1. First of all, we would like to know a bit of your background story. How did you get involved in the pro audio industry?
I joined the recording studio industry professionally in the year 1999 after I returned from Sydney attending SAE School of Audio Engineering (BA) in Recording Arts. I became a studio manager in Form Recording Studio which was then the largest commercial recording studio, taking care of the daily operations, studio-scheduling, meeting clients, attending to sales matters, technical aspects, upgrading and doing audio-engineering work. Big professional recording studios were already facing huge changes during that period. Albums and CD sales were still doing fine but there were more home productions coming into the studios. We had a Neve VR 60, SSL G 4048 with SONY PCM3348 & Studer 2" 24 tracks analog and a mastering/ editing room then but we only have 1 DAW system. It was a Digi Design Protools 4 system with the 888/16 bit audio interface, primarily for in-house mastering projects.
2. What made you want to continue this as a career?
I started playing guitars and writing songs during my secondary school days. After NS, I learnt more and became very interested in the technical aspect of pop music productions. Reading professional audio magazines such as Mix and Sound on Sound kept me in touch as well as helped me understand how things were done in the professional world. I always look up the album credits to find out where the albums were recorded or mixed; which engineer or musicians were involved and by listening to top engineers’ work/CD/ cassette, I try to analyze how things were done during their productions. During school days, I started with the Tascam 4 track cassette recorder. This slowly gave way to the Alesis ADAT 8 tracks. After which, I bought a couple of more microphones, some extra outboards effect units... the list just kept growing.
3. Do you prefer studio or live, and why?
I spend more time in the studios. But having said that, I love the challenge in the live world too. My specialized skill is not in the FOH or MON but rather concerts, award show live recording. I have pioneered using modular digital multi-track locally for recording live concerts/ performances as early as 2002. Such services were unheard of, at least locally. We tied in with MTV channel, offering live recording services to artists such as Norah Jones, Ashley Simpson, Sum 41, Good Charlotte, Simple Plan, All American Reject, Kasabian…etc. We did the audio post-production for worldwide TV broadcast too.
4. What is the most satisfying thing of being an audio engineer?
In seeing the progress of the artist or producer's vision coming through track by track. I was fortunate enough to assist in one of Tanya Chua's 蔡健雅 earlier album production "纪念" (year 2000). The producer/ arranger started by laying down a click track first onto the SONY PCM3348 (No Pro-tools!), followed by grand piano, keyboards, drums, bass, string quartet and finally vocals. Everything was tracked live, there was no programming involved. The mix was done pretty fast and it became one of Tanya's most popular songs.
Horus Studio, founded by Leonard and his wife Shirley
5. What Audio-Technica equipment are you using and how are they working out for you?
The ATH-M50 was probably the first professional product that I used. For its price and quality, it was almost second to none. When I first heard the AT-5040, I decided to use it on Stefanie Sun’s latest album, “Kepler” for 4 songs. I have tried the new AT-5045 pair just last month on acoustic guitar and vocal production for a Beijing singer, Shane Cao. I love how the guitar tone was being captured; the stereo is solid, clean and dynamic. I love all the 5000 series mics, the dynamic is huge, requires less pre-amp gain to drive them, the self-noise is extremely low and the tone is true to the source.
6. What can musicians do to make life easier for their sound engineers?
There are more productions happening inside someone’s bedroom or living room than in the studios nowadays. Basic recording knowledge for the musicians will be very helpful, rather than being just a "computer operator".
7. What problems do you see inexperienced sound engineers making?
They may not have the most accurate environment to help them make their recording & mixing judgement. If it is not possible to change or improve the control room environment, invest in good headphones and headphone amps, which will definitely help. No amount of external gears will improve the recording or mixing if the monitoring environment is giving them the “wrong” signal in their music balance. Technology and computer are great tools but start making immediate decisions rather than leave it during "the mix" or “mastering”. Avoid the “they can be fixed later mentality”. Try to achieve the best sound at every stage (recording, editing, mixing & mastering) because every stage counts.
Leonard with his new AE2300 drum microphone
8. How would you describe the music scene now compared to when you first started out?
There are more and more independent artists working on their own projects. The record-label-artist relationship has changed forever. Be it an established or new start-up artists, they are controlling their vision and music direction in today’s music scene, which is a good sign.
9. Do you have any advice for aspiring audio engineers?
Find as many chances as possible to work in different environment even when it is not in your comfort zone. Always listen and make less comments. You are always there but stay transparent or invisible. That is a very important role of an engineer but that does not mean you cannot be creative. Stay current. Be willing to accept changes in terms of technology, equipment and workflow.