Automation is a tool that allows for a myriad of parameters within a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) to be automatically adjusted and controlled throughout the progression of a track. The ability to create predefined, developed changes to effects, volume, pan and other parameters can help elevate a static mix and infuse sparks of creative movement and transition.
In this article, we'll take a brief look at some of the automation techniques that can be used to improve the overall mix and character of a track.
Effects, notably reverb and delay, often play a paramount role in a lot of productions. However, excessive or undefined use of the aforementioned effects can result in a mix that sounds cluttered and unclear.
By creating an automation clip of the delay or reverb, the points at which these effects are activated can be controlled and contained to set sections. For example, the delay can be set to activate when certain chords or notes are played, or when a particular word or phrase is sung, and then promptly fade away to give space for other elements to come in. Experimenting with this can help create a more sophisticated progression, reduce unwanted echoes and provide a better overall auditory experience for the listener.
This also works for other effects and filters, such as EQ (Equalization). If you have a major melodic element in your track, like a guitar or piano for example, chances are you have applied an EQ to minimize the low-end frequencies in certain parts (e.g. during the drop). This is typically done to free up space in the low-end spectrum for other instruments like a sub-bass to come in.
By using an automation clip with an exponentially shaped curve for instance, you can gradually bring in the EQ filter, and let the natural low-end frequencies come out at different parts of your track (e.g. the intro).
Below is a simple example of how this can be done in FL Studio by Image-Line.
As demonstrated here, the Fruity Parametric EQ, which has been set to cut off low-end frequencies, has been automated to go from zero to max within this section. What this allows for is that the beginning section of the audio is played in its unprocessed state. This means that the low-end frequencies of the instrument, in this case a piano, are untouched and fully brought out. As the track progresses, these frequencies are constrained and slowly removed (indicated by the upwards sloping curve), freeing up space for another set of low-end dominant instruments to come in at a later point, as well as forming a subtle sweep-like effect. This can help add variation and reduce stagnation throughout a track.
Parameters found within third-party plugins can also be automated. It is possible, for example, to automate filters, such as the cut-off from a virtual synthesizer to help construct more elaborate and tense buildups and transitions.
Using Volume And Pan Automation.
Another notable usage of automation is in volume refinement and adjustment. The volume of an audio clip can be automated to emphasize certain sections and to create dynamic variation in the volume range. Vocals and other pre-recorded tracks can also be balanced with the help of volume automation as quieter parts can be made louder and vice versa.
Panning, which affects the way audio is distributed within the stereo field, can also be automated to add space. For instance, subtle pan automation can be added to different parts of a track, such as a drum pattern or an ambient pad layer to create size, width and movement in the mix.