RIP Bill Kennedy

Logged on to Twitter this afternoon to see a post from Dave Ogilvie saying that Bill “Kill” Kennedy had passed away today.

Bill was one of the best engineers in the business, and a great producer too. Best known for working with Megadeth, he worked with loads of acts, from Nine Inch Nails [he did most of the tracking on Broken, also worked on the Downward Spiral] to Tom Jones; I met him years later when I was a student at Nimbus and Bill was in mixing a project in Studio A. That would have been May 2009, and in July he was back to mix The Thick Of It’s album First Day of Death, and I was one of the assistant engineers on that.

I learned lots from Bill, and he was also a great guy with loads of stories to tell.

A couple of my favorites: when he was a young engineer at A&M Studios in Los Angeles, Tom Jones came in and Bill wanted to get the best possible sound and set up a few different mics for Tom to sing into. Tom humored him, and sang into each for a test verse. Then Bill listened back to pick the best one. “Well, first sounds like Tom Jones singin’ into a U87. Second one, Tom Jones singin’ into a 58…” and so on. Moral of the story was don’t get too caught up in the nitpicky details, the singer’s going to matter more than the mic. [I forget which mic he ended up choosing in the end.]

Another one was about Nine Inch Nails. Bill had the idea to bring in a bunch of killer amps to get a great guitar sound for them instead of the 8-bit digital sound. Trent was game to give it a shot, and Bill spent 2 days getting just the right head/cabinet/FX set-up. In the end, Trent listened and said something to the effect of “Yeah man, it’s a great guitar sound, but it’s not a Nine Inch Nails guitar sound.” But hey, they were willing to give it a shot and try something totally new for them.

Bill listened louder than any other mix engineer I’ve ever sat in with, usually at least 105 dB if not 110, and his rationale was that things that will subtly grate on the listener at lower volumes will become much more apparent [and therefore easier to correct] the louder you listen. I still don’t know how he managed it for however many years without seeming to suffer any hearing loss, the rest of us had to wear earplugs and still found it brutally loud, but the mixes sounded great.

He wasn’t a big fan of spread-out near field monitors, and would have the NS10s corner to corner in the middle of the console with the bigger monitors just outside them. Keeps you from kidding yourself about how wide your stereo field is.

And he always told me the toms are king: They’re almost never there in a song, so when they come in for the big fills, they need to dominate. Start with the toms.

Bill’s also the guy who came up with the “all buttons in” setting on the compressors.

Anyway, I could go on. Bill definitely left his mark on the music business in general, and how I make maQLu records in particular, and I’m sad to hear he’s gone.

Rest in peace, Bill, noisy tom-driven killer guitar tone peace.