Automation with Border Security
Thursday, July 31, 2014 22:15
Automation is an essential part of music production regardless if a project is mixed on a mixing console or on the computer using a DAW like Logic Pro. While a mixing console only provides Online Automation where you “record” your mixing steps live like an instrument, a DAW provides the additional convenience of Offline Automation. This lets you edit the automation data graphically or numerically, similar to editing MIDI data.
Among all the tools, workflows, and concepts, in this post I’d like to focus on one important aspect of Offline Automation: “Borders”.
Here is an example of the Volume Automation in Logic Pro compared to a graph known from math class. The graph in Logic Pro describes the value change of a specific parameter (in this case, Volume) and every time you play back your song, Logic Pro performs that change (movement) automatically.
Let me first review the terminology for Automation in Logic Pro:
- ➊ Automation Lane (Graph Area)
- The area that displays the graph (Automation Curve) is called the Automation Lane or Automation Track. You have to enable the Show/Hide Automation Button ➋ in the Menu Bar of the Tracks Window and the Track Automation Button ➌ on the individual Track Header to display the Automation Lane on a specific Track. The Track Lane for that Track then changes to a mini Track Lane with the active Region Header on top which leaves the space below to display the Automation Lane.
- ➍ Timeline (x): The time axis of the graph is already there in Logic Pro. It is the Timeline of your current Project represented by the Ruler on top of the Workspace.
- ➎ Automation Parameter (y): The Volume is only one possible Parameter on a Track that you can automate. Virtually any Parameter on a Track can be automated. That includes the main components on a Channel Strip (Volume, Pan, Sends, Mute, etc.), any parameter of any loaded Plugin (Instrument Plugin, Audio FX Plugin, and MIDI FX Plugin), and also any Onscreen Control of the Smart Controls. The Automation Parameter Button ➎ on the Track Header opens a popup menu with all the available Parameters. Select an item to switch the displayed Automation Curve.
- ➏ Control Points: The red dots on the math graph represent the values of the parameter at a specific time. In math class, these were called the “coordinates”, but Logic Pro calls them “Control Points” or “Automation Points” (other applications use the terms “Nodes” or ‘Keyframes”). These Automation Control Points define the Automation Curve.
- ➐ Automation Curve: Logic Pro automatically connects the Control Points along the Automation Lane, resulting in the Automation Curve starting at the beginning of your Project, all the way to the end. This line represents the change of the Parameter value over time: Staying constant, going up, or going down.
- ➑ Automation Mode: There are four different Automation Modes, Read, Latch, Touch, and Write (if you don’t count “OFF“), that describe a specific Automation behavior (mainly for Online Automation).
- ➒ Automation Value/Trim Field: That little field next to the Automation Parameter Button has multiple functions. It displays the value of the current Automation Parameter at the Playhead Position. Click on it to select the entire Automation Curve. Drag up and down to increase/decrease the Automation curve by 0.1dB increments.
- ➓ Subtracks Disclosure Triangle: This disclosure triangle lets you display additional Automation Lanes for the same Track to view multiple Automation Curves of different Automation Parameters at the same time.
Control Points at predefined Positions
Offline Automation provides a wide variety of commands to manually create Control Points that form the shape of the Automation Curve. You can click anywhere on the Automation Lane. However, sometimes you need a Control Point exactly at the border of a Region, or the current Playhead position, or any other precise location. Although you can click there to create a Control Point, it would not be sample accurate, especially, if you are not zoomed in all the way. In that case, you would use a command that creates a Control Point exactly at that “pre-defined” position.
Logic Pro provides three types of “pre-defined” locations where it can create Control Points:
This is a very versatile command because you have a wide variety of commands that let you place the Playhead to specific locations (Cycle Locators, Markers, Snap Positions, etc.). You can use that to place the Playhead there first and then use the Automation command to place a Control Point exactly at that position.
- Create 1 [or 2] Automation Point each for Volume, Pan, Sends (at Playhead Position)
- Create 1 [or 2] Automation Point for Visible Parameter (at Playhead Position)
Placing Control Points exactly at Region borders is very important as we will see. There are two types of commands:
- Create 1 [or 2] Automation Point at Region Borders (left border of first and right border of last selected Regions)
- Create 1 [or 2] Automation Point at Every Region Borders (left and right border of any selected Region)
Marquee Selection Borders
A Marquee Selection can also be used to quickly create Control Points at its borders by simply clicking on the selection in the Automation Lane.
Create a Pair of Control Points
Please note that Logic Pro provides for those commands the option to create 1 or 2 Control Points at specific borders.
All the commands that are labeled “Create 2 Automation Points …”, refer to a pair of Control Points that are created just one Sample apart. They look as one Control Point and you have to zoom in all the way to see them both.
