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An Introduction to Compression: Basic Compression - A free download from Audio Masterclass

Equipping Your Home Recording Studio - A free download from Audio Masterclass

An Introduction to Equalization - A free download from Audio Masterclass

Demonstrating the Waves J37 analog tape emulation plug-in and comparison with a real tape recorder

Q: Can I use a low-pass filter to remove noise from my recording?

The importance of monitoring in the recording studio

What is production? Part 2: Arrangement

Three types of musician you'll prefer to work with in the studio, and one type that you won't

Recording acoustic guitar in stereo - should you use spaced or coincident mics?

One simple step you must take to make sure your masters sound really great

Make your recordings richer with double tracking

How not to run a recording session!

Recordings of acoustic guitar by Audio Masterclass students

Automated Mixing (part 5)

With a VCA automation system you will probably concentrate on making all the finicky little moves that are necessary to get the vocal to a consistent level, making sure that all the final consonants of words that singers just love to under-pronounce are lifted a bit...

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With a VCA automation system you will probably concentrate on making all the finicky little moves that are necessary to get the vocal to a consistent level, making sure that all the final consonants of words that singers just love to under-pronounce are lifted a bit. Once this is done you can start mixing for real. But hang on a minute - if you have written a complex series of moves just to correct the level of the vocal, won’t the system overwrite these moves when you start to write your artistic changes? No it won’t, because VCA automation systems have an ‘update’ or ‘trim’ mode where you can superimpose one set of moves on top of another. To trim, depending on which system you are using, you will probably set the fader to halfway (remember that the audio doesn’t go through the fader - think of it as a more convenient level setting tool than a mouse), and upward moves will increase the level, downward moves will decrease it. Alternatively, you may have to set the fader to a ‘null’ position where its physical position matches its audio position, as indicated by a pair of LEDs, but the principle is the same. VCA automation systems are great for updating since there can be total independence between fader position and audio level.

In the case of moving fader systems, updating is a little more complex since the level of the audio is inextricably linked to the position of the fader knob. Moving fader systems usually have touch sensitive fader caps so if you want to change a move, all you have to do is grab the fader and do it. The computer will interpret this as a temporary switch into write mode for as long as you touch the cap. Fortunately, any decent moving fader system will provide fader grouping (as will a VCA system) so you can control the movements of one fader with another. So on the vocal channel fader you can write a complex series of moves, and then make this fader a slave to a fader you don’t happen to be using, which will then be called the group master. You can now superimpose more moves using this fader without overwriting the previous set of moves you had painstakingly created. If you are worried about having two faders controlling one signal path, fear not - a good moving fader automation system will have a ‘coalesce’ function which aggregates the moves back onto the channel fader and dissolves the group.

I hope I’ve explained the basics of automation well enough so that you can now go away and compare the various products on the market. Not every system will have every feature, and some systems will not implement particular features as well as others. My advice is to read all the manufacturer’s literature thoroughly and then go to your dealer and ask lots of questions beginning, “How do you…”. Hopefully you’ll find the system that suits the way you want to work.

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By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004
Learn music production