Automation refers to when an adjustment to volume, panning or a variety of FX parameters is designed to change or move throughout the duration of sections of the song in order to achieve a multitude of desired sounds within the mixing process.
Automation is a feature that many musicians, artists, and amateur music makers give little attention to, especially those that are just starting off but its importance should not be overstated. Though automation may seem like a tedious mixing process to many, its impact can be significant in various different ways.
Mixing with automation
- It can be used as a manual de-esser. This technique refers to the managing and reduction of sibilance. This is usually processed via a plugin however it can also be achieved by detailed manual gain automation as well.
- Automation can also be used to control the dynamics whilst mixing vocals by finely reducing and boosting the volume throughout the audio track in specific points of a particular word. This can also add feeling to the words and phrases of the vocal, which helps the listener connect emotionally with the music. It ensures every word, phrase and syllable is heard.
- It may be used to control specific parameters on all kinds of plug-ins creating many different mixing opportunities. For example, in EDM production when building up the tension of a new track, the mixer may decide to use a low pass filter or high pass filter. This automates the frequencies that are cut out or introduced, leading up to a particular moment in the audio. This point is usually referred to as the drop.
- Automation can also be used as manual compression. Many audio engineers allow a compressor plugin to do this job for them. By manually taking the volume peaks off your instrument tracks, you can claim more control over your mix which results in a more natural compression.
- Panning can also be enhanced with some automation. By moving different instruments or sounds throughout the stereo image, you can create interesting variations that can keep the listener’s interest during the song.
What is panning?
Panning is a technique used in music production whereby the audio signal is spread across a stereo field taking up a position or positions between far-right and far-left. During the production, the mix engineer can be set this as a fixed position or automate the movement of signal position between far-right and far-left.
Different instruments have different expected pan positions within the mix depending on what they are. For example, your vocal mix would usually sit centrally within the stereo field as is the case with most genres. This, of course, is a creative decision so this can be experimented with during the mixing process. If you are hiring an online mixing and mastering service, this is exactly the kind of preference you can cite in your mixing notes.
Audio engineers can use a few different ways to program their automation designs.
The first is to simply use a computer mouse or trackpad that can manually draw the creative idea you have in mind for the specific plugin parameter within your DAW program.
The second is to use a mixing desk or any audio device with a channel fader element included. The mix engineer can then perform the automation intent in real-time.
When should I be using automation?
When mixing your music, automation is a creative tool that can be used to program the sound effects you have in mind. Whether it is EQ parameters during a vocal track or changing the amount of gain in the mix on a guitar part, the limitations are completely open to interpretation.
Producing creative and interesting sounds using automation is a great way to get your music mix to stand out and keep the listener hooked on your song.
There are an abundance of automation tutorials that can be found online, which demonstrate the many more situations of use, as well as the instructions on the specific platforms you might be using to mix your tracks.