Finalizing your mix with automation, level up your mix by programming changes that add an extra dimension and extra interest for your audience to enjoy.
Once your song tracks are edited and mixed using EQ, compression and reverb, there’s one last step to add before your mix is finished: mixing with automation.
In this article you’ll learn:
- What automation is,
- An efficient workflow to plan for automation in your Digital Audio Workstation
- Two ways to program automations into your DAW.
Automation is programming mix changes during your song…
You can emphasize certain points or sections in the song with automation. You can add subtle changes to the volume, add effects for parts of the song, or change parameters on your plugins during the song.
Automation adds an extra dimension of changes that will keep your audience listening until the end of your song!
Below the video lesson is a summary of the automation strategies and workflow, with bonus ideas and links to other songwriting resources to improve your mixes!
What is Mixing Automation in Your DAW?
When you mix a song in your DAW, you set up the volume and processing (which plugins are on each track and how they will change the sounds). Automation allows you to program changes during the song, so you have a changing and dynamic mix instead of a static and potentially boring song.
What Can You Automate in the Mix?
You can automate almost anything… the volume faders, plugins to turn on/off, change specific parameters on a plugin.
I save automation until the end of the mixing phase for two reasons:
1. It’s easier to add automation once you’ve already created a solid mix
2. It’s spice, automation enhances the mix elements you’ve already built
Mix Automation Workflow
Create an automation plan!
Start with a big picture view of what you want to emphasize and how you’ll accomplish it. Otherwise you’ll waste time fooling around or not even finish your mix…
Listen to your mix and decide what and where you want to add changes.
In general, the energy level should be higher:
- During a chorus (compared to the verses and other sections),
- At the end of the arrangement.
It’s likely that you’ve intuitively already created more energy on each chorus, and built throughout the song.
For the demonstration I went to the last chorus and experimented with settings. I chose a minimum and maximum settings for a few parameters. I enabled “Write Automation” to set the maximum parameters for the vocal strip in the last chorus. Then I went back to the start and began working through the song to set one parameter at a time.
Check your DAW manual for keyboard shortcuts and ways to select and adjust control nodes. When you have an automation plan your limitation is only how fast you can enter and manipulate the data points in your DAW!
Exotic Bean – Demonstration of Mix Automation
This arrangement of Exotic Bean is simple, one vocal and two acoustic guitar parts. The simple arrangement is intentional so it’s easier for you to follow along and then duplicate the process with your own mixes.
The acoustic guitar parts build gradually throughout the song. It’s not necessary to add much automation because the different strumming patterns and different registers of the chords emphasize the different energy levels in the song sections. Back in the editing phase, I added the second acoustic guitar and automated the panning to 100% Left and Right to separate them in the mix starting in the second pre-chorus.
In this demonstration, I focused on two opportunities to add automation.
1. For each chorus, I added a slight EQ, to emphasize a change for the chorus.
2. Automation possibilities to increase the energy of the vocal part throughout the song…
Setting Up Mixing Automation in Your DAW
Two common ways to add automation are:
1. Mix in real time… enable “Write Automation” press play and move controls as you listen to the song, and
2. Manually enter settings in an automation lane.
For the EQ boost in each chorus, I first demonstrated automating in real time. Enable “Write Automation” and Cakewalk detects every change in the controls. As you press virtual buttons or adjust knobs and faders, the changes are written to an automation track, everything else is ignored.
I find it’s difficult to make changes exactly when I want. Usually I end up going back to the automation track and editing it to change at the precise times and settings I want. It takes an extra step to clean it up after working through the song.
It’s usually faster and more precise to edit parameters directly in the automation lanes. Click to create a node and then pull it to the setting you want. Right click in the automation lane along a line and you can change the curve (linear, short or fast curve…)
If you get confused, open the plugin to check, enable “Read Automation” by clicking the R button, and move the Now Time marker to the point where you want to check the settings and it will show you the automation settings at that spot in your mix.
Checking Your Mix Automation
Once you’ve set up your automation, listen to the entire mix without touching any controls. Make written notes of any adjustments or additional automation.
Did you follow the plan?
Did you find new ideas or adjust the plan to improve it?
Do your automations improve the listener’s journey through the song?
If you’re happy with your mix, including your new automations then the next step is mastering your song!