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Mixing Billie Eilish: Q&A with Rob Kinelski

Billie Eilish’s mix engineer, 5x Grammy Award winner Rob Kinelski, talks mixing “Everything I Wanted,” the recent Grammy winner for Record of the Year.

Mixing Billie Eilish: Q&A with Rob Kinelski

 

When we last interviewed Rob Kinelski in 2019, Billie Eilish’s debut album had just come out. Since then, Billie and her brother/producer Finneas have become the music world’s biggest (and most unlikely) stars; and Rob won five Grammy awards for his work with the home-producing duo – the latest being Record of the Year for “Everything I Wanted.”

We asked Rob about his mix of the song, what he finds most exciting in Billie’s music – and which music he would have loved to go back in time and mix.

Rob, congratulations on the latest Grammy! As always when you mix Billie Eilish, the vocal has a very intimate, hypnotic feeling that sucks you in. It’s as if sonically, she’s right up in your face, but the emotions of certain words do a ‘dance’ in the stereo field. How is this achieved on the vocal?

Finneas and Billie are masters at creating a magical stereo field. I have the fortune to be receiving the music processed this way from them. When I mix a vocal like that, I take a transparent approach. I don’t want to get in the way of the magic. It’s all about subtlety. With EQ, I usually just cut frequencies and rarely boost. Compression is often gentle – normally I use R-Vox to tighten up the vocal, but on this song I used the PuigChlid 670 compressor. I also like to use vocal rides with Vocal Rider and automation to keep Billie’s vocal very present at all times. Sometimes I also use a little bit of a microshift/double effect to add some width. The trick with that is to keep it almost inaudible. If you can hear the effect, it’s too much. It’s meant to be felt.

 

“Everything I Wanted,” the arrangement and the mix, is so unique. The song feels immersive, almost ‘therapeutic,’ if you see what that means. When listening to it in a playlist with other songs by other artists, it truly stands out in that way. Was this conscious on your part when mixing it?

Thank you! I don’t think this was necessarily intentional, but when you are given something as unique and special to work on like this, sometimes that is the outcome.

I think some people, including myself, occasionally use reference mixes too much, which can lead to ‘sonic chasing.’ I’ve just made that phrase up! I mean, that’s what happens when I try to make something sound like something else that’s already out there.

In the case of this song, I didn’t reference anything. I just tried to help Billie and Finneas get to where they intended to go, and prayed that I wasn’t getting in the way.

That’s what makes this music so special – it really doesn’t reference or copy from anything sonically. It’s its own thing, doesn’t fall under any defined category...

That’s why I’m really looking forward to the rest of the 2020s. The ‘genre’ seems to be fading away and people are really making some interesting music – so I’m excited for what’s to come.

When we last interviewed you, you told us how you came from a rock background…

That’s right. Nirvana’s Nevermind was the album that changed my life. That’s what made me want to play and create music. But I’ve always liked working on multiple genres. When I started out I did some rock work, and I did hip hop work, and I always found myself in the middle. Billy and Finneas knew I’d done a lot of hip hop, and they wanted me to bring that to their music, bring that low end.

If you could go way back in time – which song or album from the past do you wish you could have mixed?

Actually, I don’t think I would want to go back and mix anything! Can I just go back as an assistant engineer? I’d gladly take the Beatles’ lunch order… maybe set up Elton John’s piano mics… run tape for Fleetwood Mac… pick up Led Zeppelin’s dry cleaning?! Seriously, I would have just loved to go back, sit in and learn from the greatest.

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