Mix automation techniques ?

maartenl945

Member
In this video I demonstrate how I use automation to build a dynamic mix. Do you guys have any specific tips or pointers on using automation, since my approach is quite basic ?

Regards,
Maarten
 
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grimtraveller

If only for a moment.....
When I mix, I mix in sections then edit the sections together as I go so I don't do 'automation' as such, but it enables me to mix as dynamically as I desire at that given moment. I use 2 standalone DAWs and I've always laughingly referred to my system as 'poor man's automation'.

From when I started writing songs back in late1981 right up until the summers of 2010 and 2011, the majority of my songs were long. Many of them were born in jam sessions and because I used to tape any jam I was involved in, I'd often find long sections that fitted really well together and many songs were born that way. By the time the 90s rolled around and I was actively recording these pieces {with lyrics added and other instruments}, I hadn't given much thought to the actual mixing of them until I was teaching myself how to mix with nothing but a portastudio manual showing how the portastudio worked and a lot of hit and miss guesswork. The double whammy was that in those internet-less days, I'd pick up on the odd phrase of a producer and have to try and work out what they meant ~ to this day, I still don't understand what was meant half the time ! The other thing was that portastudio {or DAW} manuals don't teach one how to mix. They simply show you how the machine works.

So I was on my lonesome. And when you don't know what you're doing and you're recording and mixing 9, 14, 22 minute pieces on a cassette portastudio, you fly by the seat of your pants. It might not have been so bad if I was just a two guitars, bass and drums guy but no. I knew a few people that played different instruments and I always had in mind to incorporate whatever I could into my songs. There was the added complication of having only 8 tracks but I did a lot of double tracking, bouncing and whatnot so that meant track sharing.

When I'd be mixing, everything would have to be done as a single performance which of course meant that any mistakes and I'm having to start over ! It's hard enough on a 3 minute piece with a voice and 3 instruments. And there were few things more discouraging than getting to the end of a 15 minute song only to discover I'd botched the fade at the end or missed the opening note of an instrumental phrase in the 7th minute or a vocal was too loud for a syllable in an important spot in the 10th minute or whatever ! Mixing for me was more tense than turbulence in an aeroplane {I'm not a fan of flying !}. I suppose I could have done what Ken Scott used to do with David Bowie's albums that he produced and done them in sections then edited them together but no way was I risking cutting tape, no sir ! I did get better as time went on but some of those early mixes are atrocious. The weird thing is that some weren't at all bad but that was my problem, such inconsistency and not a clue how to solve most of the problems that cropped up.

After 12 years of mixing like this, I started looking into going the digital route. Although people had said 'go diji' for a while, I wasn't interested in computers but that all changed in 2004 when I simultaneously discovered the existence of VSTIs, electric drums and computer music. I misunderstood what I read about mixing digitally because I was under the impression that I could mix in sections and that this was this priceless concept called 'automation'. I figured that I could mix a little bit of a song, get it to exactly how I liked it, then save it, move to the next little bit, get that exactly how I wanted it and move to the next bit etc. But when I bought a DAW, I discovered that it wasn't like that ! Certainly not if I wanted to use all the tracks.

In 2010, having been using my DAW for less than a year, I was walking past an instrument exchange in Hammersmith and I saw an identical model of my DAW in the shop window and on a whim, just bought it. Initially I bought it just to have a back-up machine but before I got home my mind was ticking over and I thought to myself that if I connected the outputs of my DAW to the inputs of this one, there'd be no reason why I couldn't use this one as the mixdown deck.

And that meant I could mix in sections. Although by 2010 my Akai DPS 12i was already ancient history and obsolete, it had copy, paste, insert, move, discard and all the other editing features that DAWs boast {except reverse, but that was not a deal breaker}. The move function meant that I could join two pieces of data together seamlessly which confirmed that I could mix in sections and 'poor man's automation' was born !

