Audio Engineer Kesha Lee in Atlanta, in a Pandemic: 'I'm on a Different Set of Goals'

Lee is using her free time to start her own YouTube channel — while new songs from artists she works with are slowly trickling in.

Since getting her start through a chance meeting with Gucci Mane, Atlanta-based audio engineer Kesha Lee has worked on chart-toppers like Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” and Migos’ “Bad and Boujee,” and is now the go-to audio engineer for rappers including Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert. She spent the past two-and-a-half years working on Uzi’s Eternal Atake album in the artist’s native Philadelphia, before it was released on March 6 — mere weeks before the near-national lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus began.

As part of Billboard’s efforts to best cover the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts on the music industry, we will be speaking with Lee each week to chronicle her experience throughout the crisis. (Read last week’s installment here and see the full series here.)

Last week, you mentioned wanting to launch a YouTube channel for engineering. What do you envision for the channel, and what kind of progress have you made so far?

I really want to show behind-the-scenes stuff, and the ups and downs. That’s why I want to show how to pack for a long trip, or me trying to figure out my on-the-road studio. Not so much mixing tips — I feel like there are so many places people can go with stuff like that. So troubleshooting stuff, product reviews, stuff like that. Some of the stuff that I had questions about — working with big artists, and how to handle certain things — and I had to figure out on my own. As I learn, I want to share it with other people, so that if they get in a position where if they’re sleeping in the studio, they know how to get comfortable. [Laughs.] When I didn’t know we were going to be in the studio [in Philadelphia] like that for years, I was sleeping in the engineer chair and it was really uncomfortable. People would ask me, “Why don’t you sleep on the couch?” But when an artist has all their friends in the studio, they take up all the couch room. It’s the engineer chair, or the floor. So little by little, I started to figure out what I needed to do to get comfortable. I’m definitely in a place to want to share that with other engineers and producers. I’ll do a trailer to let people know that it’s coming. Hopefully, in two or three weeks, I can post.

What has Atlanta been like since Georgia reopened its economy last month?

I went to get my oil changed and I was driving, noticing how a lot of stuff was open, and people were out. Some people you could tell were taking precautions and some people weren’t. There are a lot of businesses that are still closed, but the ones that are open are kind of busy. I want to see how everything is for a couple of weeks before I start going [out]. I’m not really pressed to go out to eat or anything.

Have any artists sent you songs to work on since we last spoke?

I had two songs that came in, but I’ve been waiting for if [there are] going to be more.

Who did the songs come from?

I can’t say yet.

Do you think there will be any challenges to audio engineering those songs from home?

Just that with lower frequencies, the waveform is a lot larger, so there’s less cycles in it. If you don’t have the right speakers or if the room isn’t properly treated, you won’t hear what you should be hearing in the speakers correctly. That makes it a challenge. But if you’ve been working with someone whose work you are familiar with, it makes it a little bit easier.

Do you ever write your own music?

Yeah, I do. On and off, I’ll play around and record something or write something. It just takes me so long. Because I’m not really wanting to be an artist, I’m not pressed to finish. So I may do a melody, and then I’ll just stop there. But there are a few songs that I’ve written. I love Caribbean-style, Afrobeats, Spanish-style. Stuff like that.

Would you ever release any of your songs?

Yeah, I plan on doing one soon. That’s the point of the YouTube [channel]. I don’t want to ever want to have to ask an artist, “Hey, can I use your session for my YouTube?” If a special occasion happens, if something really cool is going on in the session and I feel comfortable asking them and I don’t think it will be a problem, OK. But for the most part, I don’t want to ask artists to use their sessions. That was the point of me doing a song. For the YouTube, I can break down the songs that I record, or even break down the recording process. Everybody records differently, but I can speak about things and break down a session.

Have you found it difficult to be creative at home?

No. I record on my laptop and that makes stuff a lot easier. I don’t see how artists can sit and record in the booth. It’s a confined space and you either have to stand or sit on a stool. I couldn’t do that day-in and day-out. I’d rather be in a different spot. I can sing on the couch, or on the floor. I have a floor pillow. As far as mixing songs, most of the creative stuff happens in the recording process. By the time it goes to me being mixed, you just want to clean it up and make it sound better.

But the producers I know, they’re ready to move around. This slowed them down as far as going to different sessions and being in the studio and playing beats or linking up with artists. A few people I know are ready to get back out and do that. Another producer I know has been working from home, making beats and stuff instead of at the studio. Some people are making it happen at home.

At what point do you think you’ll get back into work?

After I feel comfortable going out, there are family and friends who I want to go visit. After that, I still want to work on my goals for a little while before I jump back into work. So for me, it sounds like a couple more months. I feel like when I first wanted to engineer, I knew that as an engineer, you have the opportunity to travel and work with different people and get plaques and stuff. At that point, that’s what I wanted. And I feel like that and so much more has happened. I never would’ve imagined making Forbes 30 Under 30, or getting more plaques than I could imagine. So now, I’m on a different set of goals. I think this time is a good time to figure that out.