Got an email from a customer the other day.

He bought Understanding Compression. He loved it, but he was writing me to tell me that he thought I should have gone more in depth into attack and release, that my technical definition of how attack and release work wasn’t as in-depth as he would’ve liked.

He thought I oversimplified how the attack and release settings work when the signal is actually above the threshold.

I thought he made a GREAT point, and it makes for a good lesson for all of us.

Here’s my response:


You’re probably right. However, my question to you would be this — does it really matter exactly when the release kicks in?

I’m not saying that to be argumentative.

I explained things fairly simply in the videos on purpose. A lot of people like to get caught up in the very technical things, but then lose site of the real purpose.

I think you’re absolutely right that I over-simplified the release description. However, knowing that it “kicks in” above the threshold or below the threshold really doesn’t change the way I USE a compressor in a mix.

I know what the release does to the sound, and I adjust it accordingly.

You’ll find that I tend to err on the side of over-simplifying complex facts in an attempt to over-emphasize the practical applications of the tools.

You mentioned that you really like diving into the topic of how compressors really work, BUT if it’s only an intellectual pursuit and it’s not making an actual difference in the quality of your mixes, I’d question whether it’s worth the added effort.

To quote Jon Acuff in his book Quitter,

“I look at starting any endeavor kind of like swimming. You can read all the books you want about swimming. You can participate in blogs about swimming and buy magazines and study videos of swimming online for hours and hours. But if you waited until you were perfect at understanding swimming before you started swimming, you might never get in the water. And you’d never learn to be a great swimmer, because you have to get wet a lot first.”

That’s how I feel about most things.

Get the basics down, then dive in and get your hands dirty applying what you’ve learned.

Thanks for the email, and thanks for the business!


If you’re looking for a super-technical, geeky definition of how compression works, Understanding Compression isn’t for you.

If, on the other hand, you simply want to know what compression is and the best ways to use it to get better mixes, go to:

Joe Gilder

P.S. I know I’ve quoted Jon Acuff twice this week. To be honest, I haven’t even read his book yet, but a subscriber sent me a few quotes that I really liked. 🙂