Is Volume Automation Important?

Automation is a huge part of audio production. It makes work easier because it allows us to control specific things automatically.

Back in the day, audio production relied on the use of tape which was pretty much a harder way of producing.

Every control pretty much had to be handled by hand, by the engineer.

Today, we are more privileged with digital audio workstations that allow and give us unlimited options when it comes to automation.

This post will discuss volume automation and its importance because most people ask me so many questions about this topic.

With that said, is volume automation important?

Volume automation is important because it allows you to control the volume level of specific sections in a vocal without altering other sections. Controlling dynamics with compression alone can be tricky especially if there are tricky spots in a vocal that need specific handling like maybe a specific word or part of a word that needs a volume cut or boost.

Volume automation is certainly an invaluable tool and one of the perks that come with digital audio production.

People that know how to use it well, utilize it to make their job easier and to allow for more controlled compression.

Volume automation

The easiest, most accessible method to control volume dynamics in a track is through the using an automation technique called volume level automation.

Volume automation gives you a very close look into the dynamics of your vocals…its a process that will require you to guide the volume fader louder and softer as needed in order to smooth out the apparent sound level produced by a track at any given time.

In most modern digital mixing platforms, this can be done by either recording your manual real-time motions of the volume level fader for a particular track…which is recorded as an automation clip with specified recorded instructions to move the volume fader at certain points.

The second way volume automation is used is by drawing in the instructions for the fader motion in a special volume level automation lane or clip that is associated with the track of interest.

They both produce can produce great results, you should stick with the method that you find the easiest and most convenient.

When you record vocals or an instrument into your DAW, you’re able to see the waveform, more notably the louder and quieter parts. Volume automation can be applied easily in such situations to the various regions that could use a volume boost or volume reduction.

However, not all sounds are the same. 

And its always possible that certain sounds might come across  loud even if they appear to have small waveforms, while other sounds may have large waveforms and produce relatively quiet sounding results.

Therefore its always wise to take time to listen to the entire song or entire vocal in order to know the appropriate points at which volume automation can be used. Rather than simply using your eyes to determine what areas need evening out.

So always take time to listen to the vocal first…

If you put in the time and effort to do this, you will be able to make a very nice, clear, even presentation of sound for each track, which can then all be leveled balanced relative to each other for a well blended natural sounding mix.

Downsides to volume automation

Like any other tool in the digital realm, volume automation has some downsides.

I’m going to discuss a few of these.

Requires experience

The first obvious thing that we have to address is that you can’t just start messing with volume automation if you’ve never done it before.

Because this could end badly and could simply waste your time.

To properly work with volume automation you need to know how to use it and you need some experience behind you because it’s not something easy.

While being a greatly effective tool this is one of the downsides of volume automation.

People that are used to relying on compressors can find it difficult to switch and jump to volume automation.

Can be cumbersome

Automation is great and works very well in audio production. There are various kinds of automation that you can do to affect various parameters.

If you have worked with automation before then you know that it is cumbersome and not an easy job to carry out.

For example, music production… the way people record is different and the way people sound is different.

This means applying volume automation to some vocals may be easy while applying it to other vocals may be difficult and cumbersome.

A person with a dramatic vocal dynamic range will give you a lot to deal with when using automation.

Unless you’re very skilled using automation.

This may be difficult.

Many tracks are a problem

In situations where you have to deal with a lot of tracks in a session, using volume automation can be both cumbersome and time consuming than simply using compression.

Lets face it, not all recording sessions are the same and people record differently.

In sessions where you have over 20 tracks, going per track to apply volume automation can be difficult and a waste of time.

This is one of the downsides to using volume automation.

Unless you have the time and patience to listen to each and every track, decide what parts need volume automation and start to work it in…it can feel a lot of work.

Not all DAW’s are great with volume automation

I’ve spent so much time recording and mixing vocals in different DAWs and one conclusion I’ve come to is that not all DAWs are good for automation.

Therefore, if you only possess the working knowledge of how to use one DAW it can be difficult to use volume automation if the DAW isn’t for lack of a better term “Automation friendly”.

For example, FL Studio requires some work when working with automation. If you don’t have experience working with it, using automation can be difficult.

But then again, it all comes down to preference.