6 Ways Automation Can Enhance Your Mix Right Now

2015 Dec 21, 2015

The automation features built in your current DAW are a powerful set of tools that can take an OK mix to stellar in just a hour or so.

Ironically it took me years to fully understand just how helpful (and critical) automation can be in my mixes (yes – I’m a slow learner at times).

But the beautiful thing is, automation is simple. So simple in fact that anyone can harness its power and reap the rewards – right now!

Today, my buddy David Glenn has 6 ways you can use automation to enhance YOUR mixes immediately.

David is a super talented mix engineer and one of the nicest guys you’ll meet in the audio industry. Listen to what he has to say and put his advice into practice. Your mixes will thank you for it.

Take it away David!

Recently, Graham wrote about automation and how his experience at Mix With The Masters opened his eyes to just how critical it can be for delivering a great mix. I couldn’t agree more and wanted to share some of my favorite automation moves that could help you with your mixing right now.

If a mix sits still, it has the potential to lose the listener’s interest.

Thankfully, just about all modern DAW’s come stock with the ability to write automation. This gives us mixers a chance to get hands-on with the song and add a touch of our own performance to the music.

With that in mind, I want to share with you a few practical ways to use automation right now to help take your mixes to the next level.

1. Volume Arrangement

You may be asking yourself, “Isn’t this the same thing as balancing the faders?” Well, sort of.

Think of volume arrangement as balancing the volumes between sections. During your rough mix, you’re probably working towards a solid static mix. What I would suggest is doing a static mix for each section of the song.

I like to start with the balances for the biggest chorus in the song and work backward to the verses.

2. Panning Arrangement

Depending upon the song and genre you’re working in it may serve the song well to have a big explosive chorus. This is true for most modern pop, rock and hip-hop music.

What I like to do is to start the song with a central panning arrangement. Try keeping things close to mono at the verse before pushing things a tad wider at the pre-chorus and then ultimately having things explode hard left and right at the chorus.

A well-arranged song can take care of a lot of this for you, but it never hurts to keep an eye on this during the mixing process.

Side note: Don’t be afraid to delete stereo tracks and pan them as mono sources.

3. Vocal Automation

It’s a pretty common technique to ride the vocal’s volume fader to make sure that all of the words sit on top of the mix.

Well, that’s an awesome technique, but the next time you go to automate the vocal(s), try adding some crescendos to the ends of phrases or how about adding subtle volume boosts to certain words or phrases. This can help grab the listener’s attention towards certain lyrics.

Side note: I’m always studying top mixers, and one of my favorites is a former assistant to none other than Dave Pensado. His name is Jaycen Joshua. If you look up his work online, pay close attention to his vocal mixes. I bet you’ll get some awesome ideas for automating certain effects to come on for certain words or phrases. His use of effects is world class!

4. Drums and Drum Fill Automation

Pay close attention to the drum fills in your next mix.

Kick Drum

Let’s start with the kick. Are there any hits close together? Consider increasing the volume on the first or the second hit so that they’re different.

This can be a HUGE help when you’re mixing programmed drums. How about 1/8th note kicks? Try randomizing the volumes for greater impact of the last hit.

Snare Drum

Snare fills? How about dropping the volume of the first hit in the fill and gradually raising the level to create some excitement?

Don’t forget to show some love to the ghost notes (ghost notes = softer snare hits, typically 16th notes that help emphasize the groove of the drums).

What do I mean by show them some love? Automate the volume of the ghost notes to taste. Have you ever replaced or gated a snare only to feel depressed by the result? I bet it’s because you unintentionally removed the ghost notes. If you decide to replace the snare or gate the drum, don’t forget the ghosting! 

Cool trick: One of my favorite tricks with the snare is to create a new track and copy just the snare ghost notes to the new track. Compress and EQ to taste. I like to EQ the ghosting to sound similar to a bottom snare mic. Pull back some 150-250 Hz, add some top and blend to taste. I also use Slate’s Trigger 2 to add or replace ghost notes often to help them stand out more.

Drum Buss Automation

If you use a drum buss or parallel drum buss, use it to push up the volume of the drums at the drum fills. Not every fill will need this, but ones that help transition into the next section of the song could be a great candidate for this type of lift. I usually find that 1.5-3db boosts work well here.

5. Effects Sends

Yep. Automate those effects.

If there were a rule book for mixing, I’d be willing to bet that automating your effects would be in it. This can be a great way to create interest for just about any instrument. Pull up the verb send on a vocal or boost the drum reverb (or room mics) just at a fill or a particular section of the song.

6. Stereobuss Automation

Depending upon the song I like to drop the overall level of my master fader (or my stereobuss) to -1 (If there’s a big intro, consider waiting until the 1st verse to drop the level). At the prechorus pull the level up to -.5 and then back to 0 at the chorus.

Sometimes I’ll leave the level alone until the chorus so that there’s a big jump from -1 to 0. Experiment to find out what you like or more importantly, what works best for the song.

So there you have it, some automation moves that I hope you’ll try out on your next mix. If you like these tips, and you’re hungry for more, I know you’ll love the concepts and strategies found in my latest training course called “Mixing Modern Rock”. In this new course, we take a raw set of unpolished tracks and turn them into a radio-ready mix.

Recording Revolution Bonus:

As a special bonus to you as a reader of The Recording Revolution, I’d like to extend a buy one get one free offer towards any of my tutorials.

No gimmicks, no catch.

Simply forward your receipt to [email protected] and tell me which course you’d like as a bonus and I’ll personally send you the links to any course you choose.

Learn more at David Glenn Recording

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