Yi Hsuan Lee – Independent Live Sound Tech

Yi Hsuan Lee aka Kate Lee has been working in audio for the last 12 years, getting her start in 2012. Kate growing up was a music fan, saving her money to see as many concerts and festivals as possible. Kate was also a drummer and discovered early on, she did not like being onstage. Then she met the singer from her drum teacher’s band who was a production manager for a local venue. This is when Kate discovered a behind-the-scenes career path. She interned at the venue working in both lighting and audio, and fell in love. Eight months later Kate would take the plunge, moving to Los Angeles to attend the Musician’s Institute for Audio Engineering. Kate has recently toured with LCD Soundsystem and Pearl Jam as part of the monitor team.

Career Start

How did you get your start?

Right before I graduated from MI, my instructor invited us to shadow him when he did gigs at night or on the weekend.  I tried to go to every gig to help out, ask questions, and maybe get to mix a couple of songs. Eventually, he started to pass me some small gigs, and, then after six months, he asked if I was interested in a part-time job at MI as a production team member which was sound, lights, and camera for classes, concerts, and workshops. Eventually, it turned into a full-time job shortly after that.

How did your early internships or jobs help build a foundation for where you are now?

There is meaning for every gig, job, and opportunity. When I worked at MI, I got to experience many different sounds, different vocals,  guitars, and tones every day.  I was able to play with and try different equipment and FX, just to see how it sounded and learn from it. You don’t need fancy gear to learn, use what you have and be creative. Because it’s a school, I was able to sit in some classes and clinics that I was interested in. I would stay late at work just to get some studio time or get my hands on a console. I was really lucky to start in MI where mistakes are ok and there were plenty of resources for me to continue to learn and grow.

What did you learn interning or on your early gigs?

I learned to listen more and speak less. Especially when you are just starting out. Absorb everything, good or bad. Be teachable, be humble.

Did you have a mentor or someone that helped you?

Joe Fiorillo who was the instructor that took me under his wing when I first started. He took a chance on me. He loves to teach, share knowledge, and of course great stories. More importantly, he is always willing to help students and the next generation to succeed. He passed many gigs and opportunities to many of us. He helps me build my confidence and lets me grow in a safe place. I can say that without him I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Another person will be Ivan Ortis from Rat Sound System. After working at MI for six years, I was desperately looking for change. I knew a bigger world existed for me to learn and explore. Then Ivan hired me at Rat Shop. I was able to learn in a big production setting and develop all my stage tech skills while working in the shop.

Career Now

What is a typical day like?

As a stage tech/monitor tech, before unloading the truck, I’ll meet with the house stage manager, if I’m going in with the band, I’ll check with house audio people as well. I‘ll ask several questions, where is my monitor world going to be? How much space do I need and what I can have? Where can I store my dead case? Where to tie in my power? How many stagehands do I have? What’s the path for my snake? I prefer to have a big picture of how I want things to lay out before I start pushing cases so I’m not doing things twice. After talking to the stage manager and house audio, I should have a pretty good idea of how my stuff is going to lay out. I’ll direct stagehands to unload the truck, help the monitor engineer, then tie in the power, run the snake, and start the patch stage. Once the stage is patched, we will do a line check, fix any issues, and get ready for soundcheck and show.

How do you stay organized and focused?

As a tech, staying organized is everything. Keep documenting everything. The way I stay focused is I’m always thinking about what I can do better. What can we do differently to make our life easier? When I work I always think ahead and adjust my workflow accordingly.

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

When the show starts, the audience is having a good time. I enjoyed every show I worked on, no matter how exhausted I am. It is always touching to see the show come together and knowing that I’m a little part of it, we are creating memorable experiences for people.

What do you like least?

Long hours and pulling feeder.

If you tour, what do you like best?

Travel between different cities, trying good restaurants and local coffee shops.

What do you like least?

Sleeping on a tour bus. jet lag, canceled flights, and missing bags.

What is your favorite day off activity? 

Catch up with friends and family. Relaxing. Have a walk in nature.

What are your long-term goals?

Keep doing what I love and keep learning new things.

What if any obstacles or barriers have you faced?

The language barrier and being a 5-foot-tall Asian woman in this male-dominated field.

How have you dealt with them?

I’m just focusing on my job and making sure I do a good job on every gig. I believe people recognize good work. I’ll let my work speak for me. A lot of time I’ll be in charge of leading stagehands and I need to give them clear instructions and direction. I’ve learned to be confident with what I do and own it.

Advice you have for other women and young women who wish to enter the field?

You have to love what you do because this job is not easy.  If you want it, you have to work hard and ignore any negative comments. It’s never too late to start.

Must have skills?

Signal flow and troubleshooting.

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