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The Live Sound of Billie Eilish

FOH engineer Drew Thornton discusses mixing pop sensation Billie Eilish’s sold-out 2019 world tour, and how Waves plugins help him keep her quiet vocals clear and bright on top of “the loudest crowds I’ve ever heard in my life.”

The Live Sound of Billie Eilish


The rise of 17-year-old singer-songwriter sensation Billie Eilish is now well known—from the viral success of her debut single “Ocean Eyes,” to her first album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (co-written and co-produced by Eilish’s brother, Finneas O’Connell), which debuted at No. 1 on the US Billboard 200 and topped the charts in 15 more countries—a game-changing feat for what is famously a bedroom production.

For Eilish’s first—and sold-out—global tour, front-of-house engineer Drew Thornton (who has also toured with Maggie Rogers, Amy Shark, and A Great Big World) has chosen a setup that supports live processing with Waves plugins: “I have an Allen & Heath dLive S5000 console and a DM64 stage box, with the Waves V3 audio networking card (M-DL-WAVES3) fitted local in the console surface, and two Waves SoundGrid Extreme servers set for redundancy. I then use two Apple Mac mini’s, one running the Waves MultiRack live plugin rack, and one designated for multitrack recording.”

The Live Sound of Billie Eilish


“Billie happens to be a very breathy and quiet singer,” Thornton says, “with one of the loudest crowds I’ve ever heard in my life. Which means that achieving a clear, bright, loud pop vocal sound can be quite challenging. Having the Waves PSE (Primary Source Expander) plugin saves me every single night by giving me a little bump of gain before feedback on her voice. I also use it on all vocals to eliminate as much stage bleed as possible. I use PSE along with the X-FDBK plugin, which consistently helps me eliminate feedback, with deep, narrow cuts that remove the feedback without destroying my gain.”

“Another favorite of mine is the F6 Floating-Band Dynamic EQ, which has great dynamic control and EQ for Billie’s vocals as well as for keys. It is a fantastic plugin with hardly any DSP usage or latency, and it is great at controlling the dynamics of my vocal mics and Nord piano. You really need to take a look at what the plugin does since it is pretty mind-blowing: two dedicated filters, six freely floating bands of EQ that all have their own dedicated sidechain input, and each band is fully dynamic with its own separate M/S processing in stereo mode. For me it’s really a no-brainer: it’s the first EQ I reach for every time.”

The Live Sound of Billie Eilish


“I also use the Renaissance DeEsser on all of Billie's vocal mics, always the last link in the chain before it hits my vocal sub groups. I personally like to run it in broadband and split mode, in order to really focus the processing on the offending frequencies, leveling out any of the sibilance before the sub group.”

“Lastly, I rely heavily on the Waves/Abbey Road Reel ADT plugin for both electric guitars and vocals. Reel ADT allows me to thicken up my lead vocal in a musical way, by giving the vocal more direct width and power and allowing me to pull back the dry center vocal signal. It tends to draw in focus and round out the overall sound of the show, without making the vocal pokey—while still achieving that upfront pop vocal sound. It is especially great for vocalists who want a more ’dry-like’ sound in the live realm.”

The Live Sound of Billie Eilish


“Some of the other plugins I like to use are the PuigTec EQP-1A and API 2500 for some main bus processing—the first for some vibe and air, the latter for some mix glue. When it comes to piano compression, the SSL G-Master Buss Compressor is phenomenal for taming piano dynamics and giving the piano a nice and round sound without killing the natural dynamics.”

“Another plugin I reach for to add vibe is the Waves V-EQ4. It really does a good job of channeling the tonal features of a 1081, and it’s especially useful for adding mid-range or a high-end boost. It’s just a great and fun additive EQ.”

The Live Sound of Billie Eilish


“When you’re an FOH engineer,” Thornton sums up, “artists will often ask you whether a particular sound or process is doable in their live show. Having Waves plugins in my FOH rack has enabled me to say ‘Yes!’ to that question on many occasions. Waves has been such an important part of the record mixing process for such a long time; having those same tools in the live world is a huge advantage—not only to achieve what the artist wants, but also to find the sound I am looking for.”

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