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can anyone tell me some of the intricacies of console automation? some guy told me that automation has in effect been around since the 70's, but i question who between the 70's and 90's (before music died so to speak and digi took over) used serious automation (either form of it), and how much does one end up using it? maybe it's just becuase i don't understand a lot of the logic in having 96 tracks or feeling like 32 is too few for that matter.

i realize some of the usage of it is going to depend on your editing and your possible recording situation, but can anyone just share some general insight with me about automation? another reason i question it is because it's really one of the only things that draws me towards a console per se. as oddball as it is, i really like john hardy's argument for using say 24 seperate pre's and a handful of good outboard EQ's for the reason that consoles need maintenance and are generally more noisy having all those components on a massive block of copper ground wire and what not (not to mention if say you DON'T use the EQ or seriously use the automation elements, you are degrading your signal for nothing)

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Cucco Mon, 05/07/2007 - 08:20

A history of console automation and its advantages and disadvantages - that's called a Master's Thesis. I'll give you my personal experiences with analog automation and my thoughts on the subject, but that's all I can offer.

My first experiences with console automation involved a large board (64 inputs) which used MIDI as its means for automation signals. Basically, there was a computer attached to the mixer which allowed a send/receive of MIDI data which was generated by touching anything on the console. (Well...not ANYTHING - faders and a few buttons.) The trouble was - everything had to be sync'ed correctly, the computer was noisy (and crashed often).

The main purposes for us to use automation (this was a live console - used for shows and concert recording) was to perform automated mutes. We didn't do much gain riding using automated faders. I'm sure that there are folks who do, but we were not doing post mixing most of the time.

Anyway - for folks with a 24 track reel-to-reel or many of them ganged together, this was a great arrangement. Set your gains appropriately during recording, the feed back into the console with a sync signal to your MIDI computer and mix. Making minor tweaks was never too difficult. That, of course, was back in the day when a console was played much like a musical instrument!

Personally, I am not a fan of consoles. I don't have the opinion that many people do that you need multiple flavors of preamps. In fact, my thoughts are simple - if you have to rely on your preamps for flavor, you're using the wrong mic, the wrong room or the wrong talent. I personally like the consistency of one variety of quality pre. However, consoles are a B!TCH to maitain and since most people are unwilling nowadays to crack the hood on the console, you have to send it out. To me, it's just a giant waste.

If you like automation, getting a Mackie Control Universal and the appropriate number of faders is a GREAT idea. Add to that a rack of nice pres and maybe a good EQ and a couple good compressors then some nice plug-ins, you'll have everything you could ever want.



Link555 Mon, 05/07/2007 - 14:40

I had problems with the Mackie Control unit and Nuendo. I sold my MCU because of it. I am a fan of automation, but I think I am one of the weird ones, who don’t mind the mouse. So more often than not I don't need a control interface for my daw. I have in the past mixed a song or two on a large SSL console that had automation. It was a lot of fun to see the faders flying'. But in the end I think, for what I typically do, I could do it without automation. Nice to have but not essential.

hueseph Mon, 05/07/2007 - 15:36

With the older consoles where noise was an issue, it was nice be be able to use fader and or mute automation on tracks when they weren't in use. The more tracks you have up, the more noise. This is, of course, all about the mix and not recording per se.

In regards to "playing" the console: those were the days when mixing really was an art. Not that it's any less of an art today. Co-ordinating fades and planning the mix process was an excersize in choreography. Seriously. You could really work up a sweat. Both out of stress and just from moving around.

This is where automation makes things so much easier. You can plan your fades, write them to an automation "track" and play it back. No more running. No more need for two or more engineers to run the faders. No sweat.

I still use automation but more in the box now.

anonymous Mon, 05/07/2007 - 16:30

in other words you guys are saying that just in general, either way (analog or digital) you use automation a considerable amount

maybe a historic synopsis was the wrong idea, i just meant vaguely how many professionals say in the 80's and early 90's used automation, and did the guys in the 70's just use the type out of automation in which the faders don't move, i forget what it's called (VCA or whatever)

bwmac Tue, 05/08/2007 - 07:51

I have enjoyed your post everyone. What a great read.

