Automation is often the difference between a good mix and a great mix. If you’ve ever struggled with a mix where (for example) the snare sounds great in the verse but not in the chorus, then automation is probably the answer. Automation allows you to fine tune just about any element of your mix, enabling you to change volume, panning, EQ and even effects parameters over time. A few common uses for automation include bringing up the lead vocal up a few dB during the chorus, automating EQ shape for the filter sweep effects that are almost ubiquitous in electronic music, or automating panning for effects that add color.
For a pretty obvious example of how you can use automation, check out Taylor Swift “You Belong To Me.” At about :35 you can very clearly hear the drums come way up in the mix, bringing in a lot of energy to compliment the stronger vocal delivery and building up to the chorus at :53. For more advanced applications, listen to “Anaconda” on headphones for some of my personal favorite examples of subtle uses of automation that add dynamics and interest to the song over time– I love how the effects bounce between channels.
A good mix will often have hundreds, if not thousands, of automation moves. For example in rock or metal, drum tones are usually a blend of several layers of samples. The “snare” might be made up of several snare samples: one for the crack, one for the body, one for the ring, and so on. Automation is often used to change the blend of those samples throughout the song, for example bringing up the level of the “crack” sample during the big chorus where the snare needs to cut through more. In electronic music, automating the envelope is the key to your basic rise, slowing bringing up the level of a snare roll for example. Another common use of automation in electronic music is your basic filter sweep in which you automate EQ shape over time to let a sound “emerge” like the “get low, get get low” sample that starts at :22 in DJ Snake “Get Low” and builds into the drop.
In this clip from his class “Intro To Logic Pro X,” veteran producer Travis Kasperbauer explains the basics of automation in Logic Pro X. The first thing to understand are the different modes of automation, which have weird names that are based on how analog consoles work and naming conventions from 50+ years ago. It’s not as complicated as it sounds: in read mode, the automation is simply played back. Any moves you make to the faders aren’t recorded. In write mode, any moves you make instantly and permanently overwrite whatever automation was there before– use with caution. Latch mode is probably the most intuitive despite having the weirdest name: whatever parameter you are working with simply stays at the level of the last move you made until you change it. And finally we have touch mode, which is the same as latch except that the parameter snaps back to it’s original value as soon as you let go of the fader, as if there was a rubber band on it.
Watch this clip to see each mode in action: