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5 Quick Automation Mixing Tricks

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Okay, so today, we’re doing five quick automation tips. What I’ve done here is I’ve opened up a song by a band called Snake Bite, which are a Polish band, and the drummer is — he’s pretty insane. Let’s have a listen to the track.


So it’s pretty nuts. And if I were to solo that drum track in the chorus there…


Those drums were recorded live at Hybrid Studios, for those of you that know Hybrid from the videos and everything that I’ve done with them.

Anyways, so sounds great. But here’s the reality of every drummer I’ve worked with that plays double kick drum. Listen to the single hits here.


Now the doubles. Now the reality is, when you’re doing singles, it’s, [imitates kick], and you’re getting leverage, and you’re like, hammering down on that with your foot. When you go to the fast ones, you’ve got nanoseconds to get your foot up. So what tends to happen is they don’t play it as hard. This gives two realities. When you’re not hitting it as hard, you actually get more low end out of it. You get — you tend to, because it’s coming back off quicker, you let it resonate more, which is fantastic, and you get less attack.

So it means, and you can see it quite clearly here if I zoom in on this kick out back here, you’ve got a lovely, big, fat, long — lovely, big, fat, long amount of decay. What might you ask is wrong with that? Nothing really. On the single hits, it’s nice to have a decent amount of decay like this, but with the super, super fast ones, you get this big low, [imitates low end] low rumble.


Lacks attack, tends to be like, [imitates muddy low end]. So what do we do about that? Well, the two things to encounter, first of all, the first piece of simple automation is you just turn the kick up. So we’ll go into this — these two particular mics, and we’ll turn them up. So all I’m going to do is bring it up like, a dB, and then I have them separated on two different outputs, so I’ll go to this other one here and bring that up.

Okay, so not a huge amount of deal, but we just brought it up like a dB or so.

It looks like it could actually go up two dB. Why the heck not. So we’re going to bring up both of these sections up by two dB. Alright, let’s have a listen.


Okay, so now it feels a little more convincing. It doesn’t feel like the kick got quieter in that heavy part. Let’s have a listen.


But what else does it sound like? It sounds like it’s all low, [imitates low end]. Because like I said, he’s not hitting it as hard, he’s not getting as much snap out of it as the beater hits the head, and he’s getting an extra amount of low rumble. So it’s not really good, because now what we’re hearing is like, [imitates low end]. We’re not hearing that definition.

So. Now this transient designer here, we can exaggerate the attack, and bring down the sustain.

[kick, adjusting transient designer]

Take it off. With it off, you can clearly here there’s just a lot of low rumble. On. Far more controlled. Now, I know before the advent of transient designers, we used to use gates. We used to use gates to catch the transient, and then try and shut it off really quick. Have a super quick release time. It wasn’t that effective, but it was the best we could do when you were mixing, you know, heavy rock before the advent of any kind of samples.

But it’s a nice — quite a nice effect.


Throw it in the track.


It’s quite a huge difference. Here’s with it on. So I’ll keep my finger up for on, and when I turn it off, I’ll put my finger down. You’ll hear what’s going on.

[kick, before and after]

So it’s like a — it’s like a very simple kind of EQ. It’s interesting, I was talking to Mike Piersante today, and one of the things he was talking about was using compression as an EQ, and what he meant by that was like, bringing out the transients. Bringing out the attack of the sound, and that’s what a transient designer does.

So it’s quite exaggerated. So what else would we do? Well, the thing is, it’s a nice effect on the kick, but here it doesn’t work.


If anything, it kills the kick. I’ll put it back again. Off.


See, I like it off there. So this is what I talk about all the time. Don’t be afraid to automate your plugins. You can either adjust the attack and release time, in this case, the attack and sustain times, or quite frankly, you can just do this! You can turn it off.

So we’ll come in on our master bypass, at the moment it’s on all the time, so we’ll just come in on that section and turn it off.


Very simple. So what have we learned? Automate volumes. Very obvious though it seems, but not everybody does that. I go to a lot of mixes that people send me, and they’re not running even the simplest automation. Where choruses get more dense or more intense like that, you have to start picking out things. So we’ve automated the volume of the kick, and we’ve also automated my plugin by creating extra attack and reducing the sustain, and turning it on and off. So don’t be afraid to automate your plugins.

Simple thing here. Go to that same chorus here. Now with the snare drum, we can do exactly the same thing. We can just turn up the snare master a little bit. Go up two dB. Also, I’ve turned up the reverb here. So we’ll get a bigger snare in the chorus when it gets more exciting.

Remember, with that intense amount of kick drum going, lots of things are going to get soaked up. A lot of energy is going to get taken away, so more reverb on the snare is barely going to be noticeable.

