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How to Record: Basic Automation in Pro Tools (Lesson 13)

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How to Record - Lesson 13: Basic Automation in Pro Tools - Warren Huart: Produce Like A Pro
How to Record - Lesson 13: Basic Automation in Pro Tools - Warren Huart: Produce Like A Pro - youtube Video
Hi, it’s Warren Huart here. Hope you’re doing marvelously well, and today is lesson number 13. We’re going to talk about basic automation in Pro Tools. This is a really basic lesson, I’m sure lots of you are going to sort of go, β€œOh, next,” because you already know this, but we’re just going to talk about volume, mute, panning automation, etcetera. How to find it in Pro Tools and how to use it.

Okay, as ever, please subscribe. Go to and sign up for the mail list and you’ll get a bunch of free goodies. You’ll get some drum samples, you’ll get some behind the scenes footage, and of course, you’ll get notifications on all the little competitions we run, etcetera.

So let’s get started. So I’m just going to take a song that we worked on the other day with Billy Sheehan called Bitter Reaction, sung by a guy called Mark Loughman, and I’m just going to take a guitar part here and we’re just going to look at the different things that you can do with automation in Pro Tools.

Okay. Alright, so here I have a β€” like a trashy, Pete Townsend guitar. Let’s have a listen to it in context, I’ll give it a little bit of pre-roll.


So all it is is this.


Just a trashy kind of guitar that adds some chaos to the beginning of it there. Okay, so let’s do a couple of things. Let’s try some volume automation. So if you see here, where I’m hovering over, see the track is highlighted, if you go underneath, it says waveform, and there’s a little triangle here to the right-hand side. Click on the triangle, and you’ll see there are all of our different options. There’s volume, volume trim, mute, and pan.

Those are all of our automations. The first one, volume is where we’re going to go to first. I’ll explain what volume trim is in a moment. Okay, so let’s got to the volume here, and let’s just β€” we’re in Grid at the moment, and if you go up to the top here, you’ll see Grid, and we’re set to eighth notes. So let’s just do a trim of volume ride on it.

So what we could do is we could pull it down like this. So what I did, I’ll do it slowly. What I’m doing here is I’m highlighting a grid section like that, and then going to my second tool here. If you look up here, go to my second tool.

Okay, there’s multiple ways to get to the trim tool. See, here we’ve got the zoomer tool, here’s the trimmer tool. So to get to there, let’s take it off there for a second, there’s the Selector tool. You can go β€” the old school way was to go Command+2. Let’s go back to this.

You can now do it by hitting F6, and that will toggle through the tools. F6, F7, and F8 for the Grabber. So let’s go back to F6. So that’s your quick keys.

There’s also an all-in-one tool, which I don’t personally use, but which you can use to get through all three. If you push any two of six, seven, and eight together like this, they link. So that’s pushing say, what I did here was do six and seven. They now link, and you see, depending on how β€” see, if I move my tool up high, it goes to the trim tool, if I goes down low, it goes where I can highlight it like this. Go up high like this and I can pull it down. So that’s the Smart Tool.

I’m going to go out of the Smart Tool, because it’s not what I normally use. Let’s undo it. Okay, so once again, I’m going to highlight a nice eighth note area. I’m going to go to my Trim tool and pull it down. You see, I’ve now gone on/off. Now, I can highlight a quarter note, and if I do Option+R, I can do like, 23, and that’s a repeat function. Option+R is repeat. Hit Okay for 23, and you’ll see it’s repeated it.

Now, the only thing for that is it’ll be a very hard on and off for the volume. Let’s have a listen.

[guitar, automated volume]

Which is kind of cool. It’s very Pete Townsend. It sounds like he’s moving between on and off pickups.

[guitar, automated volume]

Let’s hear it in the track.


It’s kind of cool. To be honest, eighth notes are not as effective, so what we could do is I’m just hitting the Z button here for undo, go up to our grid, let’s go to sixteenth notes, and let’s just take the same thing, highlighting the sixteenth note, pull that down, and then I’m highlighting an eighth note’s worth of information. I’m going to hit Option+R. Still 23. Need a little bit more, or we can just do Option+R and just do 1, and that will just repeat what we just did.

