What is audio automation?
In music production, automation is the process of making changes in your mix occur automatically over the course of the song. One of the most common uses of automation is to adjust volume levels. Using automation, you can tell your DAW to turn tracks up or down as the song plays. You are not restricted to leaving each fader in one position for the entire song. Although level automation is one of the most common applications, the use of automation is certainly not limited to level changes alone. In fact, with DAW’s, you can automate just about anything in your mix to change over the course of the song. The settings on plugins, pan positions, levels of effect sends and many more aspects of your mix can be automated.
Automation has been a key part of great mixes for many years. Even in the days of analogue recording, producers would make adjustments to the mix as the final track was bounced. Back then, if several changes needed to be made, multiple people would be required to carry the process out. It wasn’t uncommon for several people to huddle round the mixing desk to turn specific tracks up or down or make changes in real time as the final mix was bounced. Nowadays, you can simply instruct your DAW to make these adjustments for you. This gives you the potential to have endless alterations occur over the course of a song. What’s more, you can have multiple automations happening on any given track, and even at the same time.
How do you use automation?
Audio automation is usually the last stage in the mixing process. It can be implemented in one of two ways. Automation can be applied by either ‘performing’ the automation or ‘drawing’ the automation. When you perform automation, you make your adjustments in real time as the song plays. Your DAW then remembers the changes that are written and repeats them during subsequent playback. When drawing automation, you draw your level changes, mutes, EQ changes etc. into your DAW’s automation graphic display. These automation moves are then actioned during playback. With most DAW’s, you will need to put a track into ‘write’ mode when you perform automation to write the automation to that track. For automation which has either been performed or drawn in to be carried out during playback, tracks will need to be in ‘read’ mode.
Audio automation examples:
The ways in which automation can be used in your mixes are endless. Here are a few common examples:
- Changing the way tracks are EQ’d to accommodate new instruments as they come in over the course of the song by automating EQ plugin parameters
- Altering the level balance during the song to accommodate new tracks as they come in or to add variation
- Turning the guitar up in the solo to make it more prominent
- Creating a fade out at the end of the song by automating the level of the mix bus
- Altering the panning to maintain symmetry when new tracks come in or to make the choruses wider than the verses
- Changing how wet or dry the vocals are at different parts of the song by altering the level of the send to the reverb track
- Creating an effect by adding an EQ plugin to the vocals to roll off the low and high-end to give them a radio type tone. Then automating the plugin’s bypass so that the plugin is only active when you want to hear the effect
- Avoiding very dynamic tracks sounding over compressed by turning the very loud parts of the track down with automation. This allows you to use a lighter compression setting than that which would be required if the dynamics were being controlled by the compressor alone
As you can see, automation allows you to alter many elements of your mix during a song. Automation can be carried out for both practical and creative reasons. It is a process which allows you to really enhance your mix. What parts of your mix do you like to automate? Leave a comment below.
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