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FOH engineer Drew Thornton uses Waves plugins on Billie Eilish’s sold out world tour

For Eilish’s first – and sold-out – global tour, FOH engineer Drew Thornton has chosen Waves plugins to shape the singer’s live sound

Drew Thornton

Front of house engineer Drew Thornton (Maggie Rogers, Amy Shark, A Great Big World) has selected Waves plugins and Waves SoundGrid Extreme servers for American singer-songwriter Billie Eilish’s sold-out 2019 world tour.

The rise of 17-year-old Billie Eilish is now well known – from the massive success of her debut single ‘Ocean Eyes’, which gained exceptional viral reach after an upload to SoundCloud, to her first album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (co-written and co-produced by Eilish’s brother, Fineas O’Connell), which debuted at No. 1 on the US Billboard 200 and topped the charts in 15 more countries.

For Eilish’s first – and sold-out – global tour, FOH engineer Drew Thornton has chosen Waves plugins to shape the singer’s live sound: “I have an Allen & Heath dLive S5000 with a DM64 stage box,” he described his setup, “and the Waves V3 Audio Networking Card (M-DL-WAVES3) fitted local in the surface, with 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.”

“Billie happens to be a very breathy and quiet singer,” Thornton said, “with one of the loudest crowds I’ve ever heard in my life. This 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 it along with the X-FDBK plugin, which consistently helps me reduce feedback, with deep, narrow cuts that removing it without destroying my gain.”

“Another favourite 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 side-chain 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.”

“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, levelling 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 it more direct width and power and allowing me to pull back the dry centre vocal signal. It tends to draw in focus and round out the overall sound of the show, without making the vocal pokey and 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.”

“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, 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, fun additive EQ.”

“When you’re an FOH engineer,” Thornton summed 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.”

Waves recently released a new plugin in conjunction with Abbey Road, which can find out more about here.