Audio Engineer Kesha Lee in Atlanta, in a Pandemic: 'I'm Starting to See Progress'

Lee decided to take on new work remotely, rather than fly to the studio.

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 were struggling with productivity while getting ready to launch your engineering YouTube channel. How are you holding up now?

It’s been good. I’m starting to see some progress, so that made me feel better. I found a few editors and I have to narrow down who is going to edit [my YouTube videos]. I’m getting all the clips together and then trying to figure out my logo. I have to find royalty-free music to go in the beginning. I was trying to figure out if I should make it. I’m not a producer in the sense where I make beats from scratch, but I do additional production. I’m playing around with it.

You were also weighing your options for flying to another state for a new gig. Have you made any decisions yet?

I’m just going to do everything remotely. They’re just going to send the songs and I’m going to mix. I think it’s supposed to be soon. They didn’t give a specific date; they just let me know that it’s coming.

Is it a relief that you won’t have to travel?

It’s a little bit of a relief. But that’s how my job is: I’ll figure something out and then everything will change. When I was on the road, I figured out that you can ask the hotel for a microwave or a mini-fridge, but then there would be times that I get changed to another hotel that would have one or the other or neither. I’m used to figuring something out and then it changing.

What will be different about mixing these songs remotely?

When I do work on songs around the artist, I don’t let them hear it. There are some artists who are very involved in that process, but for some, it gets annoying to them, hearing the same thing over and over. It messes with their creative process if it’s a recording-slash-mixing session. It works out for both of us when they don’t hear it. So it won’t be different with it being remote in that aspect. I’ll just work on it, send it over and if there’s something they want changed, then I’ll go back and do that.

Is it easier to work without people watching?

A little. When I first started engineering, I was fearless. I would try anything. Now, I’m a little bit more self-conscious. If someone is listening and they don’t understand where I’m taking it to… A lot of times, you have to layer stuff, so the first couple of layers aren’t what it’s going to be. So I don’t want you to hear it [yet].

You’ve always been known for documenting the realities of your job on Instagram and Twitter. How has your relationship with social media changed while in quarantine?

I’ve been using it way less. I feel like Amazon replaced my social media usage. [Laughs.] I am on Amazon all day every day. I’m just not into my social media right now. I don’t feel like posting. I don’t feel like being on there. I feel like I’m in a good space, where I’m enjoying what I’m doing right now and my head is more clear without it. I know I’ve probably lost a lot of followers from being inactive, but I don’t care. The right people leave. It’s people who really support and are interested in what you’ve got going on that will stay.

Have you added anything new to your routine?

I started going to stores like Target. You wouldn’t think that going to the store would be that enjoyable, but I haven’t gone in so long, so that really helped. I want to go to the park, but it’s weird running with a mask on. When I look at people and smile, I forget that I have a mask on and they can’t see me smiling. I did go see my family for Mother’s Day, but I didn’t touch or hug anybody, which was weird. It feels like the day isn’t complete. But I’d rather be over-cautious, just in case.

What does the next week look like for you?

Getting the logo, intro and trailer for the YouTube ready. And the song I’m working on, I love. For me, I work on the melody [first] and then I go back in and put in the words. So I’m going to try to put words to the song this week.