So that's what I do. I'll take small sections and listen carefully, work out where to raise or lower a fader for emphasis or slight ducking or a pan pot for a bit of movement or an effect or whatever it may be. Before "If only for a moment" was my strapline, it was "Digital is my razorblade" because digital recording and mixing enables me to do what engineers used to do when there was only analog and they'd edit songs together by cutting the tape and joining it to another piece of tape.
I suppose it would be easier to be able to just programme in any changes I might want to make but I don't have a problem with doing it as I go along. And making changes to a section that might be anything from 8 seconds to 58 seconds is a heck of a lot easier than having to execute a 22 minute song with lots of level changes and track sharing and different sets of panning with no margin for error so I'm not complaining !
 

Mickster

Well-known member
Interesting mixing journey. Maybe not as uncommon as you might think. Parts of the story remind me of me some time ago. I was a little confused about your use of the term "DAW". You seem to connect that to your digital recorders.......which when you think about it.......is a digital audio workstation....so the term does fit IMO. Most of us think of a DAW software used in a computer. And BTW...as I read your description of your mixing.......I have to say that it does seem like using a computer DAW might make your work a lot easier.

Just my 2 cents worth of....hey I could be so very wrong........

Mick
 

grimtraveller

If only for a moment.....
I was a little confused about your use of the term "DAW". You seem to connect that to your digital recorders.......which when you think about it.......is a digital audio workstation....so the term does fit IMO. Most of us think of a DAW software used in a computer.
Yeah, the term DAW has more or less gone on to mean "computers" and so not too many people would use the term and think of a standalone machine. But when I first came across the term 'digital audio workstation' they were standalone recorders, although I remember someone up at the instrument exchange in Notting Hill Gate telling me I should go the computer route as far back as 2001. To me, any recorder that isn't reel to reel or cassette portastudio is a DAW.
In saying that though, the Akai DPS 12i that I use has always represented to me the perfect halfway house between the old cassette portastudio and the computer. It's as though I'm using the old portastudio, just with the advantage of digital technology.
And BTW...as I read your description of your mixing.......I have to say that it does seem like using a computer DAW might make your work a lot easier.
The way my brain works, I think to myself that in order to make the automation adjustments to programme them in, one still has to mix those parts. So I can't really see much advantage to be gained by using the computer. Ultimately, I'm still going to be mixing and working out how much to increase or decrease at specific moments. I might as well do that as I go. It's still like a performance but without the portastudio pressure of knowing that one slip and it's back to the beginning !
 

maartenl945

Member
When I mix, I mix in sections then edit the sections together as I go so I don't do 'automation' as such, but it enables me to mix as dynamically as I desire at that given moment. I use 2 standalone DAWs and I've always laughingly referred to my system as 'poor man's automation'.

From when I started writing songs back in late1981 right up until the summers of 2010 and 2011, the majority of my songs were long. Many of them were born in jam sessions and because I used to tape any jam I was involved in, I'd often find long sections that fitted really well together and many songs were born that way. By the time the 90s rolled around and I was actively recording these pieces {with lyrics added and other instruments}, I hadn't given much thought to the actual mixing of them until I was teaching myself how to mix with nothing but a portastudio manual showing how the portastudio worked and a lot of hit and miss guesswork. The double whammy was that in those internet-less days, I'd pick up on the odd phrase of a producer and have to try and work out what they meant ~ to this day, I still don't understand what was meant half the time ! The other thing was that portastudio {or DAW} manuals don't teach one how to mix. They simply show you how the machine works.

So I was on my lonesome. And when you don't know what you're doing and you're recording and mixing 9, 14, 22 minute pieces on a cassette portastudio, you fly by the seat of your pants. It might not have been so bad if I was just a two guitars, bass and drums guy but no. I knew a few people that played different instruments and I always had in mind to incorporate whatever I could into my songs. There was the added complication of having only 8 tracks but I did a lot of double tracking, bouncing and whatnot so that meant track sharing.

