Use of Faders in Home Recording Mixing - dummies

By Jeff Strong

Rarely do you set the levels of each instrument at the beginning of the song and fade the various instrument levels up and down throughout the song. For example, you may find that you want the rhythm guitar parts louder during the chorus, or maybe you have a short guitar lick in the second verse that you want to bring up a little in the mix.

To adjust levels during the song, you used to need several hands (or at least one more person to help), and you jumped from one fader to another and constantly made changes to the effect settings while you recorded the final mix.

One mistake and you had to start recording over again. This is no longer the case for most digital recorders because most of them have an automix feature. Automix enables you to record the fader moves and effects changes that happen throughout the mix so that you don’t have to actually move the faders when you record to two tracks.

Depending on your system, you have one of two types of automation features (or both): real-time automation and scene or snapshot automation.

Real-time automation

Real-time automation is also referred to as dynamic automated mixing. This feature allows you to record the fader, panning, effects settings, and other things in real time to each track as the song plays. The advantage of this type of automation is that you can seamlessly get volume changes, and you can record these changes while the song plays.

The disadvantage of real-time automation is that it takes you a while to do, especially if you have a lot of tracks to automate. Real-time automation can also take up a lot of hard-drive space and can tax your processor if you have a complicated mix with lots of tracks, effects, and mixer-setting changes.

Snapshot automation

Snapshot automation involves saving the mixer data at intervals rather than throughout the entire song. To do snapshot automation, just set your mixer (levels, EQ, effects, and so on) the way you want it for a particular section in your song (the verse, for instance) and take a “snapshot” of it.

Whenever you make a mixer move, you take another snapshot, and so on. Snapshot automation can be useful if you have a song without a ton of complex mixer changes. The advantage of snapshot automation is that it takes up a lot less hard-drive space and requires less processor power.

The disadvantage is that it can take much longer to automate the song (you have to program each instance into the mixer), and any complex mixer moves, such as fade-ins and fade-outs, may not sound as smooth.

If you’re going to mix your music and have more than eight tracks, get a system that enables you to do automated mixing. Research the automation features of the system that interests you before you buy it.

For example, a given system may offer real-time automation, but it may tax the system’s processor and add to your song’s file size so quickly that using it becomes more hassle than it’s worth. Likewise, some systems (the Roland VS-1680, for example) don’t allow you to change the effects patch during automation. The more you know about your mixing needs, the better you can tell what automation approach will work for you.