Lee Rosario was thirty thousand feet up in the air when he had an epiphany that would change his life forever.
“I was in the cockpit of an airplane, and I had the realization that I wanted to do music right as they were clearing me for landing,” he says. “Looking back, it’s kind of significant, considering that I ended up at Full Sail.”
Growing up, Lee loved music, despite the fact that no one else in his family played an instrument. He started playing drums in high school, which led to guitar, bass, and piano.
“I was a one man band,” he says. But despite a great love for playing, he wasn’t sure music would provide a stable career path. So after graduating from high school, Lee relocated to the United States from Puerto Rico with the intention of becoming a commercial airline pilot. He’d nearly completed his training when everything changed.
“I knew I loved music. I knew I loved recording. Music was just always there,” he says. “So I moved to Virginia to find myself.”
Over the next two years, he worked on whatever projects he could, from studio sessions to live gigs, mostly helping out local acts. His hard work didn’t go unnoticed. Lee’s dad recognized the effort Lee was putting into learning the industry. He called Lee up and told him there was a place he could go to learn more about recording. A few weeks later, Lee found himself touring the Full Sail campus.
“I walked into Studio A and I saw the Amek 9098i. I knew that was what I wanted to do with my life. The next thing I knew, I was a student at Full Sail.”
Lee graduated from the Recording Arts program in 2006 and the Music Business program in 2009. After a touring stint with Less Than Jake and a gig mixing tracks for hardcore band Engine Down, Lee landed a job playing drums for ska darlings Beebs and Her Money Makers. He spent some time in Gainesville exploring the Florida punk scene while continuing to hone his recording skills, but deep down he knew that the next big thing was still on the horizon. It was around that time that he started hearing things about a new studio in Deland, Florida.
“I was hearing rumors about this guy who had a vision to do things in a spirit of excellence. And that was Mark Shepherd, who’s the founder of North Avenue Studios. I hadn’t seen [the facility] yet, but I found out through a friend that an acquaintance of mine, Dave Plakon, was the studio manager. I had this weird premonition when I saw the website, which wasn’t much at the time, that there was something special going on that I needed to be a part of.”
Lee reached out to Dave, who encouraged him to come check out North Avenue.
“When I walked in, I could see that the gear was great,” says Lee. “But I also knew the vibe was right.”
From the outside, North Avenue Studios looks like any other house off US 17— its low roof and stucco walls do little to differentiate it from the other bungalow style homes in the area— but inside it’s an engineer’s dream, with two studios filled with state of the art equipment and lounge areas to facilitate the creative process. The space was designed with the help of legendary producer Mike Wagener, whose credits include Motley Crue, Alice Cooper, and Metallica. The care that went in to creating an inviting atmosphere is obvious, and Lee says that walking in that first day felt like coming home. As luck would have it, Dave was looking for an engineer to help run a new web series he was starting called Off the Avenue.
Two years later, Off the Avenue has grown to feature artists like Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros, The 1975, RX Bandits, Hundred Waters, and more. Despite the fact that it’s filmed in a studio, the series seeks to showcase raw, unedited footage of bands in their natural element. As Head Engineer and Operations Manager, Lee strives to highlight what’s great about each performance without relying on any studio manipulation or post-production work.
It’s a challenge that’s also prepared Lee for his other role as a Lab Instructor at Full Sail, where he teaches Sessions and Advanced Sessions. He says his students and colleagues inspire him every day to push himself to the limit.
“I have become an infinitely better engineer because of teaching. To be able to share your experience with students and to see that they’re excited to hear it— it’s amazing because they just light up. It makes it all relevant. And for me, that’s part of the attraction, because we’re really looking to inspire through living.”
Now, Lee teaches out of Studio A, showing students how to run the same Amek 9098i console that inspired him to enroll in the Recording Arts program all those years ago. For a guy who’s always trusted his gut and followed his passions, it’s rewarding to be able to inspire other in return. When Lee reflects on his journey, from that day in the cockpit to now, his instincts tell him that he’s made the right choices.
“To be honest, I love my situation. I feel like it’s what I’ve been leading up to my whole life. As far as what’s next, I definitely want to evolve Off the Avenue, which is cool because we’re getting these performances out to people who wouldn’t normally have access to this stuff. And I’ll continue to give my all to my students. I’m not sure where life will take me next, but I know at this moment I’m in a beautiful place.”