Parnelli Awards Voting is Now Open – CLICK HERE to Vote!
x

Mixing Billie Eilish

Jeff Hawley • May 2019Tour Spotlight • May 8, 2019

Billie Eilish at O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London

In a wide-ranging interview at SXSW 2019, Drew Thornton’s excitement around the March 29 release of Billie Eilish’s debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? was palpable. Not one to hold back on adjectives, Eilish’s FOH engineer boldly predicted the album release would be “insanely, mind-blowingly huge.” He was right.

FOH engineer Drew Thornton with the Allen & Heath dLive C1500

Just a few weeks after the hot-ticket SXSW show at Uber Eats House on March 16, Eilish became the first artist born in the 21st century to earn a No. 1 album spot on the Billboard 200. On its opening release day, the album grabbed all Top 5 spots on the U.S. Spotify streaming charts, netting more than 10 million streams in 24 hours.

The March 5 show filled
Shepherd’s Bush Empire with fans.

With record-making album sales, astronomical streaming counts and sold-out global tour dates, here’s one figure you might not expect to see — the FOH and monitor roles have been covered by diminutive flyable rigs consisting of just 12 faders each.

Monitor engineer Salim Akram with his compact console and wireless rig

Thornton and monitor engineer Salim Akram each operate an Allen & Heath dLive C1500 and DM0 MixRack to mix over 50 inputs coming from an array of live instruments and backing tracks. Their innovative touring rig is fed by a quartet of DX168 stage boxes, connected to the MixRack via Cat-5e cables with EtherCon connections.

Eilish and crew have a busy schedule. After the 17-year-old’s spellbinding performances at major festivals — including Osheaga (Montreal) and Lollapalooza (Chicago) last summer — plans were already underway for a 2019 world tour, which kicked off in Europe on Feb. 11 with a show at Munich’s Kesselhaus, followed by 16 more dates in nine countries. This was followed by two intense sets (April 14 and 20) at Coachella, and launching into Oceania with seven New Zealand/Aussie stops between April 24 and May 3. The 21-date North American leg gets going May 29 in San Francisco and wraps July 20-21 with two days at the Mad Decent Block Party Festival (Foxborough, MA). Not one to rest, a second Euro leg begins in Austria August 15, finally returning to the U.S. for the iHeartRadio Festival in Las Vegas on Sept 21. Whew!

FOH setup for Lollapalooza 2018

‡‡         The Need for Speed

Given the realities of that punishing schedule, FOH engineer Thornton designed the system to allow for travel along with the band, streamlining production setup. “One key benefit is in limiting the amount of responsibility a house crew has in regards to patching,” says Thornton. “Throwing down your stage box and pushing out everything patched and line-checked in 10 minutes is amazing. It’s hard to think about going back to worrying about patch problems and all of those variables again. We plug it in and it works like a dream.”

Monitor engineer Akram notes that “when I came on board, it was ‘throw and go’ right into a big festival. I built the show file on the airplane, we landed and I was off and running. With other consoles the learning curve is steep, but dLive was intuitive to use.” He adds, “To be able to go from any festival in the world, fly with our entire backline and audio package, throw it on the stage and be totally ready to go in 15 minutes, maybe 20 minutes on a bad day, is pretty insane.”

‡‡         Sizing Up Their Options

While truck tours and larger events utilize the dLive S5000 surface, the compact footprint of the C1500 fits the bill for fly dates. “When we were doing many of the Japan dates, we weren’t prime marquee billing, so we simply didn’t have the luxury of requesting a large footprint. Being able to fit the DM0 MixRack, the console surface and wireless racks in a 3.5-foot space was a necessity,” Akram says.

“DCA spills have been the key for me,” he added. “It was a game-changer assigning everything to spill so I could get to what I needed quickly. I have my mixes laid out on SoftKeys and when I select a spill, it instantly brings me the control faders I need. It’s muscle memory getting around on the console now. I’ve been on a lot of other consoles and nothing has a workflow that’s so easily customizable,” Ankram adds.

“I laugh when I show the system off to people. Push this and quickly get here, drag this and I’ve moved these channels over here,” notes the monitor engineer. “The response from other engineers when we show up with the tiny rig has been amazement. And of course, we both would talk somebody’s ear off if they wanted to hear about it.”

Thornton notes that he is “a firm believer that if you get your mix right, you can handle things with just eight faders. Having 12 faders on the C1500 is a luxury. I love the fact that I can utilize the strip layout design and change workflow through different scenes,” Thornton adds. “This allows whatever I need to show up on my base layer that’s specific to whatever song I’m on. It blows engineer’s minds when they hear how big we can make things sound in the biggest venues with something so small.”

‡‡         Processing and Philosophy

Both Thornton and Akram put the internal dLive effects to good use in recreating the immersive textures Eilish is known for. “I’m going crazy with effects,” says Thornton with a chuckle. “I’ve got multiple plates for the drums and I’m starting to play with gated reverb effects. Also hall effects, and — depending on what the electric guitar is doing — I’m using different room reverbs. I also love the ADT double tracker. After years of looking for the perfect vocal,” he continues, “the Dyn8 [dynamic EQ and multiband compression] does exactly what I need. It’ll smooth things out as I play with really subtle or super-aggressive effects on the song.”

Over in monitorworld, Akram has his own approach to applying dynamics. “I’m using Dyn8 on Billie’s vocal and on some of the mix outputs. The 16T sounds great, and the Opto sounds musical on drums, sometimes on tracks.” He adds, “The way Billie runs her show is so musical, and we pay attention to the blend of the tracks, so it doesn’t show up like a traditional pop act.”

“Good point, Salim,” chimes in Thornton. “My philosophy has been to ask myself, ‘What does the record sound like?’ and then do all I can do to make sure that translates to the live show.” He adds, “What makes it so much fun is that there are spots where sparks of live energy can do so much to propel the live experience. Subtle differences can then stand out in a cool way. That’s the thing I love. Mixing is like my paintbrush and working on the dLive has been the easiest palette to work with.”

The Oceania leg of Billie Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? world tour ends May 3 at Groovin’ The Moo (Bendigo, Australia), and the North American leg begins later this month at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. Bon voyage!

Jeff Hawley heads up marketing for Allen & Heath USA.

Leave a Comment:

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!