Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools
Illustration by Richard Downs

Automating plug-ins


Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools

with Brian Lee White

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Video: Automating plug-ins

When automating volume and pan isn't enough, sometimes you have to dig deep into your plug-in parameters to get the sound you are looking for. Fortunately, Pro Tools allows you to automate most every plug-in control just with a few extra steps. So let's say I wanted to, for example, automate the EQ on the kick drum to tame out some of this high mid boost here during the Verses. So it's a little softer during the Verse, but it gets a little tackier and brighter on the Choruses to cut through the mix.
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  1. 14m 50s
    1. Welcome
      1m 12s
    2. The past, present, and future of mixing
      6m 20s
    3. Strategies for mixing and mastering
      5m 38s
    4. Using the exercise files
      1m 40s
  2. 40m 24s
    1. Mixing "in the box"
      5m 9s
    2. Setting up the studio: Speakers and acoustics
      13m 12s
    3. Staying organized: Effectively prepping the mix
      10m 50s
    4. Managing system resources during mixdown
      11m 13s
  3. 41m 38s
    1. Introducing the Pro Tools Mixer
      2m 23s
    2. Understanding mixer signal flow
      3m 42s
    3. Using inserts and plug-ins
      7m 4s
    4. Working with plug-in settings
      5m 1s
    5. Using sends and creating FX returns
      6m 55s
    6. Submixing with aux tracks
      4m 30s
    7. Using groups while mixing
      3m 46s
    8. Using master faders effectively
      8m 17s
  4. 21m 12s
    1. Conceptualizing the mix and making a plan
      7m 45s
    2. Using volume and pan to balance the mix
      11m 18s
    3. Knowing when to process: Mix problems vs. mix solutions
      2m 9s
  5. 1h 3m
    1. Understanding the mechanics of sound
      3m 53s
    2. Learning the basics of EQ: Frequency-specific level control
      4m 29s
    3. Using DigiRack EQ III
      16m 3s
    4. EQ strategies in mixing: Corrective vs. creative
      7m 18s
    5. EQ workflow example 1: Kick drum
      5m 39s
    6. EQ workflow example 2: Filtering loops
      5m 10s
    7. EQ workflow example 3: The "telephone" effect
      3m 7s
    8. Mixing tips and tricks for EQ
      17m 36s
  6. 1h 16m
    1. Understanding dynamics and dynamic range
      2m 1s
    2. Working with dynamics processors
      2m 57s
    3. Using the DigiRack Dyn III compressor/limiter
      10m 6s
    4. Balancing and shaping track dynamics
      3m 19s
    5. Using gates and expanders
      9m 23s
    6. Using de-essers to eliminate sibilance
      5m 47s
    7. Dynamics workflow example 1: Vocals
      10m 0s
    8. Dynamics workflow example 2: Drums
      9m 29s
    9. Mixing tips and tricks: Dynamics
      11m 37s
    10. Building parallel or "upward" compression
      7m 53s
    11. Reviewing dynamics concerns: How much is too much?
      3m 28s
  7. 47m 49s
    1. Using time-based effects to add depth and width
      3m 23s
    2. Using DigiRack D-Verb
      14m 27s
    3. Using the DigiRack delays
      9m 18s
    4. Mixing with reverb
      7m 59s
    5. Mixing with delays
      6m 19s
    6. Mixing tips and tricks: Creating mix depth
      6m 23s
  8. 18m 8s
    1. Working with the Creative Collection
      9m 8s
    2. Building distortion and saturation
      9m 0s
  9. 37m 33s
    1. Understanding automation
      4m 10s
    2. Recording real-time automation moves
      7m 6s
    3. Viewing and editing automation
      10m 17s
    4. Automating plug-ins
      7m 36s
    5. Automation strategies for mixing
      8m 24s
  10. 29m 31s
    1. Understanding the characteristics of a great mix
      7m 2s
    2. Working to reference tracks
      4m 35s
    3. Avoiding some common pitfalls
      7m 50s
    4. Building healthy mixing habits
      3m 36s
    5. Crafting your mix from start to finish
      6m 28s
  11. 1h 5m
    1. Understanding mastering
      4m 15s
    2. Bouncing the mix
      7m 9s
    3. Working with general mastering strategies
      8m 50s
    4. Using limiting and compression to maximize track level
      10m 57s
    5. Working with multi-band compression
      7m 9s
    6. Understanding sample rate, bit depth, file formats, and dither
      7m 30s
    7. Using Pro Tools for CD track sequencing
      10m 11s
    8. Compressing audio for the web
      9m 41s
  12. 44m 51s
    1. Tips for evaluating plug-in processors
      6m 51s
    2. Using EQ plug-ins
      5m 35s
    3. Using dynamic compression plug-ins
      11m 3s
    4. Using reverb and delay plug-ins
      10m 46s
    5. Reviewing additional plug-ins
      10m 36s
  13. 57m 18s
    1. Effectively using saturation/analog style effects
      13m 40s
    2. Setting up side chains
      7m 5s
    3. Master buss processing
      5m 34s
    4. Creating and using mix templates
      6m 54s
    5. Surround mixing
      6m 22s
    6. Dealing with plug-in delay and latency
      6m 26s
    7. Drum sample replacing
      11m 17s
  14. 32s
    1. Goodbye

