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Fader Automation vs. Gain Editing

Hey guys, :)

So lately I have been moving away from compression/limiting plugins in my mixing, and other methods to even my mixes out, without squashing the transients and losing definition and clarity. Basically, I do some of the work manually, so that the compressor doesn't have to work as hard- a pretty common technique. I really have two methods that I've been using in Cubase. I will use lead vocals for an example:

1) Chopping up the vocal line with the split tool, and raising the gain (or would this be considered volume? :/ ) on the low parts that I want to pop more, and lowering it on the parts where the singer was closer to the mic, or sang louder, or just stand out a little too much. I then crossfade the audio clips.
Pros: makes the volume change before it hits the effects chain, right? And therefore it would make more sense to make the volume changes before it reaches the compressor.
Cons: you end up with a vocal track that is all chopped up and ugly, and the crossfades are problematic and time consuming.
2) Doing the same thing, but with fader automation.
Pros: more seamless and easier to change/edit/fix later on.
Cons: you are making volume adjustments on the way out of the signal chain. I see this as a con because your signal would hit the compressor harder and more often, right? And that's what this technique is trying to avoid.

I expect that the answer to this question, like the answers to most questions of this nature, is a matter of preference. It all depends on the sound you are going for. But I'm interested to see which method you guys do. So far, I prefer #1, but I am unsure of myself, because I have seen pro engineers use method #2, and refer to this concept as "Fader Automation," not editing.

Pax Caritas et lol,


TheJackAttack Sun, 01/20/2013 - 20:37
Fader automation would be the preferred way to do this. If you have a control surface you can have the DAW "learn" as you ride faders through a song. Otherwise you just draw in your points and adjust. Splitting is just a very messy way to accomplish what your seeming intent is.

Now, compression is a tool that is utilized NOT just to make a track louder. It can also "tighten" up a track or tighten just certain frequency bands of a track. Even in classical music we utilize light compression.

ClarkJaman Sun, 01/20/2013 - 20:51
TheJackAttack, post: 399307 wrote: Fader automation would be the preferred way to do this

Good. That's kinda what I thought. But that means that the manual automation doesn't happen until after the effects chain, right? That still seems counterintuitive to me for some reason. Isn't the whole point of this to dodge the compressor plugin?

TheJackAttack, post: 399307 wrote: Now, compression is a tool that is utilized NOT just to make a track louder. It can also "tighten" up a track or tighten just certain frequency bands of a track. Even in classical music we utilize light compression.

Absolutely. But lately I've been realizing that layering on the compression plugins isn't always the best way to louden and smoothen a track. That's why I am exploring these manual techniques.

I think I might just do some external controls surface window shopping right now. :P


TheJackAttack Sun, 01/20/2013 - 20:59
No, you can do your fader automation prior to the FX. You just need to choose pre fade or post fade in your stick. Also, some FX plugs allow automation as well. You are correct that layering compression plugs isn't something to be desired. It can often happen that several instances of compression occur but it should be well reasoned and not just for perceived volume. While limiting and compression are shades of the same thing, limiting is sometimes the answer vice compression. The great thing about a DAW is being able to try something, save the mixdown(s) and listen back on another system for A/B comparisons.

TheJackAttack Sun, 01/20/2013 - 21:16
Not necessarily. One can also send the track to a bus track. Apply your compression/limiting to the bus track while you ride your automation at the original stick. It is also possible to use parallel processing. That is where you allow the original stick to go to a master fader (or other bus) as well as apply a "send" pre or post fader to an fx bus.

In a computer there are many roads to Rome. They may not all lead there but you don't know until you try it.

ClarkJaman Mon, 01/21/2013 - 19:34
I just tried this on lead vocals and hated it. It wasn't sounding very smooth, so I bounced the track to see what it would look like, and just by looking at it you can tell that it's even worse than it was before. lol. It's probably just that I need practice. But I am definitely switching back to my old method. I like it better because you can see the volume changes right there on the track, you don't have to set up any complicated routing junk, and I'm already really good at it. :P

TheJackAttack Mon, 01/21/2013 - 20:00
Mixing takes practice, period. Automation is definitely the art to practice. One does have to practice. Once one has a good grasp of it, automation points can be drawn in by hand very quickly. In several DAW's the automation "lanes" can be expanded separate from the individual track. Of course it is easier on my 55" HDTV to see. A grasp of compression/limiting is harder to master. One tends to intellectually understand it far sooner than being able to spin virtual dials. Read post #4 in the following link.

RemyRAD Mon, 01/21/2013 - 20:47
I've done a lot of live for FM and television broadcasts along with live albums. Most everything gets recorded with some kind of compression and/or limiting and EQ. Some of my technique has had to change as I've gone through different consoles. But I've always used some compression and/or limiting when cutting vocals. It's necessary. And during the mix, in spite of the fact that the vocal track may have some compression and/or limiting, we still vary the level for a dynamic mix. This is called riding level which can be done manually by hand, through fader automation of the old-fashioned variety or level changes through handlebar adjustments in software or through a control surface interface that can automate those level changes in software. And then sometimes, you don't need to ride the vocal levels much at all. This has nothing to do with naturalness or clarity but a good dynamic mix. A dynamic mix means that you are actually riding the levels one way or another for the mix. Mixing is not a static process, it's a dynamic process which has nothing to do with dynamic range. Although it does affect the dynamics of the mix. And that terminology can confuse a lot of people. Because a dynamic mix does not necessarily denote dynamic range. And most pop recordings are rife with a lot of compression on a lot of stuff. And then you ride the levels on the mix. And what about those times when the client wants you to mix through a stereo bus compressor? I don't normally mix like that but I'm used to that from my days in FM radio. And you're mixing technique then varies when you monitor post bus compressor. And where my stereo bus compressor is the studio version of the original Orban FM OPTi-Mod, broadband limiter. If they want three band spectral processing, I use a pair of tricked up Dolby 361's, noise reduction units without the 430 controller. You can do all that with screwdrivers without the controller. And that presents more of that dense FM like processing without the use of peak clippers, matrixes and stereo generators. And that's the stuff I usually do after the mix and of which, you can't do live unless you do it live. Generally, the radio Station processing also completely clobbers whatever you do. So it was only for a couple of FM broadcasts that I was asked to use a stereo bus limiter before it hit the real-time digital coder. Dynamic range processing increases density and allows fine control.

You do the rest.
Mx. Remy Ann David


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