[drums, more reverb on snare]

Take it off. On. So that extra couple of dB is just giving it a little bit more energy. It’s just making it seem like he’s digging in. And again, he’s hitting it pretty consistently there. You can hear that — you can see the snare hits are very, very consistent, but at the same time, when drummers are playing more, you know, are playing faster, they tend to get softer. Sure, lots of people will debate me on this, but my experience of recording hundreds and hundreds of drummers are, as soon as they start doing really super fast rolls or super fast kicks, especially going around the kit like this, they’re not going — they’re not Kenny Aronoff’ing it. They’re not like, [imitates drums] at twice the speed. They tend to play a lot softer. You know, when they’re doing, [imitates drums], they can really articulate that rack and really articulate that floor, but as soon as they do one of these really super fast rolls, or they’re playing rolls and snares like crazy, the power drops.

So we don’t want to lose that entirely, so we’re going to boost up the snare in the choruses just to make it feel like he’s digging in, because it’s the chorus now, and he’s, [sings chorus], he’s digging in.

And we’re going to bring up the reverb as well. Very, very simple automation, but automating your snare in the chorus is very simple, but very, very aggressive.

We could play with a transient designer, but I don’t think it’s a problem. If anything, I like the ring going on. It’s really kind of cool.

Same thing is of the tom reverb. You can see the tom reverb here has been turned up in the choruses. I don’t need to do that in the verses, because there’s a lot more room going on there, but as soon as that double kick comes in, everything gets sucked up, even with a transient designer on it, a lot of the energy is disappearing.

Great, so let’s create like, a little reverb effect going into this riff section here from the bridge. Listen to the vocal here.


So what I like about that, it’s kind of subtle, but why don’t we exaggerate the differences between the two sections? So this is a trick I’ve used many, many times. We can create a different send. Well, I’ll just make it 31-32. Now let’s create a stereo buss. We can put on — call it, “Reverb Vox Tail.” Okay.

So now, I’m going to select a reverb, and we’re going to automate a reverb. Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Well, it is pretty straightforward. The important thing is that the reverb should be pre-send. Why is that? Well, basically it means that I can turn it up regardless of the volume of the vocal.

So what I could do is like, basically decay the vocal, but have the reverb keep going up because it’s pre-fade. So let’s go to our reverb, and we’ll find the output. Let’s have a listen.


Now, it seems like there’s a hard out there. Let’s find the bass line. Okay, so the bass line is coming in like, an eighth note later. We’re going to go into eighth notes. Yup. There it is, an eighth note later. Here’s the point where the band starts back up, so let’s take the vocal send, turn it up, and have a listen.


Okay. It’s kind of interesting, but it’s not really going in that loud to it. So we could do a couple of things here. I think the first thing we can do is we can strap a little compressor on the outside here, just to bring it up a bit.


Okay, we’ll go for a much, much larger — well, church. How about that.


Great. So we’ve automated the send, let’s have a listen. Pretty tasty. It’s like, subtle moments like that that I’m always looking to do. That we did as a pre-fade send growing into the reverb. Great little trick. Very, very simple. Works wonders.

On a similar ilk, let’s go to the end of the song. So if we listen to the solo at the end of the song here…

[guitar lead]

Now, he’s naturally turning his volume down, which is fantastic, but what we could do is we could go now, we’ll create a new reverb. In fact, because we only use that solo reverb that one section, we just turned it up there, we can use that same reverb. We’ll take it up to where the solo is underneath here, so I can send — or where we’ve been bussing here to 49. So we can send out 31-32 in the solo buss.

This one’s going to be good. So now I can go to pre-fade once again. I can select the solo send buss. Pre-fade. As you can see, it’s turned down. And I’ll turn it up pretty drastically. Put it up to about here. And again, I’ll make it so that it’s getting louder and louder and louder, like so.


Eh, have it decay off this.

Alright. So now what we’ve done is we’ve created this nice reverb that’s just going to come in using the same vocal reverb that we did before, but now on the solo. It’s going to grow and do that. You might ask, “Well, that’s interesting,” well, we can also do it because it’s pre-fade. Now, we can get cleverer and as the reverb on the guitar comes up, we can fade the guitar out.

So here’s the soloed buss. This is where all of the buss — so if I go to the volume of the buss here, I can literally do this. Just turn it way down and actually make it disappear at its loudest point. So where the reverb is at its loudest, guitar is basically disappearing. Listen to this.

[lead guitar with reverb automation]

So the guitar stays pretty much the same volume, but now it becomes all the reverb, and it just feels like he’s going off into the sunset. These are the kind of moments that I look for in a mix to make the mix interesting.


I mean, now that I have the reverb going on its own, I can actually turn up the reverb as well. Not only turning up the send, but turning up the reverb return. So that’s going to get super loud here, when the guitar is essentially out. Have a listen to this.