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Watch the Online Video Course Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools
9h 18m Intermediate Aug 20, 2009

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

Once recording and editing are finished, audio engineers can take advantage of the training in Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools to punch up the final output. Digidesign Certified Expert Brian Lee White covers all the basic mixing tools that every producer and engineer should know, from using EQ to add clarity and focus to using compression and limiting to maximize track levels within a mix. Brian stresses the importance of setting up a solid mixing plan prior to any work in Pro Tools, and gives advice on the best plug-ins for each stage of the process. Exercise files accompany the course.

Topics include:
  • Using the Pro Tools Creative Collection to add clarity, punch, width, and depth to a mix
  • Recording real-time automation moves for future replication
  • Building healthy and profitable mixing habits when putting a final mix together
  • Knowing when to process the audio of a track
  • Using saturation effects to capture that "analog" sound
  • Working with limiting and multiband compression during the mastering process
  • Dealing with plug-in delay and latency in a mix
Audio + Music
Pro Tools
Brian Lee White

Automating plug-ins

When automating volume and pan isn't enough, sometimes you have to dig deep into your plug-in parameters to get the sound you are looking for. Fortunately, Pro Tools allows you to automate most every plug-in control just with a few extra steps. So let's say I wanted to, for example, automate the EQ on the kick drum to tame out some of this high mid boost here during the Verses. So it's a little softer during the Verse, but it gets a little tackier and brighter on the Choruses to cut through the mix.

Now if you go to my kick drum in the Edit window and I look at the track view selector, I won't see any of these plug-in parameters in this list. That's because there is an extra step involved for automating plug-ins. So what we are going to do is we are going to need to tell Pro Tools which parameters we want to automate. Now there is a good reason for this. A lot of plug-ins can have dozens of parameters and it would be really confusing if you saw 40 or 50 parameters and how to choose the right one from a list right from the get-go.

So I find it's actually a benefit to actually have to choose which one I want to automate. Now there are two ways I can enable parameters for automation. I can do the long way. Right underneath the word Auto, click on this Automation Enabled window, then I can choose the parameter from this list. So the left side is not automated, the right side is ready to be automated. Now sometimes you don't know exactly what a control is named, because it's not labeled.

In this case, we would want to do High Mid Band Gain. I personally like using the shortcut. Now if I hold down Ctrl+Option+ Command, on the PC that would be Ctrl+Alt+Start, and click on the parameter I want to enable and choose Enable automation for High Mid Band Gain. I'm going to get a little green light that lights up underneath that, letting me know that this is now in Read mode, but it is an automatable parameter. If I look back in that list, I'll see that High-Mid Band Gain has been added.

