How To Recording

Handy Method For Using Compression

Hello folks!

I’ve been a little more sporadic lately with posts, but this is due to a good thing. California Dingo has been getting business which has taken me away from my dolling out useless info on my wee lil’ blog. I’ll have some goodies I’ll be sharing in the near future as a result from my busy-ness, but for now I want to share an article I came across on how to use compression for drums. Now, this article is specifically speaking about compression on recording drums, but this method is useful when adding compression to any instrument or vocal that is being recorded via a microphone (as opposed to a direct injection). You will have to adjust according to the source you’re recording, but use this method to find a nice even audio of your audio source.

Again I ripped this from my mixing idol, Mr. Bobby Owsinski. I actually have a couple of his books and won’t hesitate to recommend you going to Amazon on a quest for one of his many books. I’m sure you’ll find some gold in there somewhere.

Without further ado….


It would be great if every drummer hit every beat on the kick and snare with the same intensity, but unfortunately that doesn’t even happen with the best drummers on the planet. When the intensity changes from beat to beat, the pulse of the song feels erratic, since even a slight change in level can make the drums feel a lot less solid than they should be. Compression works wonders to even out those erratic hits and helps to push the kick and snare forward in the track to make them feel more punchy. Let’s take a look at how to do that with the drums.

The Compression Technique
Before we get into specifics, here’s the technique for setting up a compressor. Regardless of the instrument, vocal or audio source, the set up is basically the same.

1. Start with the attack time set as slow as possible, and release time set as fast as possible on the compressor.

2. Turn the attack faster until the instrument begins to sound dull (this happens because you’re compressing the attack portion of the sound envelope). Stop increasing the attack time at this point and even back it off a little so the sound stays crisp.

3. Adjust the release time so that after the initial attack, the volume goes back to at least 90 percent of the normal level by the next beat. If in doubt, it’s better to have a shorter release than a longer one.

4. The more wild the peaks, the higher the ratio control must be set, so increase it until the sound of the instrument or vocal is pretty much the same level throughout.

5. Bypass the compressor to see if there’s a level difference. If there is, increase the Gain or Output control until the volume is the same as when it’s bypassed.

Tracking Versus Mixing
Generally speaking, most engineers won’t compress much, if at all, during tracking, since anything you do while recording can’t be undone later. That said, some engineers like to limit the instruments a little (only by a dB or two) just to control the transients a bit. A compressor becomes a limiter when the ratio is set to 10:1 or more. If you choose to do this, make sure that the limiter kicks in on only the highest peaks. If it’s limiting constantly, it’s probably too much and you might regret it later since it can’t be undone. Decrease the threshold control so it only limits on the occasional transient.
Compressing The Kick And Snare
The biggest question most engineers have when compressing either the kick or snare is “How much is enough?” This depends first and foremost on the sound of the drum itself and the skill of the drummer. A well-tuned drum kit that sounds great in the room should record well, and a reasonably good drummer with some studio experience usually means that less compression is needed because the hits are fairly even. Even a great drummer with a great sounding kit can benefit from a bit of compression though, and as little as a dB or two can work wonders for the sound. With only that amount, the setup of the compressor is a lot less crucial, especially the attack and release.
Sometimes you need the kick or snare to cut through the mix and seem as if it’s in your face, and that’s when 3 to 6dB or so does the job. It’s here that the setup of the compressor is critical because you’re imparting its sound on the drum. Make sure you tweak the attack and release controls as above, and even try a number of different compressors. You’ll find they all react differently, even with the same settings, so it’s worth the time to experiment. Remember: if the attack is set too fast, the drum will sound less punchy, regardless of how much compression you use.

Compressing The Room Mics
The room ambient mics are meant to add the “glue” to the sound of a kit, and can really benefit from a fair amount of compression, which means anywhere from 6 to 10dB. In fact, many mixers prefer the room sound to be extremely compressed, with way more than 10dB being the norm.
The problem is that the more compression you use, the more the ambience of the room is emphasized. That’s okay if you’re recording in a great sounding room, but if it has a lot of reflections and the ceiling is low, you may be emphasizing something that just doesn’t add much to the track. One trick is to actually set the attack time so it’s much shorter than usual to cut off the sound of the initial drum transient, then tuck the room tracks in just under the other drum tracks.

Note that regardless of how good the room mics sound, the more of them you use, the less space there will be for the other instruments in the track. The more instruments there are, the more you’ll have to back them off. Sad but true, but unfortunately, there’s only so much sonic space to any mix.


I hope you found this useful. Again, I’ll be sharing some of my recent work in the near future. I hope you’ll swing around my neck of the interweb and check it out.

Till then…

David (Cali Dingo)




Interesting Find

Tribute to Jim Marshall

Jim Marshall, the creator of Marshall amplifiers, passed away just last week. I, personally, didn’t feel as though there was much hoopla surrounding it. However, this could just be because I’m sometimes stuck in my own dimension… called life. So many of my favorite records had his amplifier’s signature sound all over it and I felt it worthy to honor the man behind the sound. I’ve always been fascinated by those who decide to create an amplifier or guitar or… you name it, from scratch. I don’t have that engineering skill or desire, but some who do go on to change the sound of music forever. Jim Marshall was one of those.

I found this article on Bobby Owsinski’s blog discussing little factoids about the man. Many of these were news to me, perhaps many will be to you as well. Enjoy.


