Welcome to Day 27 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

Once you’ve set the levels and panning for your mix, and you’ve dialed in the EQ and compression to just the right amount, you’re done, right?

Not quite.

What you have right now is what’s called a “static mix.”

There’s a “secret weapon” that you should know about. It’s called automation.

Most of you probably know what automation is, but do you use it in your mixes? Or is it something you think doesn’t matter? Well, I have a few reasons why you SHOULD use automation in your mixes.

But first…

What IS automation?

Automation is simply the process of recording fader movementss (volume adjustments) that are then executed automatically by your recording software.

Back in the analog days, people paid BIG bucks to have consoles that featured automation. It was a HUGE undertaking to install a computer, motorized faders, etc. into these analog consoles. Prior to automation, engineers had to manually move all the faders in real-time as they printed their final mix. (Eddie Kramer talks about doing this with Jimi Hendrix. He actually had Jimi manning a few faders during mixdowns.)

Nowadays you can automate everything from fader levels to EQ settings, but for the purposes of this article, I’m simply referring to volume automation.

Why automate?

Good question. I’ll give you three reasons:

Sometimes Compression Isn’t Enough

The reason you automate is to “bring out” certain instruments during the mix. You may not want the violin to be really loud throughout the entire song, but during certain sections (between vocal phrases, for example) you’d like it to stand out for a moment.

You might try compression to control the volume of the violin, but automation is really the better choice. It preserves the sound of the audio and brings out the violin in exactly the right places, without squashing it to death with automation.

Your Mix Needs to “Breathe”

With a static mix, everything is at a set volume for the entire song. While this could still provide a nice-sounding mix, chances are this mix needs to breathe a little bit.

By writing in some automation, you’re allowing elements to come in and out of the mix, you’re drawing the listener’s attention from one element to another. You’re keeping it interesting.

The More “Musical” Approach

If you’re like me, and you record mostly with overdubs (rather than all the instruments live at one time), you really need automation.

When a band plays together, each member learns when to get louder and quieter. They learn to play off of each other rather than fighting to be the center of attention. A good band makes automation less necessary.

If you’re overdubbing everything, though, there’s a much smaller chance that the musician was able to really develop that “live” feel, since you recorded everything one instrument at a time.

By using automation, you can recapture some of that live feel and make your mixes sound much more musical.

Day 27 Challenge

Use automation on a mix you’re currently working on and report back here. Also…leave a comment telling us what you’re going to do!