When I'd be mixing, everything would have to be done as a single performance which of course meant that any mistakes and I'm having to start over ! It's hard enough on a 3 minute piece with a voice and 3 instruments. And there were few things more discouraging than getting to the end of a 15 minute song only to discover I'd botched the fade at the end or missed the opening note of an instrumental phrase in the 7th minute or a vocal was too loud for a syllable in an important spot in the 10th minute or whatever ! Mixing for me was more tense than turbulence in an aeroplane {I'm not a fan of flying !}. I suppose I could have done what Ken Scott used to do with David Bowie's albums that he produced and done them in sections then edited them together but no way was I risking cutting tape, no sir ! I did get better as time went on but some of those early mixes are atrocious. The weird thing is that some weren't at all bad but that was my problem, such inconsistency and not a clue how to solve most of the problems that cropped up.

After 12 years of mixing like this, I started looking into going the digital route. Although people had said 'go diji' for a while, I wasn't interested in computers but that all changed in 2004 when I simultaneously discovered the existence of VSTIs, electric drums and computer music. I misunderstood what I read about mixing digitally because I was under the impression that I could mix in sections and that this was this priceless concept called 'automation'. I figured that I could mix a little bit of a song, get it to exactly how I liked it, then save it, move to the next little bit, get that exactly how I wanted it and move to the next bit etc. But when I bought a DAW, I discovered that it wasn't like that ! Certainly not if I wanted to use all the tracks.

In 2010, having been using my DAW for less than a year, I was walking past an instrument exchange in Hammersmith and I saw an identical model of my DAW in the shop window and on a whim, just bought it. Initially I bought it just to have a back-up machine but before I got home my mind was ticking over and I thought to myself that if I connected the outputs of my DAW to the inputs of this one, there'd be no reason why I couldn't use this one as the mixdown deck.

And that meant I could mix in sections. Although by 2010 my Akai DPS 12i was already ancient history and obsolete, it had copy, paste, insert, move, discard and all the other editing features that DAWs boast {except reverse, but that was not a deal breaker}. The move function meant that I could join two pieces of data together seamlessly which confirmed that I could mix in sections and 'poor man's automation' was born !

So that's what I do. I'll take small sections and listen carefully, work out where to raise or lower a fader for emphasis or slight ducking or a pan pot for a bit of movement or an effect or whatever it may be. Before "If only for a moment" was my strapline, it was "Digital is my razorblade" because digital recording and mixing enables me to do what engineers used to do when there was only analog and they'd edit songs together by cutting the tape and joining it to another piece of tape.
I suppose it would be easier to be able to just programme in any changes I might want to make but I don't have a problem with doing it as I go along. And making changes to a section that might be anything from 8 seconds to 58 seconds is a heck of a lot easier than having to execute a 22 minute song with lots of level changes and track sharing and different sets of panning with no margin for error so I'm not complaining !
What a great tale of your way of automating a mix and how you got to it. Seems very unique to me these days, although I guess it is really based on editing by cutting tape in the analog days indeed. I started on a portastudio too, albeit a 4-track cassette deck, but never really dared to cut tape either. I guess it was also meant more for the reel-to-reel recorders anyway.
At some point I was thinking about going the Roland VS880 route (or maybe it was a predecessor), but had to choose between that or go with my first PC based Cubase system. I chose the latter and am glad I did :). It was quite a change but seemed to gel well with me the more I learned about it.
Wow, thinking back about those days, having to deal with instable drivers and crappy soundscards in early versions of windows ... pfff.

Thanks for your story!
 

motterpaul

New member
I did a lot of 1/4 editing in the tape days in order to get the perfect mix.

If you have a song with 25 mix changes and four people working to get them all done perfectly, it is pretty hard to get through an entire song. And if you don't edit you have to redo the mix until you get it perfect top to end.

Instead, I would mix a section to perfection (according to our own guideline) and then keep going until someone missed a move, then I would stop both machines, roll back the master and start recording the two-track where we left off. Then you edit it together and get the perfect mix.

These days with automation, I spend a lot more time writing complex volume changes into a mix, because I can. It's like having ten perfect hands on the board. I generally record the whole mix in "write" and then go back and do updates in "latch" - Then I go back and double-check it with my pen and usually smooth out most of the moves. I also use copy/paste on a lot of my mix moves just like I do with my audio files, to get a more consistent mix.
 
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