• Jack Longman

Pete Dowsett - The dynamics processing wizard.

Updated: Jan 24


"I guess I thought, if I were to rewind the clock 15 years - what would I want to know the most?!"

Pete Dowsett is a very good friend of mine and super talented audio engineer/producer based in London. He's just released his very own online course all about Dynamics Processing, so I decided to sit down and chat with him a few weeks back about it at his studio in Harrow, North West London. We had a great conversation about his beginnings in the industry and the ever changing modern age of audio engineering. He is an incredibly talented guy and his course is no doubt a game changer for anyone looking to up their game with dynamics processing and compression (both in DAWs and hardware). Pete is also giving my readers the chance to sign up for a great discounted rate! Find out more at the end of the interview, hope you enjoy it.

Jack: For the benefit of people who may not already know, can you tell us who you are and give a little background on yourself?

Pete: I'm Pete Dowsett, I'm a producer and audio engineer based here in London. I've had a long history in the music industry, starting out as a live sound engineer, touring throughout UK & Europe, doing Download and Glastonbury... that sort of stuff.

Then I moved down to London looking at getting into studio work, so I took up a position at Metropolis Studios.

I had to start at the bottom of the ladder and work my way up again, starting out as an intern and ending up as an engineer.

I also wrote a book around the same period of time (Audio Production Tips), which was published by Focal Press in 2015, which got me get into the educational world and helped me to pick up a job as a lecturer at the Abbey Road Institute.

Jack: Cool! So I first met you in college, as my tutor of audio production and mixing etc. But you are a record producer by trade as you just said, so I'm curious as to where you learnt about audio engineering? Did it come from being an intern, learning everything "on the job" or was it something that you studied for?

Pete: Well my career path was a little bit mixed, I went to University initially, I actually started at Keele University doing a year of computer science and music technology degree.

I had some history with doing some programming at GCSE and A Level and really enjoyed it, but the reality of that sort of job as a career... it quickly dawned on me that I wanted to be doing something more creative, so I ended up transferring to do a full music production course. After doing the first two years I left after the HND because I felt I just needed to get out into the world and I didn't think that the degree was going to offer me anything more at that period of time anyway and I was a bit sick of education. So I did that side of things, there was some formal training there, but it was really when I got out into the real world that I really started to learn. My first job at any kind of musical environment was a live sound engineer at a tiny, tiny venue in Coventry called the Golden Cross, which was like a grade 2 listed building...

Jack: I think I've played there... haha

Pete: Oh really! Haha! Well this would have been around 2002/03 kind of era, I went there one night and the sound engineer was having a real hard time, it was just feeding back everywhere. So I spoke to the promoter and said look if you need any extra help, I think I could do this and do good job. I think coming out of University you sometimes have this sense of... not arrogance, but accomplishment. You know, you think "yeah I could do that"... and then the realities of it were very different and I had to work very, very hard to get anywhere. So I quickly realised that I needed to know more and that my formal education wasn't enough, so I asked someone at one of the bigger local venues if I could just watch and learn from them. So I went in, stood over their shoulder as they did shows, asked questions, helped out, patched the stage etc. Basically did whatever I could.

Jack: That’s interesting, so did you take the things you learnt back to the venue that you was working at?

Pete: Yeah exactly, and you know after a few months things started to happen, I was working really hard and the quality of sound in that venue went up quite quickly. The guy that I was shadowing asked me to do some of the smaller shows (on my own) or help out on some of the bigger shows at the venue, and as he started to do more touring work I ended up filling in for him and doing more work at that bigger venue. Around the same time as this, the promoter of the Golden Cross had a friend who ran a recording studio in the local area, who asked the promoter if she knew anyone that would be good in the studio, and recommended me!

So that’s how I got into studio work, alongside the live stuff. It was a tiny studio that did some bands, but mainly did voiceover/karaoke work but it was a good way to cut my teeth.

Jack: Yeah, it sounds like those two locations you just mentioned there were good places to muck in and as you say cut your teeth, make your mistakes and really learn from the ground up what aspect of each job was like from a real hands-on perspective as well, seeing everything happen right in front of you.

Pete: Yeah, and there was a certain amount of “fake it till you make it” involved, and you know… I realised very quickly that being in the position I was… I needed to know a hell of a lot more. A lot of people would give up when you’re in over your head, but that just spurred me on to work even harder. I think over the years that same determination is what’s helped me stay in the music industry, because there’s been plenty of people that were way more talented than I was back then that dropped out, it’s a longevity thing. Working harder when the going gets tough has helped me to still be doing this now.

Jack: Yeah I couldn’t agree more, as the going definitely does get tough in the music industry.

So what lead you to become a teacher then? Was it something you had the burning desire to do or was it more something you just wanted to try your hand at?

Pete: Like a lot of things in life, I didn’t really plan for it. It just kind of happened. I tend to believe that when opportunities that interest you come up, that you should at least give them a go.