How awesome is that? It just completely changes up a mix. Now, a mix like this where it’s a metal mix or a heavy rock mix at least, you’ve got like, drums going crazy the whole time, you know, quite often in metal, or at least the heavy rock, the guitar sounds are like, the same all the time. Now, there’s overdubs that come in, but it’s like going hell for leather. You know what I mean? Just right from the get go, and you’re looking for these kind of moments to make your mix sound more exciting.

You can do snare drops, where you boost up the reverb. Let’s see if we can find something like that. Alright, so going into this last chorus here, look at this.


It’s like snare and hat goes together. Which is cool. Let’s make an event out of it. We’ve got a snare verb here, so let’s pick up snare and crank that shnizzle. So I’m just — literally just turning up the automation.


It’s pretty awesome. That’s pretty intense. We’ll come down a little bit.


I think another thing is here, is that we can come in and boost up these kicks. We already did it with other sections. Why don’t we just come in and boost up all of these kicks like such? Okay, and another thing we can do is increase that entrance.


There’s sort of a moment of, “Hmm,” sort of disinterest on that first kick as it comes in. Have a listen.


Because it starts before the rest of the band starts playing. If I look down here, you’ll see that…


It goes, [imitates kick] before everybody else comes in.


So we could automate those kicks even more. We’ve got the big snare coming in. I’ll take these first two hits here and bring them up dramatically. Have a listen to this.

That’s nice. Now, it doesn’t seem like it’s dropping off, because the energy is there the whole time.

There’s a part of me that even wants to hear that muted just for the heck of it.

That was actually kind of cool. So what happens when you start doing this stuff? Now I’ve made that snare huge, I’ve actually now — I tried an automation trick, didn’t like it, muted the drums at that point, and I got this.


And the snare decay of that reverb carries through the gap, so I don’t hear it disappearing as quick.


[laughs] I could go crazy on that. We could go in there and we could decide — really turn up this thing…


So more automation. Okay, so what are we going to do to help that out? Well, here’s our decay time, but it’s only set to 0.7 of a second. One one-thousand, two one-thousand. So basically, it’s not long enough to cover that.

So let’s go in, again, automating a plugin, go into our decay time. Hit okay. Come here, find the decay time on the plugin, and you guessed it! We’ll actually automate it so it increases. And then just disappears and comes right back.

[laughs] That was far too much. Try this.


Pretty tasty.


That was great! Simple things like that. Automating plugins.


That goes with the guitar going, [imitates guitar]. You see, just getting creative like that, automating your plugins, automating reverbs, automating volumes, you know, is just a great way to make things more interesting. It gives you tons of ear candy to listen to.

Alright, so let’s try automating a vocal here. Have a listen to this.


So that’s an interesting one. It goes over the length of a quarter note.


It’s got a little extra — it’s not “be,” it kind of goes [imitates delay]. It actually sounds kind of cool. Now, there’s many millions of things we could do, but why don’t we just try this? I’m just going to create, you guessed it, a new buss, and I’m going to do something fun. Let’s take a mono send. We’re not going to go pre-fade. Don’t need to. Take a mono send. Just come here, and just automate the send.

I just turned it up, so it just sends on that one word. Okay? Now we’ll get a mono delay, because you’re going to see why. Our friend EchoBoy. We’ll make sure the mix is set to 100%. We’ll go to — We’ll go to 16th note. We’ll have a decent amount of feedback. So what have we done? We’ve just automated just on that one word.

Let’s select the tempo, which is 124. Turn up the output.

[vocals with delay]

We’ll go to quarter note.

[vocal with quarter delay]

Nice! Okay, so…

[vocal with quarter delay]

That’s pretty tasty. Very simple. So just automating a send to a delay.


I like that. I’m going to turn the feedback back up. Here’s with the feedback louder.


And of course, if you don’t have an EchoBoy, and you just have a stock delay plugin with just feedback and the ability to set the tempo, that’s all you need! You can do all of the automation in your DAW. This is how you do it in Pro Tools. Obviously, there’s different methods, but what we’re looking for is we’re looking for exciting ways to add some automation and fun effects into our mix to make it stand out from — you know, this really dense mix in this case, but just something ear candy, because once you’ve got something that sounds really good sonically, and it’s slamming, and loud, or whatever it is you’re going for, whether it be a Pop track, all beautiful and open, Country, a roots song, you’re still looking for things to keep people’s interest.

Automation in general, as you can tell, is there for simple things like bringing up kick levels and snare levels and choruses. Bringing up the guitars even in the choruses. Bringing up the vocal as that all comes up, I mean, obvious things to create dynamics. Especially in a rock track like this, where everything is playing like, as I said, hell for — basically, beginning to end.

So you can do all of those things as well, but beyond that, it’s also there for ear candy moments. Things to make it exciting. I’ve just scratched on the surface of a handful of things, but you can go crazy panning things around, doing volume stuff, automating effects, all kinds of fun things.

So as ever, please subscribe, hit the notification bell, you’ll be notified of a new video, and have a marvelous time recording and mixing.


Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at

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