Is Automation a Zero Sum Game?

Discussion in 'Recording 101' started by lastmonk, Apr 6, 2021 at 1:35 PM.

  1. lastmonk

    lastmonk Member

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    Sure, who doesn't want total recall? To be able to pull up a client's mix or master from backups and apply the same fader moves, same panning, same effects. To bring all of the automation lanes back to life at a later date. Of course that's better right? Who would not want that?

    But before we had automation, we had to ride the faders, and pan knobs, and send knobs. And literally no mix was exactly the same. Sometimes, many times, the second and third, or fourth mix was different, and many times better! Sometimes the remix was the difference between a masterpiece and a mediocre song.

    With automation have we lost the spontaneity? Can you imagine if automation was applied to Jazz Solos or Rock Solos. Part of the genius and magic is the improvisation and creativity in the moment. Hearing the same song again but somehow differently brings new magic in the moment. This magic sometimes happens in the process of riding faders and knobs in the moment. New music and new perspectives happen the second, third, or fourth time. Or six months later you might feel differently about the mix or the master and would approach it from a completely different angle if it were not for the backed up automation:(. Can automation throw water on the spark of in-the-moment inspiration that can and has occurred while riding faders and knobs?

    Of course we've gained a lot with automation. Of course we have. But what have we lost? How many potential masterpieces turned out to be just so-so because the magic that would have happened while riding the faders and knobs on the second or third try, didn't happen, because the automation lanes were applied from the first try?

    I literally and recently saw how this could happen, while watching a friend remix a cubase session, and there was a disagreement with the artist about the automation, and so they did part of the mix over from scratch. And the manual redo (riding faders and knobs in the moment) sounded better than the backup versions of the automation:eek:


    Clearly automation is for the best, but...... there can be magic in riding faders and knobs. Maybe we should not be so quick to throw the baby out with the bath water:cool:
  2. Arjan P

    Arjan P Veteran

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    I don't see the issue here.
    1. What is automation? IMO, recording the manual fader and knob movement - and then play it back so you don't have to do it twice. Or, make a perfect fader ride by drawing a straight line from where you were trying to go manually..
    2. If you want to redo from scratch, switch off the 'read' button and do it manually. It's not like manual fader riding is broken once you used automation..

    Now, the ultimate pinnacle of fader riding must be I'm Not In Love by 10cc from 1975. There, the mixing desk actually becomes the instrument! If you don't know the story behind this - still - fantastic sounding record, check it out here:

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  3. lastmonk

    lastmonk Member

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    Exactly the mixing desk becomes an instrument. That's precisely it. But we will eventually get so indoctrinated with automation that we will not turn it off, and we will never do it twice. And sometimes the second time is the charm;)
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  4. Arjan P

    Arjan P Veteran

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    You mean, like Bob Ross said: "We don't have accidents, we only have happy little mistakes." Oops, a stroke of paint from my twitching hand - let's turn it into a tree :)

    I don't know, I prefer planned action over happy little mistakes. Because I don't think they happen that often..
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  5. lastmonk

    lastmonk Member

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    You're right, that doesn't happen often, but when it does.....:) And it depends on who's riding the faders and knobs.

    For some, those faders and knobs are like another instrument in the band. And each time they touch them its like a jazz solo. Something new happens every time. Granted new is not always good:oops:

    But between heavy automation, quantizing, and auto-tune, things are starting to get pretty
    algorithmic and templatized :confused: which I guess is a good thing for the music that's going more for that mass produced sound:LOL:

    But the interesting thing is, even in orchestral music where there is a score and the notes, articulations and dynamics are explicitly marked, each orchestra performs that same score a little differently, and the same orchestra never performs it exactly the same way. The conductor's baton never goes through exactly the same motions on the same symphony. Never!

    I guess I'm from the school where a mix is a living thing. It captures the ideas, passion, creativity, inspiration, mistakes, hopes and risk of the moment in which it occurs. Something about automation just seems to suck the savoir faire right out of the magic:(

    Somehow with automation, quantization, and auto-tune, we're slowly transforming the art of sound recording into a macabre paint by numbers enterprise devoid of any adventure, mystery, surprise and individuality.:cry:

    I suppose that's why I find recording and mixing on my Tascam Portastudio so seductive and refreshing. Its such a raw, basic, no nonsense approach to capturing the musical moment that it almost feels like a natural extension of the performance its capturing. When I'm recording and mixing on my Tascam Portastudio I retain a sense of the beauty and intimacy of the music that I'm working with. I know its all subjective, but for some reason I can't quite put my finger on the automation process just seems to dispense with the urgency of seizing the opportunity:ugeek:
  6. -mjk-

    -mjk- Moderator Staff Member

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    The major benefit of automation is that you spend your time listening rather that making moves. When doing a manual mix, each time you listen back you have to manually do the moves, each time or you're not hearing the real mix. The problem is, you can't hear as well while you're doing those moves. Automation enables the engineer to add the last 2% which is always what makes the difference between something good and something perfect. Not all mixes require automation. If I'm doing an acoustic guitar/vocal track, I just save the console parameters. If I'm mixing something complicated with many channels then automation is indispensable.

    All the automation is doing is capturing what you did. It's not any more or less "spontaneous" than manual mixing. What it is however, is repeatable.

    Oh, I do multiple mixes before I'm all done with a tune. Sometimes, 7 or 8. I listen for things that annoy me and I adjust the mix until those things are gone. Then I see if there is anything I can maximize for a better overall mix. The automation allows me to zero in on the defects and correct them.
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  7. lastmonk

    lastmonk Member

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    Go Automation:LOL:

    Cheers!