I often work closely with students learning the skills and more of the audio engineering world. This was an email I recently shared with a student I felt would be useful to more than just them. Hope it helps. :)
To a student I wrote:
"Sounds good. :) Did you hand in the mix already?
Automation is a valuable tool to use. Often the difference between a Semi-Pro mix and a PRO mix is automation in a variety of ways. I use a medium amount of automation and most mixes I do will have at least 30-40 different automation moments throughout one of my mixes. All I’m saying is don’t discount the value of automation. It is such a useful tool in a mix.
Here are some examples of automations I would use in a mix.
1. EVERY lead vocal will have volume automation to keep the vocal “feeling” like it is front and centre of the mix. Let me repeat that. EVERY LEAD VOCAL. :)
2. A mix with more than one or 2 vocal tracks will usually have Panning automation, as well. It might be as simple as:
- Background vocals in the verse are narrower in the mix while chorus vocals are wider in the mix.
- I might have a backing vocal alternate panning left and right
- Some backing vocals automate between side and centre for different lyrics to change the emphasis or feel.
3. Background vocals will often have volume automation, as well. Maybe quieter in certain lines and louder in other lines, or louder for a hook but quieter for a bridge.
4. I usually have some element (voice or instrument) with a LoFi plugin of some sort on it, and I will automate that on and off.
5. For sections of the song that are more sparse, I might bypass a high pass filter on a lead instrument to maintain a fullness in the section, then turn it back on as the song starts building again.
6. I usually have automation on the Sends to certain effects to either turn them on or off, or to increase their level for momentary effect.
7. For songs that have a lead instrument, that lead instrument might have volume automation to increase it’s focus when it’s that instrument’s time to take the spotlight. Plus, I would usually have volume automation on different sections of that lead section to make sure every note stays in focus.
8. I would do the same with a duet. As each voice takes it’s turn in the lead role, I would use volume automation to keep the appropriate voice in focus, while turning down and panning the other voice.
Anyway, I hope that gives you some more insight into the value of automation. You don’t always need compression. Sometimes automation is the better tool. For the thought…
Compression is automatic but not perfect AND it adds distortion.
Automation is not automatic but can be perfect and doesn’t add distortion.
Best of luck in your final. :)
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A 20 year industry veteran, James specializes in producing alternative rock.