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?
Like everybody else, I started because I love music. I used to be in a band when I was young. At that time, I was studying electronics in polytechnic. Later, due to my interest in music, I decided to enter the music industry. I wanted to work in a studio but it was very hard to find studio jobs because at that time, you can’t learn anything audio-related in school. There were no Audio Production or Engineering courses. Someone had to mentor you. And when I approached one very experienced and famous mentor in the scene, he advised me to work in a club first to gain experience. This led to me working in club sound for 4-5 years. I had my big break when I met Shah Tahir while working in a club. He told me that Ken Lim was looking for an engineer for his new studio and since then, my career in studio sound started to form.
2. What made you want to continue this as a career?
I love electronics and music so this was the best combination for me.
The man behind the scene
3. Do you prefer studio or live, and why?
Definitely studio, as I like to work by myself. Studio work gives me more chances of experimenting and to be more creative. I enjoy the creative side so this is the best bet for me.
Music adds colour to your life
4. What are some of your more significant projects?
There’s many, but the one that amazed me the most is “The Mad Chinaman” by Dick lee. That was the first mix I had ever done and it wasn’t that good of a mix but it didn’t stop that album to break Dick Lee into Japanese market. That album gave me more credential and more mixing jobs after that. Working with Yuna was also quite interesting. I did her mix for the spotify sessions. Of course, there’s also Kit Chan, when she recorded her Hi-Fi CD. There are many actually and honestly I am very lucky and blessed to have worked with very talented producers, arrangers, session musicians & singers.
5. What is the greatest challenge in your work?
Sometime you fall into a rut and you become jaded and laid back and everything starts to spiral downwards. The challenge here is to always be able to do a job like it’s the first time you are doing it. You need to remind yourself that every job is going to be your last job if you don’t perform. You need to be driven if you want the client to call you back again.
Keep going, do your best.
6. What Audio-Technica equipment are you using and how are they working out for you?
AE2500 is very good. I also use Audio-Technica’s M-Series headphones all the time for mixing and reference. I am looking forward to trying more instrument mics from Audio-Technica.
7. What can musicians do to make life easier for their sound engineers?
Take care of their instruments and tune them. Talking from a studio-tracking standpoint, they should know their materials well before they come into the studio so as not to cause unnecessary delays.
Frank Lee with Singapore renowned Singer, Lin Jun Jie (also known as JJ Lin)
8. What problems do you see inexperienced sound engineers making?
I think many young engineers are too into plug-ins. If you are new and want to pick up fast, you should not use too many. In this case, you are just using pre-sets and you can’t learn. You just see a whole big picture but not what is behind the scenes. What they should do is to use basic plugins like EQs, compressors, delays, reverbs & choruses and try to emulate what the all-in-one famous American engineer’s signature plugins are doing.
9. How would you describe the music scene now compared to when you first started out?
For independent musicians, the scene is much better. Technology has allowed for home studio recordings to sound close to 90-95% of what actual studios can give. Distribution is also better now because of YouTube. In the past, musicians had to go through record labels which receives multiple demos every week. It was very easy to get filtered out and never given a chance to get exposure. Currently, the audience exposure is much high. The negative part is that the music industry doesn’t pay anymore. Value goes down because people are giving out free music to gain attention and people don’t see the worth anymore.
10. What are your plans currently and for the future?
I started an LLP to give younger engineers a chance to do better gigs and more exposure. If they come on board, these young studio and live sound guys will be able to work with good hi-end equipment and at the same time, train and get their hearing to a higher level. For myself, I’m going to do more live sound projects just to do something different.
11. You have mixed numerous acts so far. Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians and mixers?
It’s like what happened with Joseph schooling. Everyone didn’t have high hopes of a Singaporean winning and Olympic Gold medal, but Joseph fought with taller, bigger guys in the Olympics and he did it! This all boils down to two things: PASSION AND DRIVE. Have these two things and one day, you will get there. I see a lot of young engineers who give up after a while. My advice to them is to be patient, it’s not an instant thing. It took me 3-4 years before I could get a studio job. The main thing is you need to have a target for yourself. In between, there will be letdowns, but if you know what you want, you don’t just give up your dreams and bitch about it. You need to drive yourself, no one else will do it for you. And when you get there, stay humble and have no regrets.