Automation can be used for both pragmatic and entirely creative purposes when mixing music - for example, automated saturation during the chorus can make it sound fuller, or automated delay can be very stylistic. Mixing with automation gives you the chance to control more parameters, resulting in more complex mixes.
Automation is a great tool for both practical and creative purposes - it’s a perfect addition at the very end of your mixing session, once the mix is roughly 90 percent done. Volume automation is most common, but plugin function automation is how you turn good mixes into great ones.
If you do choose to use volume automation when mixing, note that you’ll be editing the channel strip level - meaning all other processing will already have applied to the signal.
Let’s listen to some EQ automation on a mix bus just to get acquainted with it.
One of my personal favorite ways to use automation is on a mix bus or master - where I’ll use various levels of saturation to differentiate different passages or parts of the song. For example, if I want the chorus to sound a little fuller, I’ll increase the amount of saturation.
You can also automate the type of saturation from even to odd harmonics to help differentiate parts and give each section a unique identity.
Let’s listen to saturation being increased from 25% to 75% on a mix bus and notice the changing of the mix’s timbre.
Another great tool when automating a mix bus is a mid-side EQ - I like to automate a high shelf filter on the side image in and out to cause high-frequency stereo expansion. For example, I could make the chorus both brighter and wider by amplifying this shelf.
Alternatively, you can use a mid-side EQ to make sections more mono or centered, or just change the general frequency response.
Let’s take a listen to the automated side image high-frequency shelf.
Delay can be automated in a really creative way to cause entirely unrealistic changes to the timing of a vocal. I like to drastically increase then decrease the feedback of a delay, or maybe it’s wet/dry on a vocal for a purely stylistic effect.
This works really well for psychedelic tracks or anything in which you want to grab the listener’s attention.
Let’s listen to this particular use of delay automation.
Reverb is one of the biggest factors in giving a vocal a distinct identity or separating it from the rest of the song. With that in mind, we can use automation to change the timing or intensity of a reverb plugin during an important part of a song.
You can also use this technique on other instruments to create a dramatic effect, or again grab the listener’s attention.
Let’s take a listen to it.
Automation is typically performed in a linear way - meaning the change made to whatever parameter is being affected is done so in a constant way. But, if we hold SHIFT and FN when using Logic Pro X, we can affect the shape of the automation.
This is great for volume automation at the end of the song, but it also helps to gradually or drastically introduce plugin parameter automation.
Let’s compare the linear automation of a plugin’s function with a non-linear one.
Instead of the typically used Read function, with which we need to enter in each data point, we can use the Latch function to perform automation. With the Latch option selected, and the automation viewer open, we’ll write data whenever the song is playing and a parameter is changed.
This can be a great way to make automation sound more organic since you’ll need to actually perform the changes in real-time.
Let’s listen to automation created using the Latch feature.
Automating panning is a really cool effect that’s been around for a while now, but a more impressive version of it is using binaural panning, which uses psychoacoustics to more realistically place a sound source. Like regular panning automation, this works really well as a creative effect.
I find this is easiest with the Latch function, and then editing the placement using the plugin representation.
Let’s take a listen to a sound source being altered in a mix, and think if you could use something similar in one of your mixes.
Clip gain and automation should be used for different purposes due to how they’re routed. For example, I’ve seen a lot of engineers using volume automation on vocals to balance things - however, this happens at the end of the signal chain, meaning inconsistencies are still being fed into the processing.
So, for that purpose, I’d really recommend using clip gain to balance the volume, since it affects the level prior to all processing. Subsequently, the applied processing will be more uniform.
Let’s listen to clip gain being used to balance the dynamics of a vocal.
I once saw Dave Pensado explain this trick, so I thought I’d explain it here while we’re on the topic - in short, you use volume automation on the mix bus and vary the level by about 0.3dB in either direction. The idea is, you increase the dynamic range.
With that said, this may not always be the case, since you might be decreasing the volume at a point that originally made it more dynamic.
Instead, I like to use the latch function and very subtly affect the output’s volume fader. I find this gives me a chance to respond and alter the dynamics in a way I see fit.
Let’s take a listen to it and see if we increase the dynamic range.
Last up, let’s cover an easy but really popular trick often used by DJs during live sets. In short, all it is is a low-pass that gradually reduces in frequency, in turn attenuating the detail and high end of the signal, until only the lowest frequencies remain.
Then the filter is usually swept back up to reintroduce the high frequencies. Let’s listen to what this sounds like automated.