7 Tips For Automation In Your Mix

Reading Time: 6-8 minutes

Alright, today we're going to talk about one of my favourite topics, automation. Oh I just love this stage of the mix. This is the stage where the song starts to come alive, at least in my process. For myself, I rely a lot more heavily on automation than EQ to fit things together. This of course depends on the project, but generally speaking. So today we're just going to list a bunch of automation tips. Here we go!

1) Get Yourself Atleast One Motorized Fader - you absolutely need faders that can record automation to do this right. Yes, there are automation moves that you'll want to draw in, especially on quick moves. But for the most part, making your automation moves by hand is the way to go. You start to humanize the mix, and the fader becomes an instrument!

2) Turn Off Your Computer Monitor - Use those two things on the sides of your head! Your ears! No but seriously, music is a listening activity, not a visual. You'd be surprised how you "hear" things differently when you're watching the waveforms go by on the screen. So turn off the screen and make your automation moves by listening. If you need to make a quick move that requires drawing, turn the screen back on, make the move, turn it back off and resume. This will do wonders for your mixing

3) Automate The Master Fader - I know this sounds a bit wacky, but this can really help add excitement to the song. Of course, you'll want to make subtle moves and may want to draw this one out entirely. But do things like automate the verse so that it decrease volume by 1.0 dB by the time it hits the end. Then bump it back up by the entire 1.0 dB when the chorus hits for a little thump.

4) Automate Your FX Channels - You can do this in a few ways, personally I like to automate the sends on each channel that go to my verbs/delays. These send levels do not have to be static, make them move! Try bumping up ambience in choruses, maybe tightening up breakdowns, or delay shots on certain key vocal lines. Get creative here!

5)  Try Using Levels of Granularity - Now what does that mean? I like to do automation in multiple levels of thought. My first approach is to automate each track individually. This one takes the most time, sometimes several hours. After I'm done that, I'll start over and automate all my busses. In my case, I'll automate the channels I have sent to the SSL Matrix 2 using analogue automation. Then finally, I can automate the master fader to finish it off. What am I trying to accomplish here? I want to make sure that I don't "lose the forest through the trees". Sometimes working at a fine level of detail can cause you to forget what the song is as a whole. So I try to "zoom out" and focus on the overall picture.

6) Panning Automation - This one can really help things explode in certain parts. I have mentioned this in a previous post, but I'll mention it again as its very useful. In parts with less impact, say the verse, or the bridge, or breakdown, try panning stereo elements towards the center. The amount at which you pan inwards is up to your taste. Then go slightly outward for a pre-chorus or a build. Then boom! All the way out to the sides for the chorus. Pretty easy and very effective!

7) Filters and Modulation FX - I especially like this one on vocals. Try setting up a cool "old radio" filter, or a flange, or even a distortion effect. Then have the master bypass automated on that effect. Experiment with turning it on in certain spots, see how it affects the vocal. This can really add to the character of the song! Of course, this isn't limited to vocal, you can do it on any instrument. I often hear flanger type effects on the drum bus on a drum fill, for instance. 

Ok! There's some tips for automation. So to sum up, make sure you get atleast one fader. You can start with something as simple as a PreSonus FaderPort and move all the way up to...well the sky is the limit. Our SSL has a controller side to it, so we use that to control Pro Tools as well as our analogue automation. An Avid Artist Mix might be a good place to start for 8 channels. 

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Velveteen Audio