When it comes to the giants of the musical instrument business with a huge influence on the music of today, only two come to mind – Leo Fender (who passed away in 1991) and Jim Marshall. Jim Marshall passed away last week at the ripe old age of 88, and left behind a rich legacy as the creator of the amplifier that was the sound of the rock – a sound just as loved and pertinent today as it was back in the early-60’s when Marshall Amplifiers began.

As a tribute to Jim Marshall, I thought it fitting to present a short list of facts about the man and his creation:
  • Jim Marshall was actually a drummer, not a guitar player. 
  • He was a very successful drum teacher, with as many as 65 students at a time.
  • One of Jim’s students was Mitch Mitchell from The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
  • Marshall Amplifiers actually started in the back of his drum shop in 1962, with the inspiration to design his own amps coming from players like Pete Townshend of The Who and Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore, mostly because Fender amps were so expensive in Britain.
  • The original Marshall amps were based on the Fender Bassman. Since many of the parts used in the design of the Bassman weren’t readily available in Britain, Marshall used parts that were more common to the country, which helped to change the sound from the relatively clean Fender to the much ballsier rock sound that we’re familiar with.
  • It took 6 prototypes before Marshall came up with an amp that they felt they could sell, the JTM 45.
  • The first model received 23 orders the first day. Within 2 years the company had 16 employees and were making 20 amps a week.
  • The first international order came from Roy Orbison (who you don’t usually think of as having a Marshall sound).
  • Marshall twice won the Queen’s Award For Export Achievement, and was appointed an officer of the Order of the British Empire (which is just below knighthood) in 2004.
  • He was regarded as one of the wealthiest individuals in Britain, but donated millions of pounds to various charities over the decades.
  • Marshall suffered from hearing loss, but not from listening to loud amps. He attributed the problem to playing with loud brass in orchestras during the 50s.
  • He preferred a single-malt scotch which was bottled just for him.
  • He refused to sell the company many times over the years because his name was on the product, and he was afraid what might happen should someone else gain control (as was the case with Leo Fender).
That’s all for today.
Till next time…
David (Cali Dingo)


Interesting Find

Lost Solo For “Here Comes The Sun”?

Found this over on Bobby Owsinksi’s blog. A very rare look at what could have been included in the final version of the Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun”. George Harrison apparently played a solo for the middle section that was never used in the final version. Plus, as the video moves along you hear some Hammond organ that in the final version is either missing or gets heavily buried in the mix. Very interesting.

A side note: The funniest part of the whole thing for me is that George Martin has no idea that the final version didn’t include the guitar solo. Amazing in that it shows that he doesn’t listen to the very songs that made him the recognized producing genius that he is.

NOTE: I have no idea how long this video will be up until EMI removes it. So, view it while ya can!

Part 2 of my series, Got a Spare Bedroom? Let’s Make a Studio!, will be coming later this week. I’ll be showing my process on adding acoustic treatment to the studio. So, be sure to come back and visit if that peaks your interest.

Till then…

David (CaliDingo)




Acoustic Treatment? … In my studio?? … Could it be??

Hello All!

I’ve recently been doing a lot of audio mastering lately. This has opened my eyes to a little something I’ve heard about from other mixers and mastering engineers….acoustic treatment. What is this you say? Well, I’m not entirely an expert, but in a nut shell, acoustic treatment is treatment you do to your room (adding absorbers and diffusers on the walls) to keep audio frequencies from bouncing back and forth and altering your ability to hear correctly what is happening in the mix. For a more in-depth explanation go here.

All’s I know is that I’ve recently been realizing how much trouble I’ve been having trying to “hear” my processing on a song I’m mastering. I get it sounding great only to take it out to the truck or play it on my CD player in the room and…..I’m hearing all sorts of strange things that weren’t there previously. So, I’ve heard others talk of this mythical thing called “Acoustic Treatment”, saw a little cash lying under the pillow (thanks tooth fairy) and took the plunge.

I’ve yet to use them, you see I’m actually opening the box tonight (10/25). But, it appears that these things should really do the trick (alongside my new headphones & monitors). I’ll get back to you with pictures and let you know how it’s going. It may take me several weeks to get this stuff up…not because it’s hard, but because I’m lazy. True story.

At any rate, upon researching these suckers I’ve also been reading A LOT about digitally altering your room. Yep. Using a “plugin” to “correct” the frequency problems in your room. You can read about that in more depth here.

I happen to have mastering software that let’s you utilize this feature. I’m not interested in using it, but out of curiosity I thought I’d see what a Pro has to say about using digital correction over acoustical treatment.

Bobby Owsinski is pretty darn renown for producing/engineering and nowadays for all the books he puts out on said topics. I follow his blog religiously and have read many of his books. I emailed him and here is what he said:


None of these (referring to several digital room correction products I mentioned) are the cure to a bad room. The better the room sounds, the better they work. I think ARC (IK Mutlimedia ARC System) is a more comprehensive than the ones built into the speakers, but I think you’re still better off to treat your room first. It costs less to treat your room than to try to electronically fix it, and it’ll sound more natural as well.
Personally, I’d rather just determine the deficiencies in the room then learn how to live with them.

So, there ya have it. I feel much better about my purchase now. Looking forward to opening the box and will be posting pics soon. Do you use acoustic treatment? Tell me about it below.

Till next time…
David (Cali Dingo)