Rising Stars: Lee McMahon

Belfast-based engineer splits his time between studio work and mixing FOH for And So I Watch You From Afar.
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Audio Pro International’s focus on the best of the industry’s emerging audio engineers continues with the latest addition to our Rising Stars section.

This week we hear from Belfast-based Lee McMahon, who now splits his time between working at the city's Start Together Studio and mixing FOH for Northern Irish rock band And So I Watch You From Afar...

Where did you study?

I studied at The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), on the Sound Technology degree, and graduated in 2012.

Courses teaching any aspect of sound engineering often get criticised by people in the industry, but my time at LIPA proved invaluable in establishing myself as a freelancer. The ability to use studio time to record your peers, often at 4am after a lot of coffee, and learn about the process together was a fantastic experience. It was also the perfect place to make tonnes of mistakes and learn from them, without the pressure of a client's time and/or money.

The contacts I made in those three years have helped me gain work opportunities and develop strong relationships with people I now consider colleagues and friends.

What made you decide to pursue a career in audio?

Having been a gigging musician since a young age, I was always fascinated with the job of a sound engineer – be it live or studio. I took a hiatus from being a drummer and pursed a career in audio and i'm now fortunate enough to call it my job.

Where are you based?

I'm primarily based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I was born here and moved back from Liverpool after graduating – Belfast has a more vibrant culture than ever before, so it seemed the perfect place to put down roots.

Producer Rocky O'Reilly (And So I Watch You From Afar, In Case Of Fire, General Fiasco) was very influential in my decision to move back here. After assisting him on And So I Watch You From Afar's critically acclaimed album Gangs while on summer holiday from LIPA, we kept in contact and he later offered me a job in his recording facility Start Together Studio.

What are you working on at the moment?

Among a few projects in the pipeline, I have just finished the mix of the debut release by Merseyside alt-quartet Fall Of Every Sparrow (@f_o_e_s) who are releasing their first single later this summer. I'm also about to head out on the road with And So I Watch You From Afar (@ASIWYFA_BAND), mixing FOH at various UK/EU festivals.

I've found splitting my time between the studio and live helps regain perspective and inspire innovation in both environments.

Tell us a bit about Start Together Studio. What sets it apart from other recording facilities?

From day one, you can tell STS was designed to be a studio facility that catered for the artist as much as the engineers who work there. Alongside a lot of staple studio gear, you have a large collection of vintage drums, amps, synths, tape echoes, effect pedals etc. which are the the things that get musicians excited and in turn, make them more comfortable in the studio environment. It's also great working alongside Rocky, Ben and Niall – three extremely talented colleagues and friends.

Which console are you currently using, and how are you finding it?

I do almost all of my mixing on the SSL 4000G we have in Start Together Studio 2. We have no outboard in that studio so I use Pro Tools for all of our front-end processing before it hits the desk channels, comps and EQs. I'm a big fan of the bus comp, too.

It's expensive to run and maintain but we wouldn't change it. It's sonic footprint is engrained in the projects we do here at ST and it's made me a better mix engineer because of the limitations of mixing out-the-box.

What is your favourite ever piece of audio equipment?

Probably the Maestro Echoplex, an instrument in its own right. I'm also a big fan of the Coles 4038, it just seems to work on anything!

Which band/artist would you most like to work with and why?

That's a tough one. Live, I'd love to work with a band like Muse, but in the studio, I'd love to make a record with Karnivool.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

I hope to steadily develop my skill set and continue to work with amazing people. That's the dream, right?

To get involved in our Rising Stars column, whether you are an engineer who is new to the industry and would like to be featured, or an experienced engineer who would like to nominate a particular student/apprentice, please contact Audio Pro International editor Adam Savage on adam.savage@intentmedia.co.uk or +44 (0)1992 535646.

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