Like most touring professionals, CJ Blair has had a little more time on his hands than he’s used to over the past 12 months or so. As the production manager and front of house engineer for US singer-songwriter Khalid, his workload tends to be busier than most, serving a dual role that eats up the down time most live sound engineers treasure when traversing the globe and plying their trade at sell out arena shows. And while he can’t wait to get back out on the road, he has maintained a positive attitude, he tells us when we reach him via Zoom at his home in North Hollywood, California.
“Overall, my fiancé and I have been doing pretty well during the pandemic,” he says. “Obviously there have been some low points, just like for everybody. It’s hard and disorientating when you’re used to being on the road all the time and then it suddenly comes to a screeching halt - sometimes you don’t know what to do with yourself. But we’re doing the best we can. We did a little road trip to Detroit to see her family and camped along the way. That was a lot of fun. And with us being in LA, all these live stream shoots have picked up, so there’s been enough work to keep us busy… just enough to keep us from going crazy! It seems like things in the last month here are slowly ramping up. It’s exciting.”
He may now be well established as a multi-talented, much sought after touring engineer, but Blair’s career in sound began not in the field, but in the studio.
“I was a studio engineer for years,” he explains. “But I went on tour with a couple of Warped Tour bands and I started doing backline for a band called Haim - I was doing stage managing with them for a couple of years. I knew the fundamentals of audio and how it behaves, how to manipulate it and all that stuff, but I’d never really done any live sound on a large scale. So it was a little intimidating. The FOH engineer, who is one of my big mentors and still works for Haim, Scott Adamson, gave me the confidence to throw myself into the fire and do it. So I did and I’ve been doing it ever since for the past seven or eight years.”
After stepping out of the studio and making the permanent move into live sound, Blair gained experience in a multitude of disciplines, from production and stage management, to front of house and monitor mixing. This, he explains, is often par for the course in the formative years of a touring professional.
“From early gigs and smaller tours, it’s usually a dual role, whether you’re the tour manager and FOH engineer, production manager and FOH, or all three. So, I’ve had that skillset with me and levelled up all the way to worldwide arena tours doing both jobs, which is a gnarly experience. But I love doing both, it satisfies both parts of my brain - the logistical and factual side of production and being able to have that two hours to mix every night and let that creative part come out. And it’s nice to stay busy, instead of having just a mixing position. Sometimes you have a lot of down time during the day, so it keeps me busy the whole day. It’s a good balance.”