I only have a small home studio and have never had the pleasure of helping run a large console,
but with hueseph's post my eyes were opened as to how labor intensive it could be.

Yesterday I was working on a new tune that I was putting together, and
at certain points i wanted the bass guitar louder to do a duel with the lead.
So I installed a volume envelope on the bass track to raise and lower the level automatically.

I am fully digital with a small mixer and max out with
recording 3 separate channels at once. (limited sound card)
Now this is only 3 tracks down so far (drum, bass, guitar) and
If I had to remember where those tracks needed to be increased
and had 3 or 4 tracks to increase or decrease simultaneously,
I can see how one could work up a sweat if you could even keep up.

Maybe I won't go analog

moonbaby Tue, 05/08/2007 - 10:25

MIDI?! PCs?!? What a bunch of spoiled youth!?!? :lol:
Automation started off in the 70s when studios wanted to re-set the board between sessions and had reverted to using Polaroid snapshots-hence the term 'snapshot automation'- taken of the desk's control settings. Then this dude named Paul Buff (Allison Research) used VCA-type technology, tied to the lovely logic-assisted relays in the MCI boards to do some recall. Mainly to switch sources (mics, tape, lines) for the Tracking, O-Dubbing, and Mixing modes without having to flip a crapload of switches, and to reproduce fader moves. What a Godsend...and a headache. Very quirky and touchy technology back then. Then SSL took it to a whole new level when they started to build mixers that could record the pipe organs they were upgrading (that's what SSL started off doing). The rest is history...

anonymous Tue, 05/08/2007 - 13:39

how often do you think you end up using it though? yeah sure it depends on what you're actually doing, but how much of a hassle would it be to not have it when mixing 32 tracks of rock and roll? did alan parsons use automation on pink floyd, just curious? can you give me some big name guys who did use it?

hueseph Tue, 05/08/2007 - 14:36

Unless you're working on a strictly analog rig, you probably have it already. Most if not all DAWs have some sort of automation.

Did the big boys use automation? Why not if it was available to them? Flying faders was a feature on many of the high-end consoles in the 80's/90's.

Would it be a pain to mix 32 channels without automation? Not necessarily. Not at all if you plan on leaving all the faders up for the entire project but that is rarely if ever the case. Would it be more labour intensive. Yes. Some might argue that this adds a more organic feel to the mix but that's debatable. Sometimes it's a slip of the finger that makes the difference between a good mix and a classic mix.

Having automation certainly makes the mixing process more consitent. Smoother fades. More precise mutes. If you're the only one behind the console, it sure makes life easier.

hueseph Tue, 05/08/2007 - 17:37

andshesbuyingastairway wrote: yes, of course i'm talking about analog. why on earth would i be talking about digital?

Because 90% of the audio world uses digital or a combination of digital and analog devices. Digital media/analog mixer/analog and digital processing/analog tape to digital media.

There are few if any studios that still work entirely with analog gear. If you're one of the very few that can even afford the gear, much less the maintenance of that gear, you must be either doing incredibly well or are just incredibly well off.

Davedog Tue, 05/08/2007 - 17:39

And then there was that little company called....errr.....Automated Process.....Their faders were on little motors and you could watch em move without touching the board. WEEEE!!!!! Coupled with the fact that these consoles sounding like GODS rock band just laid down some tracks, these were the rooms that really cranked out some big time recordings.

In the old days as was pointed out, you might have the first engineer, the second, two band members and the cleaning lady all making fader moves that were 'rehearsed' before hand. Things could get a touch dicey at these times....not only were all involved in a relatively small area, but each was trying to do their respective jobs whilst also trying to keep an eye on their own part. For most sessions like this, it was a wise idea NOT to give everyone their own faders of their own parts.....Although I'm sure that this situation is where the phrase...."Everythings louder than everything else" came into being.