In the modern world of immersive audio capabilities, knowing how to automate mix parameters is essential.
Let me focus on the paradigm shift in the mixing world—immersive audio. It’s been coming quietly for a long time, and I believe it might just survive the bleached-bone-littered landscape of previous multi-channel mixing technology incarnations that were left for dead and never destined for success, like Quad and 5.1 surround sound.
Unless it’s a live recording and you’re being true to the original audience experience, I’ve never really been that enthralled with the “static mixing” mindset—where once the instruments are placed in the stereo field, they never move—as has been the case on the vast majority of records over the last several decades. Especially when one considers immersive audio and the vast amount of possibilities to place and move musical elements of a song in space over time, listening to static mixes seems, well … boring. Granted, my attention span is shorter than a ferret’s on espresso, but c’mon folks, we’re 20-plus years into the new millennium. Onward!
The Good News
With the ever-evolving immersive audio environment and renderers, and breakthroughs in HRTF (head-related transfer function) technology, now more than ever we are able to experience decoded, folded-down 7.1.4 spatial audio mixes in a binaural audio format through a regular pair of headphones (or earbuds). Finally, we’re making progress.
With this in mind, your automation skills need to be on point in order to take full advantage of these new possibilities. This time, I’d like to highlight core types of automation for you to start employing (regardless of your DAW) to add some new dimension within your mixes. Tighten up your belts, the dojo is now open.
All Hands on Deck
I suppose you could say automation has been around and available to mixing engineers since the first time multiple pairs of hands were on a console and engineers were choreographing fader rides as the mix printed. One of my favorite, extreme examples of this is the classic, smash hit “I’m Not in Love” by 10cc, released in 1975. Remember all those gorgeous pads? Those chords were created by having the group sing “ah” multiple times, which created a 48-voice “choir” for each one of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale. With the tape machine looping the 12 tracks of “ah”s, the band rode the console’s volume faders for each track to create the appropriate chord progressions.
By the end of the decade, Brad Plunkett and Dave Harrison’s Flying Faders came online and allowed installed motorized faders to be automated by a dedicated computer. We still use this technology on our Neve 8078 console here at Blackbird Studios.
By the early ’90s, DAWs offered comprehensive automation capabilities within the program itself that spanned from volume and panning to console settings, MIDI data, and now, plugin settings for spatial audio parameters.
Latch or Touch
Let’s start with top-level volume automation choices. These are perhaps the most important to your overall mix, and there are various ways of writing volume automation. DAWs can vary in number of options, but most feature the five following choices: off, write, read, touch, and latch. The first three are very intuitive—don’t play back the automation, write it, or play it back. But what is the difference between “touch” and “latch?” It’s important to know, especially since this can be applied to every kind of automation parameter, such as advanced things like effect sends, MIDI data, and plugin controls that allow every parameter to be automated. I use “touch” for highly nuanced fader rides and “latch” for more general maneuvers.
“Now more than ever, we are able to experience decoded, folded down 7.1.4 spatial audio mixes in a binaural audio format through a regular pair of headphones.”
After your initial “write” pass, “touch” automation plays back any previously written automation and only writes over it when you touch or move the fader, and upon release. It then immediately goes back to reading the previous automation.
In contrast, “latch” reads and writes automation similarly, but once a fader is released, it overwrites any previous automation and stays (or “latches”) at the point where the fader was released. This can be useful if you need to have certain sections higher or lower in volume, or are using effects sends. But remember, as soon as you let go of the fader, it’s going to keep overwriting all previous automation!
Universal Audio’s LUNA DAW adds another level of fine control by adding the “trim” option, which allows you to reduce or increase the overall level of an automation pass while still preserving the underlying automation. This is helpful when you need to do stem bounces, vocal up/vocal down mixes, etc.Now you know the main differences of writing automation and can let your imagination go wild by experimenting with automating every possible parameter available in your DAW—from MIDI to soft synths to all your plugins. Until next time, namaste.
A 4x2 mixer in a compact enclosure which can be used to feed multiple sources into an amplifier or it can be used as a headphone amplifier for quiet rehearsal.
Onalaska, WI (June 7, 2018) -- The brand new QuadraMix from Mattoverse Electronics is a 4 input X 2 output mixer in a compact heavy-duty pedalboard friendly enclosure which can be used to feed multiple sources into a guitar/bass amplifier or as a headphone amplifier for quiet rehearsal. Featuring 2 high-impedance inputs designed for guitar/bass and 2 low-impedance inputs designed for keyboards/synths/drum machines along with enough gain to overdrive either the inputs or outputs, this versatile utility box is sure to find multiple uses in the home studio and in live settings.
