Recording Automation... When & Why?

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Recording Automation... When & Why?

Postby Malcolm Boyce » Wed May 23, 2012 1:51 am

So, I was in a conversation the other day about automation and how it changed recording forever once it became ready for prime-time. The single biggest thing was that one person could then more or less mix large projects, by themselves, with a great degree of creativity and control, without needing a room full of people with hands on console and/or outboard. It got me thinking about where we are today, and how we take that ability for granted.

Many will disagree on the necessity of automation in varying amounts, and I was curious as to what you all are using automation for, and how you go about adding it to projects. I realize that automation in the DAW world is a far different beast than console automation, and the way we use it has evolved accordingly.

When I start a mix, I will typically spend a long time getting things together before I even turn any automation on. It's common for things to be 90% where I want to be before I start to automate moves. I may write things earlier like muting accidents or stuff that shouldn't have made it to the "mix" phase in a track, or if I have an obvious automated "effect" like panning, or processing changes or something like that which needs to be done, but otherwise it's just getting balances for the most part.

Every song is different but that being said, typically I will write fader or "volume" envelopes for any track that runs the duration of a song. Tracks that have clean clips that are short pieces with no level changes may not see an envelope. Tracks that have obvious need for "rides" will probably get attention first. If drums are involved, I will always do tops and tails on those tracks, and then move on to other tracks that call attention to them needing to clean up as I find the sooner I get the thing to sound like it has a start and finish, the more I can focus on the body of the track starting to sound like something. I'm fanatical about getting these to sound correct for me and have spent many minutes on the last 5 seconds of lots of songs over the years. From there it's the fine strokes of rides to get things exactly where I want them in the balance. Could be anything from a lead vocal phrase by phrase, or tom fills on drums. A few db here and there and that's most of it.

It's not unheard of for me to automate EQ or other processing envelopes, but I find more often I will duplicate tracks and process different phrases separately which is more like multing to channels of a console from one track of a machine. It's just the way my brain works.
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It just fills Forum pages..." --compasspnt

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Re: Recording Automation... When & Why?

Postby Alain Benoit » Wed May 23, 2012 11:39 pm

First full album I ever mixed was many hands on to the point that I called my wife to ride some part or other while myself and the client handled vox and guitars.
And yes this was at the final stages, up to that point I had as you Malcolm gotten everything real close to where it needed to be.

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Re: Recording Automation... When & Why?

Postby Malcolm Boyce » Thu May 24, 2012 12:07 am

Of course there were many tricks to mixing on non automated consoles, or desks with mute and VCA only control. Multing tracks to several channels set differently for different passages being the most common and obvious. Many records done that way. People would ask, "Why do you need such a big desk for only 24 tracks?"
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It just fills Forum pages..." --compasspnt

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Re: Recording Automation... When & Why?

Postby macrae11 » Thu May 24, 2012 9:12 am

One of my absolute favorite things about Pro Tools is its automation capabilities. Because of this I actually start automating a bit earlier than I used to, typically anywhere from 50%-70% mix completion. If I know somethings going to need a little automation tweak I'll even do it in the tracking phase so I don't have to think about it later. The reason this works for me is because there's actually 3(or more) levels of volume automation so even if I have a track fully "ridden" I still have complete control over it as if there wasn't any automation at all. No fighting the faders. I'll automate anything and everything, but typically volume, pan, and send levels get automated on pretty much every session to some extent. I hardly ever automate mutes anymore. I'll either edit unwanted parts out, or mute the region itself, which is a sort of automation.

For me I always start with the band, and typically do vocals last. For starters I'll throw the core of the band up on faders, usually 8-12 tracks at a time and automate them all the way through. Drums usually as 1-4 groups, so 1-4 faders. Sometimes I'll go section by section, but usually at least to start I do a full pass. Then I'll move into lead and really dynamic instruments. The more attention they need, the less of them I do at one time. So for lead instruments like vocals and solos I'll typically only do one thing at a time and focus purely on how that sits. Obviously doing this method I need the band to be roughly situated first. Then I'll go in and do final tweaks. If it's general and sweeping changes I'll typically do them on faders but if it's really tweaking fine tuning I'll use the mouse. After leaving the vast majority of mouse automation riding for faders on a control surface I really don't think I could ever go back.
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Re: Recording Automation... When & Why?

Postby Malcolm Boyce » Thu May 24, 2012 11:08 am

I know that there are lots of people writing envelopes as early as during the tracking stage. It's just another form of committing to a concept at that stage..... Like printing effects.
macrae11 wrote:...After leaving the vast majority of mouse automation riding for faders on a control surface I really don't think I could ever go back.
I bet!
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It just fills Forum pages..." --compasspnt

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Re: Recording Automation... When & Why?

Postby Jef » Thu May 24, 2012 11:13 am

With Sonar I do most of the mixing in track view. I just drop in envelopes for volume, pan, FX send, etc. and add nodes where ever I need to make a change or adjustment. Just grab the line with the mouse and move it up or down and it stays there until you adjust it again. About the only thing I go into console view for is to watch the virtual faders moving magically by themselves (very cool).
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Re: Recording Automation... When & Why?

Postby macrae11 » Thu May 24, 2012 11:28 am

Jef wrote:With Sonar I do most of the mixing in track view. I just drop in envelopes for volume, pan, FX send, etc. and add nodes where ever I need to make a change or adjustment. Just grab the line with the mouse and move it up or down and it stays there until you adjust it again. About the only thing I go into console view for is to watch the virtual faders moving magically by themselves (very cool).


It's even cooler watching real faders magically moving by themselves! Clients love that. Seriously if anyone's never mixed using real faders you owe it to yourself to try it. Even the little Behringer BCF2000 is fine for basic mixing and it's only like $200. No brainer.
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Re: Recording Automation... When & Why?

Postby Mathieu Benoit » Thu May 24, 2012 2:19 pm

I went from avoiding it like the plague when I started to wondering how I could have been so lazy now. It is a lot more work, but it's almost when my mixes started to get a life of their own. With Pro Tools trim automation it makes it that much easier to deal with it logistically too.

I still don't rely heavily on automation since it's still cumbersome. I'll do lead instruments with the fader, and other things with a mouse.

I'm still using the faderport which has one single fader, so I'm limited to mouse automation and single fader moves at a time for now, but we just purchased a digidesign pro control with 24 faders so that will soon change. It will look something like this:

Image

I am currently starting to design the desk in will sit in. Once we have that in place, I bet that my use of automation will be increase in frequency and in efficiency.

Automation with a mouse is a pain in the balls so that's why I'm always avoided it. Now I won't have any excuses anymore.
"Volume automation takes time. You don't got that kinda time. You could be getting naked with somebody somewhere." -Slipperman

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