Lee Popa: A Music “International Bridge”

80s Industrial Rock giant on Amphion, studios, and crossing music-borders

Tokyo, Japan – Chicago-born Lee Popa is a celebrated producer, studio/live-engineer, and also a primary figure of the late-80’s Industrial Rock genre. An Amphion One18 user in his tracking and mixing work, we spoke to Lee about what he demands from studio monitors; techniques he uses in assessing studio environments; and his current mission – to develop and launch the careers of young Japanese musicians for a global market. Resettling in Tokyo, and Director of International Development for the label Color Red Japan, Lee’s experience in the music business is enormous, and includes working with a diverse range of artists, music genres, and labels. The sit-down chat with him was extraordinary – in particular, hearing behind-the-scenes industry stories, which we will save for a future video or podcast interview – and learning of his professional approach to sound engineering. Included below is just one of his gold-nuggets-of-advice: “sound-system assessment” …

Lee summarises his own work thus: “Music-and-sound is my life”. With such a powerful bio, we leaned on this music industry veteran to share some of his recording studio secrets, and his impressions of Amphion.

From the desk of Lee Popa …
“I’m sitting here in Japan with my new studio gear, including Amphion One18s, and it’s a very different environment for me. As I’ve travelled the world, and have been asked to mix under many different conditions and situations, I need to listen carefully to tune or find issues in the sound system. This is the first thing I do with any sound system I sit in front of – whether a large PA system at a venue or two speakers in a studio. One thing I will say is that hit-artists make great records but great-producers make great audio.”

“The order I play my tracks in, and specifically what I listen in for, is the following …”


​① Madman Across The Water (1971) Elton John | DJM Records. “This song is super-dynamic. I doubt that they had any compression on the final mix other than keeping it under control, so it didn’t clip. Here, I’m checking out the transient response.”

② Ain’t That A Kick In The Head (1960) Dean Martin | Capitol Records. “Tons of brass tells you where the treble is. From his remastered record, the vocal is loud here the band is a super stereo-mix in an awesome studio by the real professionals of our industry. I swear you can hear the saliva in his mouth when he was singing !”

③ Straight Outta Compton (1988) NWA | Ruthless Records. “Right after the intro, ‘what you are about to witness is the strength of street knowledge’, there is a drum hit. That drum hit tells me how slow or fast the transient response is – or the quickness of the speaker. It also tells me how long the low-end will resonate in the room. So, I only use the first 8~10 seconds of the track.”

④ Graceland (1986) Paul Simon | Warner Bros Records. “This superbly mixed song is very involved, and the vocals way-up-front make it easy to listen to the music and get lost in the song.”

⑤ Crazy (1990) Seal | ZZT ZANG. “There is some analogue sub-bass in this track, and the song is excellent within itself. But this tells me if there’s some compression or loading in the lower end.”

⑥ Avalon (1982) Roxy Music | Polydor. “Bryan Ferry’s voice on this track is unlike most vocalists, so if the lower-mid of it is clear, then you are going in the right direction.”

⑦ Everybody Wants To Rule The World (1985) Tears For Fears | Mercury. “This is a beautiful, smooth track at a nice tempo, and has a lot of information in it. I listen through the frequency ranges of the upper-mid. I can then tell if the high-end is out of focus with the low-end.”

⑧ Tunnel Of Love (1987) Bruce Springsteen | Columbia. “Another well-mixed track that once-again gives me a lot of information across all the frequency-bandwidth. It has a great breakdown in it, and you can listen to the reverb in your room for how long the decay is. Even though it’s your house or your listening room, how long that music hangs around is what causes the trouble.”

⑨ Time (2001) Pink Floyd | EMI. “When you’re sitting centrally in front of the speakers, the opening cash register and money sound sets up my stereo imaging. If PAs or speakers are adjusted a little too wide or not triangular, you’ll hear if the imaging is correct or not.”

⑩ Shine On You Crazy Diamond – Part 1 (1992) Pink Floyd | EMI. “I turn this one all the way up as its balance is so lovely when the drum fill comes in. That’s how you can really tell how great your speakers are. The guitar takes care of that 1K to 4K range.”

“Now that I have a reasonable basis for the shape and sounds, I pick up the tempo and get heavy …”

⑪ Just One Fix (1992) Ministry | Warner Bros Records. “Very top-end heavy. Lots of splashy treble. When I’m playing this, if it’s hurting my ears on the top, that means I have to dial back some of that to listen to the super high-end.”

⑫ Enter Sandman (1991) Metallica | Vertigo. “No matter how good your speakers are, this track is good for both positioning and volume. So, the pan of your speakers again comes into play. With tom-toms, when the drummer comes in on the fill, if it is ‘muddy’ then there’s too much bass in your room.”

⑬ Digital Bath (2000) Deftones | Maverick. “As much as we all like analogue sound, you have got to listen to the tremendous digital. This song is so heavy that you can hear all the processing on the drums and vocal tracks, and if the dynamics cause distortion on the vocal.”

“If my evaluation-time is short, or if I’m in a hurry, these are my “go-to” tracks …”

⑭ “India” from Avalon (1973) Roxy Music | Polydor. “A great instrumental track that is covering all the bases immediately. Check it out, and you’ll agree it is a smooth yet complex mix.”

⑮ Shine On You Crazy Diamond – Part 1 (1970) Pink Floyd | EMI. “I looked up the word ‘fidelity’ in the dictionary, and this song came up !”


On Amphion Loudspeakers …
Lee’s professionally-built, private home-studio with vocal recording booth and tracking room for drums, where he tracks/mixes through Amphion One18s and Amp700, is located in central Tokyo (Katsushika City. Pop.: 450,000) – a city renowned for being the set-location for many notable popular-culture creative and broadcast works. From behind his console, Lee describes his experience with Amphion thus: “Unparalleled imaging. Quite possibly the best speakers I’ve ever heard. My mixes come out correct and faster than ever. They make me hate all my previous mixes. I can now hear all the little nuances. My next records are going to sound ungodly ! Even listening to playback is amazing. I was listening to The Beatles through them the other day and I heard stuff in the arrangements I’d never noticed before. But just one more thing I must say, is that I can really hear the compression – unlike in other speaker brands. That’s going to clean up my mixes like crazy because I always tend to over-compress them.”

On Color Red Japan …
Lee’s new project aims to find the next great artist or band in the Orient. And together with his Japan (Tokyo) team and USA (Colorado) team, the plan is to produce and launch them on a global platform. On inviting bands to audition for the “Color Red Challenge” in September 2020, more than 200 applied within two weeks, to which 15 were shortlisted for video-auditions – produced and recorded by the Color Red Japan team. “They all had merit”, Lee said, “and I could have included up to 50 in the shortlist as their standard was staggering.” The following YouTube has Lee introducing himself and explaining this concept to up-and-coming Japanese musicians seeking a springboard to stardom – in English and subtitled in Japanese … with thanks to Onigiri Media.

Please accept marketing cookies to watch this video. Manage cookies

For more information on Color Red: https://color-red.com (ENG) | https://www.color-red.jp (日本語).
For more information on Amphion One18 and Amp700