Let’s have a listen to that.


So it’s kind of cool. It’s very Pete Townsend. It’s a little harsh for me, so why don’t we try something else? Let’s take a sixteenth note, pull it down, and then what I’m going to do is I’m going to go to my Grabber tool β€” so my Grabber tool is up here, you can hit F8 to get it, and then you see, I’m going to hit here, and I’m just going to click on it with the option tool. I’ll undo it so you can see that again. I’m hitting Z. So I’m holding down Option on my left hand, see a little minus sign comes up? Then I’m clicking on it and it undoes that point. Now what I’ve got is a nice, much softer on/off.

So what I’m going to do on the other side is I’m going to click here and I’m going to pull this down like that. See what I did? So I clicked just on the other side, I’m grabbing it, and I’m pulling it down with the Grabber tool.

Okay, so now what I have is a much softer version of a volume ride. I’m zooming out, I’m using the R button to zoom out. This is the R button. Using quick keys. Making sure quick keys is enabled by hitting the A-Z button here, so enable quick keys with the A-Z button.

Okay, so now I’m going to highlight that section, and I’m going to do Option+R again, and let’s do 23 again just for shnits and shniggles. Let’s solo this and have a listen.

[guitar, automated]

It’s kind of cool. Now, if I highlight this area here, I can just do Option+R, 1, great. It’s giving us a little piece here, so let’s get rid of that. So if you’ve got a little bit of automation that’s written accidentally like this, what you can do is get your grabber tool and just click on it with the Option for the minus, and it disappears.

Alright, so let’s go through all of that one more time, just so it’s sunk in. Okay.

So for volume automation. What I’ve done is I’m in sixteenth note. I am highlighting a section. So I’m clicking using the β€” this tool up here, which is our selector tool. We can get to our selector tool by hitting F7, by hitting Command+3, or just by simply clicking on it here.

Or, you can hit F6 or F7, or F7 or F8, any pair of the F6 through 8 and get to the Smart Tool. So if I’m in the Smart Tool, I can now highlight β€” see up there? There’s the Trim, but if I go down, it’s the selector tool. I’m clicking and I’m dragging across. So I’m clicking and dragging across. Now I’ve highlighted that section.

Now, see, I’ve moved the cursor up. Now it’s turned into the trim tool. Now I’m dragging it down. Now I’m going low down here, and it’s turned into the Grabber tool. Now I’m hitting Option, and you see, just a little minus sign came up, and I’m going to click on that little automation point that you see here, and boom. Off it goes.

Okay, so now, in the β€” with the β€” to get to the Grabber tool, I’m holding Command. This isn’t the Smart Tool, remember? We’re in the Smart Tool. I’m going to hit on there and it’s putting a point. Now, with the Command, I’m going to grab it and pull it down.

Great. So now highlighting that section, now I’m highlighting an eighth note, two sixteenth notes in a row, I’m highlighting it and I’m hitting Option+R, and I’m going to make that 40, just to be safe. Hit okay, and now we have volume automation.

[guitar, volume automated]

Let’s quickly hear it in the track.


Now okay, it sounds good. It’s not as aloud as I want it, because it’s β€” you know, there’s only a small peak here now, so how do we get around that? So if you’re in HD, you have the luxury of HD, you’ve got volume trim. So you could do β€” go to volume trim and then select the whole thing like this, highlight it, and then turn the whole thing up. Just bring it up like, maybe 3dB.


So that’s in HD. There’s a million different things we can do if we’re not in HD. We could go and grab, say, a gain control under other here. The Trim control under other.


Great. Okay, so that’s basic volume automation. Let’s get rid of that for a second, and now let’s try some panning. Okay, we’ll go back into solo, we go back to here, we’re now going to go to our pan control here, and we’re going to do exactly the same thing.

So what I’m doing is I’m highlighting a section in the sixteenth note, like that, I’m getting my Trim tool, I’m pulling it down, I’m going to get the Grabber tool on this side here and pull it up, and let’s have a listen to this. So Option+R, again, 40 is good, and now we’ve got some panning.