Now if I go over here to my list on the KickBus, I'm going to suspend my groups and I'm going to switch the KickBus track view selector to EQ3 7-Band High Mid Gain. Now I have a graph here that represents that parameter and that specific plug-in. So now I can go in and automate this parameter. Now what I can do is I can automate it in real-time using one of the Real-Time modes. So I'll make this a little larger and I'll switch this to latch. I want to make sure to go to my Automation window and I'll make sure that plug-in is checked here.

So for real-time automation I want to make sure this is right enabled. Then I'll go ahead and play back the session and what I wanted to do is kind of just pull it down a bit in the Verse. (Music playing) (Male singing: Trouble bound.) (Male singing: We hit the town.) (Male singing: And I'll never forget that sound.) (Male singing: Tonight I fell asleep...) Then I can continue to automate that, push it up, pull it back.

I find that it's probably a little more efficient to put these changes in graphically. So I'm just going to undo that last pass and I'll switch this back to Read. Remember I can leave it on Read, if I'm going to edit the parameters graphically. Now I can just take and select that Verse. An easy way to do that is I'll just click on the first marker and Shift-click on the next. Now I can take the Trimmer tool and I can just pull that down a little bit and I can even go make the change here in the Pre-Chorus, make sure I get that here and maybe it'd be cool to actually have it kind of grow in the Pre-Chorus, or kind of grow with the end here.

Now let's play that back and see how this plug-in reacts. (Music playing) (Male singing: Tonight I fell asleep at the wheel.) (Male singing: I woke up just in time, time just darting down my spine.) (Male singing: So take me...) So automating things like EQ and Compression for the different sections of your song can be very effective.

There can be really subtle changes, but again the goal of automation is we are trying to make the mix continue to be exciting for the listener as the song evolves. So little sonic changes in EQ, maybe changes in the amount of Reverb you are using or Delay, the amount of compression on the different sections, can be really effective. Now if you are going to do a lot of automation of plug-ins, there is a preference that you can setup under Setup > Preferences. In the Mixing tab, I can check the box that says Plug-in Controls Default to Auto Enabled.

When that's checked, whenever I bring up a plug-in, so if I were to insert another plug-in here, say the EQ7 band again, all parameters, see they are all lit up in green and if I went to the Automation Enabled window, I'd see that they are all copied to the right-hand side. So instantly, everything is ready to be automated. Now this can be good, this can be bad. Like I said, there is a lot of things in here that we are not going to need to automate. So I generally like to pick-and-choose. But there is a really quick shortcut to switch the track's view to any specific automation playlist.

So what you can do is let's say I want to switch to Low Mid Frequency Gain. If I hold down Ctrl+Command and click on that parameter, that would be Start+Ctrl on the PC, it's going to switch automatically to that playlist. Again, I can do with the Mid Frequency, Ctrl+Command-click and it switches. So that's really, really effective, if you working in a plug-in that's got a lot of parameters and you want to quickly jump to that parameters automation playlist.

This method of setting up plug-ins for automation is really cool, if you have a control surface and you just want to get right into automating. You just want to be able to put that track into Read and just start tweaking parameters. So there are some considerations when you are working with plug-in automation or when you move a plug-in from one track to another or copy a plug-in. So if I were to copy this by Option+ Dragging or Alt+Dragging on the PC, it's going to copy all that automation. So all the automation is going to go with the plug-in.

Now this can be a good thing or can be a bad thing. So for example, let's say you have one track. You like the plug-in. You like its setting. You copy it over. It's bringing that automation and you might not want that. So what you can do is after you have copied it, you can make a selection on that specific track and use the Edit > Clear Special plug-in automation, if you wanted to clear that out. So just be aware of that and again automating plug-ins is a really cool way to add that little extra punch to your mix and you can get really creative with this.

A lot of the automation that I do on plug-ins is done at the production or arrangement stage when I'm trying to create cool sonic textures that move with the mix.

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