All too often, mixing engineers -- particularly those fairly new to mixing -- get the levels they want for each instrument in a mix and call the mix done. However, nearly all mixes benefit from some sort of subtle modifications of those levels on each track as the song goes on. We’ll look at how modifying these levels can improve your mix in another article, but here we want to look at how these modifications easily can be made in your home recording studio.
When recording was all analog, these volume changes were made to each track by adjusting the faders manually during the mixdown. However, if even one level change was off during this process, the entire mixdown had to be repeated. But over the past couple decades it became possible to automate those movements in the board so the level changes didn’t have to be made by hand at the final stage of the mix.
Today, nearly every DAW software has the ability to perform this automation. There are typically two different ways to add automation to your tracks.
The way you add automation depends upon your hardware setup (and your preferred method of working), though there are essentially two ways to do it. If you have a physical mixer, then the process of automating tracks is similar to the aforementioned manual changes -- you adjust in real time. If you do not have a mixer, you can adjust the levels in the mix window on your DAW software as the song plays. The actual process varies slightly in each DAW, but the process is fairly similar in all.
You’ll typically change the mix parameter to “Write” mode and then make any changes as the song plays. These changes most often involve volume levels, but also can include panning and other features if the song calls for it. Once you are done, you’ll turn the “Write” mode off, and the changes you made will now occur automatically.
Another way to add automation is in your edit window. Though the actual process will once again vary slightly depending on your DAW, all software will typically have a way for you to enable the automation paths for volume levels and panning in your edit window.
From there, you can tweak the levels as needed throughout your song. This is a great way to make highly precise edits to the automation, and allows you to re-edit any automation you may not have gotten quite right.
Similarly, this method can also be used in addition to the adjustments you made in real time. Unlike the old days, your manual changes are not set in stone. Once you’re done adjusting the track(s) in “Write” mode, you can make more modifications in your edit window to make sure you have the best sound possible for your track.