I was still at Metropolis engineering for a lot of their in house projects, but not really working with the big name clients that came through the doors there. I really wanted to be a producer more than an engineer and was thinking of leaving to set up my own studio anyway, but I knew that if I left Metropolis I would need something else to fill that void and add a little stability. I had just had the book published at the time and went over to a music conference in Brighton to network, and I happened to meet the people from SSR there. I mentioned the book just being released and asked if they wouldn’t mind putting it out there to their students, I gave them a free copy to put in their library…

Jack: The famously huge SSR London Library haha

Pete: Haha yeah. And so from there we got talking, Tony asked me if I had ever done any teaching and I said no, but would be interested in trying it out, they had some industry courses that interested me greatly.

Actually, I think you were part of the first or second set of students that I had ever taught.

Jack: Ah really? Cool. Well I would have never have guessed that!

Pete: Yeah, and so whilst there I met another tutor there (Jason O’Bryan) who gave me more work in that field, which lead to me teaching at SSR, Point Blank, ICMP and now Abbey Road Institute. A lot of which is thanks to Jason, so thanks to him if he’s reading this!

Jack: Good ol’ Jason eh?!

Pete: Yeah! So, now I’m at Abbey Road and it’s just been an amazing experience. The quality of students and education is phenomenal. If that sort of education had existed when I was a student I would have been in a much better place coming up! Haha.

Jack: I get what you mean. So on the subject of better education, you’ve just launched your very own online audio course! Can you tell me a little bit more about that, who’s it for and what can they expect to learn?

Pete: Yeah, so it's called "Become a dynamics processing wizard". It came from the fact that compression is the one thing that every student of mine has learnt the most from me about. Some students are quick to learn about EQ and some are quick to learn about reverb, but almost all of them struggled with compression. How to hear compression, the different ways in which you can use it and even the complexity of different classic compressors having their own tonal colour, and how that can be harnessed for different results. Teaching that side of things is just something that I seemed to be able to get people to resonate with really well and ultimately change their whole perspective of mixing through compression usage. So for me, compression was the obvious choice for my first online course, as I had basically road tested it in real life through teaching formally at colleges etc.

Jack: I definitely agree with you there, I can safely say that your teaching style dramatically improved my learning at college, mainly due to it being so thorough and detailed. I used to think that 3 hours was not nearly enough for all the information you were trying to convey in some of your lectures, do you think this online course will give more value in that sense? That your students will not be limited by time, they can just consume as much of the content as they want?

Pete: Yeah I mean this course is really, really in depth. It's literally hours and hours of content, it's taken me a few months of filming all of the videos and compiling all of the handouts and make the exercises . I've tried to make it as thorough as possible but hopefully in a way that doesn't overwhelm people. In regards to your point about the 3 hour lecture times, I think that 3 hours was sufficient as peoples attention spans start to dwindle at that point, what I would have loved to have done is have a 3 hour lesson, an hour break followed by another 3 hours!

Jack: Yeah that's what I felt sometimes as well, sometimes when it was time for us to go home I would leaving feeling like we were only just getting to "the good bit" haha

Pete: Hahaha, yeah exactly

Jack: and then I'd be like, well now I have to wait a week! That sucks haha.

Pete: Yeah but sometimes you know, making people wait is a good thing because it gives people time to refresh the ideas.

How this course is laid out, is you have basically got four weeks worth of content. It covers fundamental terminology in week 1, then the usage of compressors, gates and expanders in week 2, demonstrated by using all stock plugins.

Then the third week is all about classic compressors, the different emulations of them, explaining what they're good for and what they're not so good for, different colours, harmonic distortion that's created through them etc.

The fourth week puts all the above into practice, going through a few mixes and explaining my compression usage and why I made the decisions I did.

Jack: Wow. So there really is a heck of a lot of detail in this.

Pete: Yeah I've tried to make it as detailed as possible, hopefully in a way that's not boring haha.

Jack: How do you even begin to decide on what to do for this?! It seems like a massive daunting task to undertake.

Pete: I guess I thought, if I were to rewind the clock 15 years - what would I want to know, what would I want help with the most in what I was trying to do? Compression just is something that I know a lot about now, that I know most people need help with at an early stage in music production and audio engineering, because I know that I definitely did. And that way of thinking has also lead me to make decisions on what I want to do next, for example I'm currently in the process of creating a course all about super fast audio editing and a course about the philosophy of mixing. I also took this one step further and sent a survey out to some of my past students, and asked them what they would like to know or learn more about. Ultimately I think as an educator, you want to fill in the gaps of what people need to know, so having my past students as a resource has really helped me plug into what those gaps are and how I can help fill them.

Jack: Awesome way of thinking man. So aside from that, where can people go to tell you about what they would like to learn or know more about?

Pete: I run www.audioproductiontips.com and have a Youtube channel under the same name that I upload weekly videos to, so you could reach out via the websites contact form or leave a comment on any of the Youtube videos and I will get back to you. Or you could email me at: contact@audioproductiontips.com. I really just want to hear from as many people as possible about what you think is needed out there, and will always try to respond as fast as I can with honest feedback and advice, no strings or obligations attached.

Jack: I feel it's a peculiar time to be in the recording/audio side of the music industry. With the access to all this online learning material being so readily available now, the lines between artist and producer are now more blurred than ever before. Is this something you took in mind before you started to create your course? The fact that you might not be marketing to just audio engineers and producers, that you might be marketing to the artists/bands themselves as well?

