Automate as little as possible
There’s an implicit subtext in yesterday’s post about splitting out tracks that I would like to make explicit:
It’s a great idea, whenever possible, to avoid automation!
To be clear: automation is amazing, I do it a ton, and often it’s the only way to achieve the sounds in your head.
But there are some situations where automation can become a quagmire, and those are the ones that it’s good to avoid.
This is well illustrated with yesterday’s example of a lead vocal that needs to sound one way in the verses and another way in the choruses. Let’s say for example that the differences between the verse lead vocal and the chorus lead vocal need to be roughly as follows:
a bit louder
a bit less reverb
a bit more delay
Now imagine that you’re trying to accomplish this with automation, in a song with two verses and three choruses. You would have to make precise automations as follows:
C1 vocal volume up a bit
C2 vocal volume up a bit
C3 vocal volume up a bit
C1 reverb down a bit
C2 reverb down a bit
C3 reverb down a bit
C1 delay up a bit
C2 delay up a bit
C3 delay up a bit
That’s nine automations that you have to draw in! Which is already a lot. But wait — do you ever get a level change precisely right on the first guess? I definitely don’t; it always takes me a good deal of listening and refining until I get it just right. If your experience is similar, this means that you’ll be doing these nine automation changes over and over and over until you get them right. This can quickly turn into a time-consuming and frustrating mini-nightmare!
When, instead, you could have simply separated out the chorus lead vocal onto a separate track. And then all you’re doing is nudging that one track’s volume, reverb send, and delay send until things are sitting right. So simple, so quick.
And if you want the third chorus to be different from the first two, just split it out again onto its own separate track and tweak that track.
When I tend to use automation the most is in two situations: special fx moments (e.g., a little delay splash on one word) and finishing level automations (e.g., riding the vocal from moment to moment to make sure no syllables get lost).
But when it’s a whole section that wants to be a bit different, I make sure to avoid automation — because I know it has the potential to quickly turn into a management nightmare.
Just because you can doesn’t always mean you should — jamie