[guitar, panning automated]

That’s pretty insane. Okay, so that’s kind of silly. That’s a hard left, hard right pan. Okay, so it’s cool. It’s probably going to be quite silly in the track. Let’s have a listen.


I probably wouldn’t use that, but it’s kind of fun. It takes the guitar and makes it almost sound like a keyboard. So that’s one thing that you can do. Okay, so let’s be a little bit more gentle. So I’m undoing this with the Z button. So let’s try β€” let’s try taking eighth note sections. So I’ve highlighted an eighth note here, and we’ll pull that down, and then let’s pull this eighth note up here, and let’s just try this.

So what we’re going to do is something a lot more gentle. I’m going to my Option button here, I’m on the Grabber tool,and I’m clicking there. I’m going to take my Grabber tool here, and pull this down here, and now I’ve highlighted that whole section. Now I’m going to do the same thing, 20 will be enough. Now we’ve got a much softer pan going on.

[guitar, soft pan]


Which is probably a lot more in keeping with the guitar part. So let’s have a listen.


Cool. So there’s your basic pan automation. You could combine that with volume automation as well, but that would probably be a little nutty. But there you go. That’s pan automation, volume automation, now the mute automation, I honestly very rarely use, because I don’t look at my waveforms in automation. I look at them like this.

You see where I’m highlighting here? This is how I look at my waveforms. I don’t look at them with the automation on, and the problem I find with mute automation is I might not know that it’s on. It might accidentally be left on from a previous mix, but if you did want to automate your mutes, it’s exactly the same thing. You highlight a section like this, you take the Trimmer tool, and it’s muted. So you’ll get this.


You know, we can take a bigger section to illustrate.


You see what it’s doing? It’s turning the mute on and off.

[guitar, mute automated]

I don’t like it. I don’t like to use it. I mean, I’m sure there’s instances where you might need it, but I personally never use it, and I get a little frustrated when I open up a mix of somebody else’s stuff, and I don’t know, but there’s all these different mute automations going on. It’s much easier personally to just do this. Let’s go back to waveform, like this. If we really wanted to mute something, highlight it here. You know, I do this. I do Copy/Paste on itself. So I’ll do C, V. See what it’s done? It’s separated it out. Then I hit Command+M and I muted it.


So if I just wanted to mute, I’d rather do it like this, because 99% of the time, we’re working in waveforms view so we can see the form, so that way, I know there is a mute going on, and if I don’t want it, I can just highlight it, I can hit Apple+H, and I can heal it. So I’d much rather have it visually available to me while I’m mixing, you know, using waveforms rather than using mute as an automation point.

I think if I was doing β€” I know why people would want to do that. I think post-production guys, when they’re doing a lot of mixing of different voices with music are probably the opposite. They’re almost entirely in automation. In fact, I know they are, I have friends that are production sound guys.

So what they will do is they’ll have like, two or three pieces of dialogue going on and music, and they’re actually viewing everything in automation. They don’t compress vocals to get them louder, they literally just turn them up. So they automate all of the speech and the music and everything.

So they’ll probably use it like that, but for us in Rock and Roll, maybe there’s a couple of instances it makes sense, but for me, I don’t personally like it. If I’m going to mute something, I grey it out and I mute it, and then I can tell it’s muted and it’s not a surprise. The track doesn’t just suddenly mute in the middle of the lead vocal, which has happened to me before when I’ve received other mixes.

Okay, so that’s all the basic stuff there. Now if you’ll notice, we’re entirely in Grid. Now, Grid is available up here. There’s Relative Grid and Grid. The difference between Grid and Relative Grid, this is absolute Grid and Relative Grid, Relative Grid is literally, if I take a piece at random, and I want to preserve the feel. I’m just going to talk about this briefly.

Here’s the bass line. Let’s have a listen. Let’s go back. Here’s this great bass line.


I don’t need to change it, but let’s just say I wanted to. Now, I can obviously, if I want to copy this one and put it over here, I could just literally highlight it in Grid, like this, and copy it over here.

You say that’s pretty simple, and that is a way to do it. Let’s go to Slip up here, which is a non-Grid mode. If I highlighted a section here, see it’s not on the Grid? If I go to Relative Grid, I can take that piece β€” see, if I get my Grabber tool, see here, it’s got the cut tool? Now if I cut it, I’m holding down Option and cutting it, and I’m moving it. See what it’s doing? It’s staying relative to the grid every single place I move it.

Does that make sense? So basically, it just clicks. It’s literally just snapping. So it’s β€” it doesn’t have to be exactly on a grid mark. It can be behind, it can be in front, it can be a little bit of a vocal phrase you want to move around if you’re in Relative Grid and not absolute Grid, you can just swing it and put it over here, and it will stay β€” it will maintain its relationship.

So that’s what Relative Grid is good for. It’s good for literally dragging and dropping things, moving them around. You don’t have to cut to a Grid point. You can edit exactly the way you want it to be, and then just move it. Okay.

Any questions about that, please leave them down below. Okay, so let’s try one last thing. Let’s automate our sends. Now here, it’s just a scratch vocal, so we’ve only got a couple of reverbs going on, but let’s try some fun stuff. Here’s the vocal.


So let’s take the β€œPrayers,” and let’s try β€” he’s saying prayers, so let’s make it cathedral like. So here’s your plate, here’s the section.

[vocals, adjusting reverb]

Let’s go here to our buss 3 and 4. We have a level. So we can send more to it there. So what I did is I went to my Grabber tool. See, I hit a point on here and created it. Let’s go here. Let’s just pick it up and grab it like this.

So I’m sending a little bit more to it. It’s not much going on there, so now what I’m going to do is highlight a similar area here on my plate, and grab. There you go.

Now, my tiled room and my plate are grouped together, so both reverbs are coming up. So let’s have a listen and see what we’ve created.


Cool. It’s nice. It’s just prayers, a little bit of extra reverb, cathedral like. So that’s basic send automation. So, you see, I went to my buss 3 and 4, which is up here, so if I hit buss 3 and 4 here, watch it, you’ll see the automation working.


Great. So that is literally selected in the same place as our other automation. So we’re starting off in waveform, we’ll do it one more time. We’ll go down to buss send 3 and 4, we hit level. So let’s try something else. Let us setup a delay. So I’m going to create a new auxiliary. So I’ll go Shift+Command+N. I’m going to go Command, stereo, using the arrow key to the right hand side of the keyboard. I use the right hand arrow, and that created a stereo one.

Now Command, go down, auxiliary input. Now I just hit Return to create. Let’s put it into solo safe. Let’s call it β€œVox delay.” Let’s choose β€” let’s just choose a generic Digidesign/Avid delay. What do they have here? Medium delay? Okay, so stereo delay. So one set to eighths β€” so it’s set with one at sixteenths and one at eighths.

Let us now set the input to a buss. Say, 81 and 82. So now let’s create a buss send from Pro Tools. We’re going to use the buss I just created. Okay, and now let’s find it here. Here’s 81, 82. Let’s go to pan. Let’s highlight a section here and let’s go for a whole eight note and pan like this. Go back to my Grabber tool, hit there, go back to my Trim tool, pull down. Let’s just do 3 of those.

And let’s see what we’ve got.

[vocals with delay automation]

Cool. Let’s bring the feedback up.


So it’s just making our β€” it’s hitting our delay differently left to right, and it’s giving it a little bit of width. You can use ping pong delays for that, but this is one of the things you can do with it.


Now what I’m going to do is I’m going to go to my actual send level here… I’m actually going to turn it down everywhere and then only turn it up on this phrase.

[vocals, adjusting delay automation]

Alright, nice creepy moment under the word prayers. Let’s see what it sounds like.


Okay, and I’m going to bring the overall verbs down. We’ll listen again.


Cool. Okay, great, so that’s some basic send automation you can do. There’s plenty of fun things you can do, you know, sending pans and stuff like that to different effects.

Thanks ever so much for watching. As ever, please subscribe, go to, and sign up for the email lists, and get some free goodies, like samples and sessions to edit, and mix, and all that kind of fun stuff, and I look forward to any of your comments and questions. Please leave them below. I love having the discussions that we have, and I learn a lot as well.

So thank you ever so much for watching, and I’ll see you next time.


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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