Pete: Yeah you have to take that on board nowadays, whether you're in the band or a producer I don't think it matters too much anymore as a lot of people coming into that are coming from very similar roots. I definitely started from the very basics with this course, the aim being that if you knew nothing you'd work from the ground up with little trouble. What I'm hoping is that by the time people get to section 3, that even if you already have a job as an assistant engineer or a freelance producer there will still be a lot to take from it.

Jack: How did you learn so much about compressors? Haha

Pete: Hahaha. Erm, it was a weird one for me, I never sat down and thought "I must learn about compressors", it was mainly because it was my biggest pain point to be honest with you. I would just get frustrated and think "why do my records not sound like other records?!"

Jack: Right! So you turned that on it's head and now you are the teacher of the thing that was your biggest pain point?

Pete: Yeah, it was the thing that I struggled most with. I was doing lots of things whilst recording and mixing without really knowing why I was doing it, I was just putting a compressor on because "that's what you do, people compress things, right?" It took me a long time to work out what all the nobs were actually doing, how to hear it and again, the complexity of the classic devices and how they're emulated in the modern world of production and plugins. And through trial and error, experimentation and constant learning and resourcing on google and in books, my biggest weakness became my biggest strength.

Jack: It's really interesting to hear you mention the "why" thing. Because that's the one part of your teachings that resonated the most with me.

Thinking to myself "Why am I doing this? Why am I putting this plugin on? Why am I taking this mix this way?" before taking an action instead of just simply doing, because that's "the thing to do" completely changed the game for me.

I mean obviously I had some kind of vision of my early mixes, I think everyone does maybe even without knowing it at first, but that kind of objective thinking before putting a plugin on changed everything for me at that stage hahaha, that sounds so silly to say but it really did.

Pete: Yeah totally, I think it's something that everyone is intrinsically doing but just not enough.

It all comes down to evaluation, I have an acronym for it that is "L.A.P.B." (or "Let's All Process Better") which stands for:

Listen - To know what you've got.

Analyse - Where can I take it that will benefit the overall mix

Process - Applying the audio processing that you think will get you where you want it to be

Bypass - Reverting back to it's original sound to see if the processing has improved it and the results has improved the overall mix

It's double barrelled in a sense also, because when you bypass the processing you should not only be checking that it's made the mix better, but also if it's negatively/positively affected anything else in the mix, because no one is going to listen to your kick drum sound in solo, it doesn't matter if it's the best kick drum sound ever on it's own. It's how that kick drum fits in the context and cohesion of everything else that matters! So I use L.A.P.B. to ask myself constantly "Have I made that particular instrument better?" and "Have I made anything else worse?"

The Analyse process of L.A.P.B. is one of the things I focus on a lot in my course is getting people onboard with the fact that compression has more than one usage in mixing. Like the shape of a sound over time, how does it raise into an explosive sound? How long does it sustain for and how long does it take to decay back to nothing again?

So with a kick drum, do I need it to punch through more in the attack phase and how do I set a compressor to do that? Or does it need to sustain for?

It's about making the pieces of a mix fit together not just within the frequency spectrum that you would use EQ for, but over time.

This three dimensional movement of things within a mix, of how things move around and come forward and back together again is almost like having a three dimensional jigsaw.

It's not good enough to just think about cutting one frequency and turning up other, it's about how things move and swell, how things change over time.

Jack: Yeah because that stuff dramatically affects how things feel to listeners

Pete: Yeah and the ability to make a track really "bounce" and "move" were both areas that I certainly lacked in when I first started using compressors. I used to think of them as automatic volume control, to get things to sit in a static level, whereas that's only one of the many uses of compression.

Jack: Dude, it's been amazing to chat to you about this. I'm really excited for you and I think this course will be a huge success both for you and the students who enrol!

Before we go I just wanted to ask what records you've been working on lately and where can people go and listen to your latest work?

Pete: Absolutely, if you go to Spotify and search "Pete Dowsett Showreel" you'll find a few playlists, some of my favourite past work and some recent work from the last quarter.

I tend to work with grungy, alt or hard rock bands. I've just finished an album for Dead Idle, who feature Jamie Olive from The UK Subs on drums...

Jack: Not the chef, haha.

Pete: Not the chef, hahaha. I am also doing some of the work on a band called Babyteeth's EP, they're a kind of grungy-girl band, really good. I'm working with a Canadian rock band called Cherry Suede who have a Brian Adams/Bon Jovi vibe. I'm also working with a hard rock band based here in London called 7he 7ouch.

If you'd be interested in signing up to Pete's AMAZING course and becoming a dynamics processing wizard yourself, you can use the affiliate link below:

https://www.audioproductiontips.com/a/18151/QbwjTsoG Get 30% OFF the total cost of the course by entering the code: DYN30

You can find out more about Pete Dowsetts online courses at:

www.audioproductiontips.com

And check out Pete's production/audio engineering work at:

http://www.petedowsett.co.uk/

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©2017 by Jack Longman.