Why Beginners need to learn Automation first
Learning how to automate can be just as difficult as learning why automation is so important. Taking your mixes from amateur to professional quality involves implementing certain techniques like automation to achieve that goal. Below we will analyze the importance of automation and understand the reasoning behind its usage.
Automation can take a dull lifeless track and add elements of emotion and depth that the track was lacking. By creating highs and lows and variances in your plugin settings throughout the song, you begin to take the listener on a musical journey that has ups and downs. Remember that in the end, music is exactly that, a journey. The most inspiring songs do such a good job of creating that dynamic, sonic experience for the listener to which automation plays a big role.
Controlling the Dynamics of the Song
A song is comprised of high and lows in audio information. The various instruments are continually fluctuating their volume as a song progresses. When you begin to add automation, you can control these peaks and valleys intentionally.
When a vocal phrase is just not loud enough, you can raise its volume through automation during that section just a few decibels. When the guitar solo is just not cutting through the mix, you can bump it up a few decibels to really let that solo shine.
A song’s mix should have a healthy movement of volume faders throughout the mix. On a professional mix with a lot of dynamics, you’ll see those faders moving all around the place not only in your DAW but on large console mixers as well.
In modern day DAWs pretty much anything can be automated. From volume faders, waveform gain, sends, click tracks, velocity and pretty much anything else found in your DAW, automation can be made. Use it! Learning how to use automation to get the sound you want is part of becoming an experienced recording engineer.
Download Session # ?
Task: Using automation, make sure the vocals are always heard clearly in the mix. You cannot use equalization, compression, delay or reverb
Outcome: You will practice keeping a very dynamic instrument, such as the vocal performance, heard loud and clear with only automation.
Managing plugin performance
Plugins are not a set it and forget it tool. Most beginners are always looking for that magic plugin that is going to take their mixes to the next level. They don’t exist. A more intuitive way to look at plugins is to view them as dynamic tools that act just like instrument when used. So many elements affect how a plugin sounds from the input gain to the type of instrument that is being fed into it. Plugins should be viewed as tiny little individual channels within your DAW that can be precisely controlled in your mix.
Most plugins offer some type of automation over its internal components. Things like the input gain, ratio, mix, delay time, note length, crunch, blend, frequency,
Other than programming a plugin to do precisely what you want it to do, you can often create some interesting sounds and effects using plugin automation. Lets look at the Mix Challenge below to create a crescendo effect using a delay plugin.
Download Session # ?
Task: Using automation, increase the feedback on a delay plugin for a few seconds to create crescendo effect
Outcome: You will begin to see that you can control almost every aspect of a plugin with automation
Eliminating the dead zones of a song
Unwanted or inaudible noise can really damage a mix. Just because you can’t hear it doesn’t mean it’s not there, particularly with low end frequencies. Being a mix engineer is like being a sculptor. It is your job to cut, slice and shape your vision while mixing. It is a relatively difficult job but there is no better feeling than hearing your final product move you and the listener.
Simply put, you should use automation to lower or get rid of unnecessary parts in a mix. Whether it be a guitar part that is simply not adding but taking away from the song or a harmony that is serving no purpose, scoop it out with automation. Simply automate your volume knob to retrace to 0 db when useless audio information is present in a mix. Let’s get some practice with the mix challenge below
Download Session #?
Task: Remove the unwanted tom noise using automation
Outcome: Practice using the automation in your DAW
Automation is a skill most beginners overlook when first starting out. Learning to use automation effectively when you first start out will lead you to creating better and better mixes from the beginning. From controlling the dynamics of a song to creating interesting, custom sounds, automation will play an important role in your studio.