Whether it’s classical music, pop, hip-hop, whatever it is, it’s going to give you what you’re looking for in your mix.
“I of course have greater control over what I’m delivering to my artists, and I’m not affected by the environment I’m in if I’ve got a bunch of wedges and side fills trying to deliver a clean mix every night. I’m not competing with the house either, because while that does still affect my inner mix, it’s not as bad as with wedges, and therefore I’m not destroying the front of house mix – it just allows me to really tailor what I want to hear. My JH in-ears allow me to have that same sound every single night because in my environment, nothing’s changed. They have, however, changed the game for me entirely."
Listen to the full interview with Chris Lee on Headliner Radio here.
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