- Heavy Duty Off-Board Switchcraft and Neutrik Jacks
- 4 - 1/4” mono inputs each with their own volume control
- Master Volume control with 2 - 1/4” mono outputs
- Compact heavy duty pedalboard friendly enclosure
- High quality offboard jacks from Neutrik and Switchcraft for improved reliability
The QuadraMix sells for a $149 Street Price and will be available in limited quantities directly from Mattoverse Electronics at https://mattoverse.com and through the Mattoverse Electronics Reverb Shop at https://reverb.com/shop/mattoverse
Watch the company's video demo:
For more information:
Learn the sounds of different speaker, mic, and cabinet types.
I got the idea for this column while reviewing Universal Audio's Ox Amp Top Box for the May 2018 issue. Ox is an ingenious hybrid of speaker load box/power attenuator and cabinet/mic/room/effects modeler. You use your regular amp, but instead of miking it, you send a direct signal to the DAW or mixing board. You record the sound of your amp, while Ox simulates speakers, mics, and effects.
Crazy like an Ox. But this column isn't about recording with Ox, but using it as a teaching tool, since Ox lets us isolate each recording parameter. These comparisons may help you make smart choices when recording a hardware amp.
I used one pickup throughout—the bridge humbucker of a parts guitar. The amp is a Fender-flavored Carr Skylark. I chose a clean, bright sound to reveal how these options affect your recording's high end.
Variable 1: Speaker size. In Clip 1 you hear similar phrases played through models of four common speaker types. First comes the sort of 10" speaker you'd find in a small Fender Champ-style combo. Next is the 12" speaker of a midsized Fender-style combo, then a 12" Celestion Greenback you might encounter in a vintage Marshall cabinet, and finally the Celestion Alnico Blue from a vintage Vox combo.
TASTING NOTES: The Celestion speakers sound fatter than the American ones, but the “pointier" American sound might work better in a mix. The 10" speaker may sound small in isolation, but its bright edge can be useful when you have multiple parts competing for attention.
Variable 2: Speaker configuration. In Clip 2 you hear cabinets with varying numbers of speakers. First comes the 1x12 sound of a midsized Fender combo amp. Next is a 2x12 Fender-style cabinet. After that is the distinctive sparkle of a tweed-era 4x10 Fender Bassman. The last phrase is a classic 4x12 Marshall stack with 25-watt Celestion Greenbacks. These sounds represent a single mic on a single speaker, yet you can differentiate single- and multi-speaker cabinets due to leakage from adjacent speakers.
TASTING NOTES: When you add a second speaker, tones acquire texture and detail due to the phase cancellations between speakers. Tones also get more diffuse, with rounder highs and softer focus. Note how the 4x12 Marshall configuration has a muscular low-mid thump that the Fender configurations lack. That's due in part to the closed back of the Marshall cab.
Variable 3: Microphone type. You hear the sounds of six popular amp microphones on a single virtual 12" speaker in Clip 3. First, two dynamic mics: a Shure SM-57 and a fatter-sounding Sennheiser 421. Next come two condensers: a Neumann U 67 and an AKG 414. Finally, two ribbon mics: a modern Royer R-121 and a vintage Beyerdynamic 160.
TASTING NOTES: The dynamic mics have the sharpest, edgiest tones. The condensers have a neutral, full-frequency sound. The ribbons have rounded highs and warm lows. Remember, though, that the prettiest sound isn't always the best choice. Many engineers swear by the relatively harsh Shure SM-57, and not just because you can buy one for less than $100. Its tough, even brittle, edge can shine in aggressive rock mixes.
Variable 4: On-axis vs. off-axis. Off-axis means angling the mic away from the speaker's center towards its edge. Clip 4 features the SM-57 on- and off-axis, the U 67 on- and off-axis, and the R-121 on- and off-axis.
TASTING NOTES: A straight-on mic always provides the strongest impact and widest frequency range. An angled mic can soften a speaker's harsh edge while adding interesting texture. In a multi-speaker cabinet, the off-axis mic tends to pick up more sound from the non-miked speakers, adding additional texture via phase cancellation. And while you only hear two mic positions here (straight on and angled), there are multiple off-axis options, from a barely off-center mic to one pointed toward the speaker's outermost edge. Aim at the center for maximum punch and intensity. Aim toward the edge for slightly softer, more nuanced tones.
In an upcoming column we'll build on this foundation, integrating multiple mics, ambient room sounds, and some stereo options. In the meantime, bear in mind that the “best" sound for one recording might be the worst sound for another. The right choice is always a matter of context.