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Mix tip #5

Automate, I mean automate a lot actually. Even more than you’d think is necessary. First it might seem a bit counterintuitive, but after a bit of practice, you’ll be surprised how your mix flow improves. Without any specifics this advice may seem too obvious but useless, so I’ll just quickly mention a few possibilities that can make your life easier during the mix.
In this short mix tip I’ll try to be concise, so let’s say intermediate knowledge in automation is required here, but I promise it won’t be rocket science.

Effect automation

Many times I see and receive sessions that has so many different reverbs it take considerable amount of time to decipher the original intention. And in 99,9% many instantiated reverbs are just doing one very tiny thing or a specific spot effect at one place, hence you don’t really need them (well, most of the time). I mean of course you need the thing they do, but you don’t need to insert one more reverb for every minute thing. Instead of this, grab your mouse or controller and start automate the existing ones.

For example if you need a special fx at a spot, take a look at your existing reverbs. Is there any of them which doesn’t do a thing at that particular moment? If by any chance there is, then don’t insert just another plugin, grab the one which isn’t on duty and make your special effect from that one. At first it might seem easier to insert just another one, but with that kind of thinking you’ll end up with a highly complicated bloated session, not to mention that every time you do this you put more stress on your machine.

In Pro Tools, with Preview Automation you can change every parameter only for that tiny spot. After the magic happened, you’ll have your original state back.
So what is Preview Automation ?
Well, simply put: at its root it let’s you experiment without ruining your existing settings, and once you’re satisfied with what you hear, you can commit the changes to the selected area.

automation window

The fastest and easiest way to achieve this is to use preview automation:

  1. You have your basic settings
  2. Select the area where you want your special effect
  3. Make sure that your track is automation enabled (latch, touch or latch/touch/trim mode) and also that your plugin parameters are enabled for automation too
  4. Switch on preview automation in the automation panel
  5. Tweak the settings until you end up with the desired effect
  6. Hit Punch automation preview and write the changes to the selection
  7. bonus step: if you need the very same effect somewhere else in the session, just highlight the area where you need it, hit punch automation preview again and write to selection again, you’ll end up with the very same thing you’ve just created at the original place.

Congratulations, you’ve just saved an additional bus and a reverb.

EQ automation

Let’s say we have a concert show recording ( I mix many these days) where the main vocalist sings (pretty obvious) but also tell stories and announce things between the songs. The problem is, the singing and the speech has quite different qualities. You might easily find that the speech is much lower in volume, the voice’s timbre can be drastically different and because singing is a hard job, he/she might speak with overly presented “p” “b” sounds as he/she try to catch her breath for example. The result is, you need one EQ setting during the songs and another one for the speech. One method is to chop up the lead track and split it to VOX and ANNOUNCE channel, but this can be time consuming. The easier solution is to use the power of automation again. You need to perform the very same steps outlined above, the only difference is now you do it on your EQ plugin.
Highlight one speech area, adjust your EQ in preview mode, then apply the new settings to all the speech areas and you’re done. After one or two occasions you become so efficient at this that going through the whole show like this would only take 10 or 20 minutes and all your announcements will be just fine.

And the beauty of preview automation is that it only separates the parameters that you touch, so all other thing remains intact. This also means if you need to have different setting on the compressor or on any other plugin, just perform the same steps and you’ll be ready much faster than before.
The most important thing to remember is: preview automation only changes the parameters you tweak, leaves every other thing in their original state. I know I told this before, but this why it is so useful. You don’t have to worry about your existing things.

Endless possibilities

Once you figure out how to deal with preview mode, it is definitely addictive. In no time you’ll find yourself automating the hell out of your mixes which is a very good thing.


Some of the healthy benefits will be:
* You’ll use less plugins, which means that your DAW will have more power for special things instead of wasting your CPU power to mundane tasks
* Your sessions will be much more organised as you won’t have a thousand plugins, each doing one small thing
* Soon you’ll be an automation ninja, which means your mixes will flow faster with less effort, which ultimately leads to the most important thing: you’ll spend more time with the SOUND instead of searching, organising, etc.

If you’re not sure about this, or afraid to test it with your current payed session, set up a test session and practice. Once you comfortably execute the steps in your tests, you can start use your automation knowledge in the real sessions. If you happen to be a brave guy who don’t want to practise but want to use it at once, for your own sake, make a SAVE AS, or SAVE COPY IN so you’ll have a safety backup.