If there’s one thing that can turn an average mix into a spectacular one, it’s automation.
With the right combination of dynamics on your tracks and subtle changes in the mix throughout, you can create a massive and musical mix.
But this is a little easier said than done. You need to practice your automation so that it is effective, not distracting. Here’s how.
A distracting automation move does one of two things: pushes something too far forward in the mix, drawing too much attention to itself, or buries an important element, confusing the listener.
You don’t want to do either of these things. You want to have effective automation moves.
An effective automation move guides the listener through a production, subtly pushing forward the focal point of the mix at all times so that it can be focused on without becoming distracting. It also keeps the backing tracks in line so that you can control your overall dynamic range and “build” a mix throughout the song.
The main problems that you run in to deal with how much to move something, as well as how quickly to make the change.
A sudden change in volume can be too noticeable to the listener. For most automation moves, a slower, more natural fade up or down in level will yield a better result.
If you’re moving it more than 3 dB, you better have a really good reason. 3 dB is where the average person can detect a definitive change in volume. This means that people will be able to potentially hear your drastic change. This can be necessary if you are bringing a lead guitar from way back to the front for a huge solo. But if you’re automating the rhythm guitars to be a little softer in the verses, try it with a 2.5 dB cut first to see if it gets the job done. If not, then go further. But always test it out with a move under 3 dB so that you don’t overshoot it by accident.
Which is the best way to get better automation on your tracks. “Underautomate” them at first. Set it where you think it should be, then back off a bit (maybe 1-2 dB, depending on the track and circumstances.) This will usually help keep the move subtle and effective.