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A guide to mixing music - Part 111

Automation - A case study

In my opinion, automation is at the core of a well-accomplished mix. And yet, as I have pointed out numerous times, this stage is often neglected by beginners, most certainly due to a lack of understanding of all the ins and outs of it. That's why I will keep bugging you with more articles on the topic in the coming weeks to really drive it home. So we'll start the year with a somewhat peculiar article...

Rock 'n' roll!

As you probably guessed from the title of this chapter, the goal here is to analyze a song from the automation point of view so you can grasp the full extent of its possibilities and, at the same time, realize you don't need to be a rocket scientist to master it. To prove my point I chose this song:

Why this song? Well, because this Metronomy song from 2011 seems to be quite simple at first sight, but it is by no means simplistic. The composition follows a rather unpretentious chord progression and the arrangement doesn't include too many different instruments. However, when it comes to the audio production itself, the producer and/or audio engineer displayed an incredible amount of talent to make the song remain catchy throughout its entire duration. And it's precisely the combination of skill and resourcefulness that make this song a textbook case for today's topic.

Do note however that I have no way to guarantee that my analysis actually corresponds to what went on at the mixing console. As I've already told you before, a good automation should be completely transparent to the listener. Hence, it might turn out that some of the things I will describe later on are in fact the result of specific recording techniques, double tracking, arrangement tricks, or simple editing. Nevertheless, I can assure you that everything I will describe here can be achieved automating the volume, pan, mute, and effects. And actually the real mix is probably a combination of all the production techniques I just mentioned above.

One last remark before we begin: This is by on means a detailed study. I just took note of the things that caught my ear the first couple of times I heard the track. But I think it's more than enough to give you a good idea of what can be achieved with automation.

And that's it for today.

What's that? You wanted more? I did warn you this article was a bit peculiar, didn't I?... And if you go through it again, you'll realize I always referred to my analysis in the future. But since you are so eager to know more, I'll give you some homework for next time! I invite you to analyze the song so you can compare it with my own analysis next time. I think that way the message will come across better. But don't rack your brains, there's no need to torture your ears listening to the song a million times. Just try to discover the things that seem to reveal there is some sort of automation going on and then think about the impact it has on the song. If needed, you can always resort to a couple of tricks I told you about in a previous article.

Have fun and... Happy New Year!