Magoosh English Class: Finneas, Billie Eilish’s Grammy Award-Winning Brother

Microphone set up in a recording studio

Did you get a chance to learn about the Grammy Awards in our last free English class about Music in America? Then, welcome to Grammys Part 2! In this lesson, we will look at Finneas O’Connell, the Grammy award-winning music producer/writer and brother of Billie Eilish.

Goals:

  • Learn about one of today’s top music producers in pop
  • Learn new words from the world of music
  • Explore trends in pop music today
  • Learn about a grammar element used in both informal and academic writing

Difficulty Level:

Intermediate

Time:

Approximately 15 minutes

Finneas: Recording Grammy Award-Winning Albums from His Bedroom

Click below to listen to a recording of this passage.

You may not know Finneas O’Connell as a household name…yet. He goes by the mononym Finneas when performing.

However, this music writer and producer recently made a name for himself when he won five Grammys at the 2020 Grammy Awards. He’s the older brother of singer Billie Eilish and has collaborated with her as writer and producer on all of her albums.

A Family of Musicians

Born in 1997 in Los Angeles, California, Finneas is the son of actress and singer Maggie Baird. His mother said she knew he had talent from an early age as she would hear compositions from the other room and ask, “Who wrote that?” He would simply reply, “I wrote that.”

When he was 12, he attended one of his mother’s songwriting workshops and has been working on songwriting and producing ever since.

Rise to Fame

In 2015, Finneas wrote and produced the song Ocean Eyes for his sister’s dance class. She performed the song and they posted it on the online music distribution platform SoundCloud. The song gained a lot of traction on the internet, and Finneas and his sister, Billie, were signed to an artists and repertoire company.

The duo continued to write and produce songs from Finneas’ bedroom in his parent’s house using a modest production setup and eventually released Billie Eilish’s debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? The album debuted at the top of the US and UK music charts, and netted both Billie and Finneas five Grammy awards each.

Now, he’s touring the world with his sister and writing and producing songs for some of the top names in pop music like Selena Gomez, Camila Cabello, and John Legend. He’s since moved into his own home and upgraded his in-home studio for better quality. Finneas and Billie are always working on new songs, so keep an eye (or ear) out for these rising musical talents!

In this video, Finneas shows the in-home studio where he and Billie Eilish grew up and created their first hit songs:

Word Focus

  • Mononym – (noun) – A person who is known by a single name.
  • Some famous singers with mononyms are Cher, Sting, and Bono.
  • Made a name for (someone) – (expression) – to become well-known, famous or respected
    • John grew up in a simple home, but made a name for himself through his highly-successful international business.
  • Collaborate – (verb) – to work together with someone on a project
    • Scientists collaborated on their research in an effort to cure the virus.
  • Composition – (noun) – A musical composition is any piece or work of music.
    • Individuals that write musical compositions are known as composers.
  • Online Music Distribution Platform – (noun) – A site or application where music is digitally distributed through downloading or streaming.
    • Spotify and iTunes are probably the most famous online music distribution platforms.
  • Gained Traction – (expression) – To move forward, especially in a positive direction. The expression relates to cars. Think of tires slipping in mud — when the tire gains traction, the car moves forward.
    • My business had a slow start when it first opened, but now we’re starting to gain traction.
  • Artists and Repertoire Company – (noun) – A company that is a division of a record label. They’re responsible for finding new talent and developing singers and songwriters.
    • Most famous singers and songwriters will work with an artist and repertoire company before they actually sign with a major label.
  • Debut Album – (noun) – The first album released by an artist.
    • The Beatles debut studio album was titled “Please Please Me” and was released in March 1963.
  • In-Home Studio – (noun) – A recording studio that is located in a private home as opposed to a professional recording studio.
    • The costs of in-home studios have dropped dramatically, so many artists are setting up professional-grade equipment in the comfort of their own homes.

    Grammar Center: Ellipsis

    Let’s revisit the first sentence in the above passage:

    You may not know Finneas O’Connell as a household nameyet.

    Notice those three dots that come before the word yet? That is known as an ellipsis () and this type of punctuation has become common in our modern, digital world.

    The term ellipsis is Greek and means “omission”. That makes sense because that is the intention of this form of punctuation.

    Originally the purpose of an ellipsis was to show that you’re omitting some words from a quotation. For example:

    John asked if it was “better…to live a life full of small joys than to have just one great happy purpose.”

    The writer omitted the words “for the heart” from the above quote. Sometimes it’s better to leave words out of a quote because they don’t make sense or they’re difficult to understand. With quotes, there are many ellipsis rules when it comes to academic writing. We won’t go over those here.

    However, there is another usage of the ellipsis that has since evolved and pertains to informal writing. You can use an ellipsis to indicate a pause in speech. This allows a writer to indicate emotions like a shock, confusion, or an emphasis on what’s being said (like the sentence from the passage).

    Example:

    • She ran down the alley as fast as she should and turned and saw…her dad standing there with his arms folded.
    • Hey could you…come over tonight?

    A writer can also use an ellipsis to make a sentence trail off. It’s another way of indicating emotion or what a character is feeling in fiction writing. For example:

    I thought she would come with us but she just… Well, she didn’t go. That’s all I want to say about that.

    Some English style manuals will tell you to put spaces between the dots, while others say it isn’t necessary. It’s mainly important to keep consistency with whichever version you choose. However, if writing an academic paper, check with your professor or teaching assistant.

    As an ESL speaker, it’s important to know how to write in both a formal and informal style based on your audience, and this is another tool you can use in your writing.

    Quiz

    1. Which sentence captures the central idea of the passage?a. Finneas became famous after he produced Ocean Eyesb. Finneas and his sister took a big step when they signed with an artist and repertoire company.c. Finneas started writing songs at an early age and, with the help of his family, has risen to the top of the music world.d. Finneas is on his way to becoming a household name.
    2. Finneas wrote and produced the song Ocean Eyes in:a. 2001b. 1997c. 2020d. 2015
    3. Which sentence is the best use of the expression to gain traction?a. I started a small car rental company in 1999 but we didn’t start to gain traction until 2005.b. She was running behind but gained some traction and arrived on time.c. After I left the company, it gained traction and closed three years later.d. I don’t always gain traction, but when I do, I gain a lot.
    4. What other works of intellectual creation could you call a composition?a. A poemb. A dramac. A symphonyd. All of the above
    5. What type of writing would you be doing if you used an ellipsis to create a dramatic pause?a. Informalb. Formal
    6. A writer can use an ellipsis to remove words from a quote that are difficult to understand.a. Falseb. True
    Show Correct Answers:
    1. C
    2. D
    3. A
    4. D
    5. A
    6. B
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