Why do I need 2 Control Points at the same location?
The following example demonstrates a Guitar Track that has three Regions. These three Regions represent three parts of your song, the Verse, the Bridge, and the Chorus ➊. Let’s assume you want to lower the volume during the Bridge part by manually creating an Automation Curve.
- ➋ You create a new Control Point before the Bridge to set the volume level for the Bridge.
- ➌ When you lower that Control Point, however, you get two unwanted “side effects”. First of all, the Verse now gets gradually lowered up to that Control Point you just moved and the lower level for the Bridge stays at that level, which means, the Chorus also plays at that lower level.
- ➍ In addition to the Control Point before the Bridge, you also create another Control Point after the Bridge.
- ➎ Lowering the Control Point before the Bridge now guarantees that the Chorus stays at its original level, but the Verse still decreases its level and the Bridge increases instead of staying at the lower level.
- ➏ When you lower both Control Points (before and after the Bridge, it keeps the lower level now constant for the Bridge, but again, the level stays there for the Chorus, similar to example ➌.
- ➐ This is the trick that provides the proper solution. You have to create two (!) Control Points before and and two (!) Control Points after the Bridge. These Control Point pairs can be right next to each other.
- ➑ Lowering the Control Point of each pair that is on the “inside” of the Bridge (or lowering the line between those two Control Points, now only lowers the level for the Bridge. As you can see, the other Control Points of the pair next to them guarantee that the Automation Curve before and after the Bridge is not affected.
Move Automation with Region
The data for Track Automation in Logic Pro “belongs” to the entire Track and is independent from any Regions on that Track. Recording, deleting, or moving any Region will not affect any Automation Curve. However, in some cases, when you move a Region to a different position in your song, you might want to have the automation that you created in that location also move with the Region. For that, you have to “tie” the underlying automation data to that Region.
Logic Pro provides an Automation Preference that determines what happens in that case ➊:
- Never move automation data with a Region
- Always move automation data with a Region
- Ask me first before moving a Region ➋
There is even a checkbox named “Include trails, if possible“➌. This option will include automation data that occurs right after the Region that might be important for the Region, i.e. a fade out for a delay effect that happens after the last note recorded on that Region.
You can set this preference in multiple places:
- ➍ Preferences ➤ Automation
- ➎ Main Menu Mix ➤ Move Automation with Regions ➤
- ➏ Shortcut Menu when ctr+clicking on the Automation Lane
- ➐ Key Commands. They are unassigned
Automation with “unsecured Borders”
Here are two examples that demonstrate how your automation data can be messed up when you don’t secure the borders of your Region with one or even better, two Control Points.
Move Region without Automation
I copied the Region ➊ on the left and as you can see, the automation data is not affected. However, this could be problematic. For example, if the original Region had a fade out at the end, then you wouldn’t hear the copied Region ➋ because the Volume is still down ➌. That’s one of the reasons to move the automation data with the Region. However, let’s look at the next example to see what else could happen.
Move Region with Automation
This screenshot shows you the copied Region with automation data ➍. You also can see the effect when the “Include trails, if possible” option is activated. The additional automation data after the right border of the original Region is also added at the end of the copied Region ➎.
Potential Problem: If you look closely at the automation data, then you would realize that the copied Region would NOT sound exactly like the original Region. Although you copied the automation with the Region, the data got messed up. Look at the value of the Volume and Send data at the left border of the original Region ➏. There is no Control Point (the border is “unprotected”). Now look at the left border of the copied Region ➐. Logic added a Control Point at the left border repeating the value of the previous Control Point at that position. That value changes to the value of whatever the first copied Control Point ➑ of the original Region is.
This is one of the reasons to use the command “Create Automation at Region Border” first to guarantee the integrity of the automation inside the boundaries of a Region. If you have a Control Point at the left and right border of the Region, then the automation inside the Region is not effected by the automation data outside the Region.
Whenever you work with automation data, always keep an eye on them, especially if you move stuff around. Also, when you use any Cut or Insert operations in your Project, make sure you “secure the boundaries” around the operation with Control Points which can be easily created by placing the Playhead there and use the command “Create Automation Points for visible Parameter”.
If all this is a bit too much information at once, or you are fairly new to Automation in general, don’t worry, I explain every little detail in my book "Logic Pro X - The Details". Most of the Automation content is also available as a free book "Logic Pro X - Automation".
Graphically Enhanced Manuals (GEM)
Please check out the other books in my best-selling series “Graphically Enhanced Manuals” (GEM) , available as PDF files, interactive multi-touch iBooks on Apple’s iBooks Store, or as printed books on Amazon.
Thanks for your time and interest,