An introduction to automation

Alright all,

This post is intended NOT as a full guide to the specifics of automating plugins in a given program, although of course, all examples will be made with Cubase SX, cos that's what I use. If you use something else, tough titties. Grin Stuff that is in Cubase that may or may not be in other apps will be marked with a *, in what is a rare case of me being vaguely organised. I also won't be dealing with the nitty gritty of editing automation, that's a whole tutorial by itself Neutral So just RTFM about trim, x-over, autolatch automation modes and all that shit.


What is automation?

Automation is the means by which on screen control/knob movements can be recorded, played back and edited. This allows you to get that euphoric trance saw lead to filter up just in time for the kick roll to absolute perfection. Err, for example.

Sounds good, I'm always twiddling my knob.


Oops How's it done then?

In today's sequencers, there are, generally speaking, two ways of controlling, or automating, adjustable parameters.

These are:

1) Midi continuous controllers (cc's)

2) VST automation

The overall outcome of the two is essentially indistinguishable, however the method you use depends upon the plugin you wish to automate. Some plugins respond to midi cc's only, some only to VST automation, and seom to both.

1) Midi cc's.

These are essentially the 'old' way of doing it - they were traditionally used to control external instruments (along with SysEx, which we will leave well alone).

Midi cc's are message sent from, say, a midi track in order to transmit changes in the state of a given parameter. That is to say that they can control switches (on/off) or 'continuous' controls, like knobs/sliders. There 128 midi controllers (plus pitchbend and one or two others as I recall Oops ). Each of these has 128 possible values - 0 to 127. So there will be 128 possible states for a given controller - plenty for most applications (smoothing is or can be applied in most plugins to prevent 'stepping' on rapid changes).

There are several factors to take into account when using midi cc's to control onscreen parameters.

Firstly is whether the plugin you are dealing with has static or dynamic cc allocation. Some plugins have each knob 'hardwired' to a specific midi cc. One of the most common is the filter cutoff, 'traditionally' assigned to cc74 (also called brightness, for obvious reasons).

In to control plugins such as these by midi cc, you need to find out the cc number of the controls you wish to automate. This is usually found in a midi implementation chart in the manual (hahaha like you lot have the manuals).

NOTE: The other way to do it is set up a midi track with the VST as an input, hit record, wiggle the knob and see which number it is. However, be warned that some VST plugins do NOT appear as midi input devices. Native Instruments tend to do this, fwiw, which is nice.

However, if the knob you want to twiddle is cc number, say, 22, and none of your controller knobs on your keyboard are set to 22, you have to reassign a knob to cc22. Not that bad but a REAL pain on things like M-audio keyboards (unless they have improved the way it does it since I tried).

Much better is dynamic cc allocation - usually achieved by using 'midi learn'. Midi learn sets the control you are dealing with to 'listen' to the incoming midi data, and then respond to the controller it hears. Obviously it is important that only one cc is playing to avoid schizophrenic knobs Teef

So to do this, it is a matter of setting the plugin to learn from midi, then twiddling, then stopping midi learn. This is much better as the cc re-assignment is done in the software rather than you having to fanny about with your controller.

CC's in practice.

Okay, we have our plugin all ready, we can see the various knobs move according to what we do on our controller keyboard. Happy days.

Now it is simply a matter of assigning a midi track to record the information.

IMPORTANT: It is often MUCH wiser to set up a separate track for midi cc automation, so that you can edit the automation and the notes entirely separately. *If you wish to see both, then just select both and double click, they'll open in the same editor window. Good for making sure that sweep ends just so, etc etc.*

Once you have recorded the information, play it back. Do your knobs move? Yes? Happy days.

Ah, but that bit isn't quite right Mad So we need to edit it. * To do this, open the part the midi was recorded into. at the bottom is the 'controller lane' - probably showing velocity. If you right click in the grey area just to the left of the controller lane, you can select 'Create New Controller Lane'. This means you can see several controllers at once Smile Now if, on one of the lanes, you wish to see the controllers you recorded, simply click the drop down box for that lane, and any parameters with information on - ie the ones you just recorded - will have an asterisk by them. Select that and it will show in the lane.*

In the event that you don't have a controller keyboard handy, and the VST does not transmit midi, despair not. You can also do it by drawing the desired/required cc in. *Be aware that the selection of cc's for viewing is reduced for convenience. So if you need to automate cc28, but it doesn't show in the list meaning (you can't draw the bastard in), use the lane setup to put cc28 in the visible list, select it, and draw away.*

Be warned: midi cc editing can be lots and lots of fun and take hours of your life.

Happy days pal, nice one. But I wanted to automate this cheesey flanger, I tried all that and i can't get a midi track to transmit midi cc's to it, it doesn't show up as a legitimate midi output Grumble

Okkkaaayyy, now we have to use the other one:

VST Automation.

The basic principles are the same here, in that the knobs on screen follow the auotmation. Erm, obviously. Grin

The foundation and implementation are different though.

Each VST plugin has a list of controls that are available for automation purposes. Unlike midi cc's, these are also capable of showing NAMES for that control. In 99% of cases, these control allocations are static (Reaktor being a notable exception, although I vastly prefer using cc's in Reaktor).

So to make these things move - as if by magic - what do we do?

Well, as with cc's, we can 'record' the movements of the knobs, made by mouse moving the knob on screen in this case. This is (I think in all applications) called WRITING automation.

You can also simply find the parameter in the (often MASSIVE) list of available controls for that plugin, then draw in some kind of crazy shit and watch that knob twiddle.

Which ever method you use, unlike midi cc's, the plugin MUST be set to READ the automation you have written. *Turn on the Green 'R' button.*

VST automation in practice:

First we will do some writing. Goodness, how exciting! Teef

So, say we have an audio track, say with a Blade Runner sample on, with that lovely cheesey wwowoowowwooww flanger on it. We want to mess with the 'mix' knob, so that we can control whether the signal is dry, or wowowowified, as we desire.

1) Hit stop
2) Open flanger control panel
3) Hit 'W' button to enter WRITE mode
4) Press play. Now twiddle that mix knob as you want. You are effectively 'recording' what you do.
5) When you're done, hit stop.
6) Turn off WRITE, turn on READ
7) put back to start and have a listen.

You're the greatest! Watch that knob do exactly what you did, as if moved by some ethereal unseen hand. Teef

But: Pissbollocks. You ballsed it up a bit and it needs editing. Now where the FUCK do you get that stuff you just did up on screen for editing?

* 1) In project window, click the audio track you wrote on.

2) Click the little '+' button at the bottom left of it. A new automation track folds out underneath. This will probably show you the parameter you just messed with.

3) If it doesn't (the rules that govern this escape me at the mo, not in front of SX), then it will be showing Volume. Where it says volume on the left, click that. Now you'll see the list of available parameters for that audio track, including all the inserts' parameters raa raa raa.

4) At the top of that list will be any parameters that have automation information, marked with an asterisk. There should only be one here, the mix control that you messed with. Click that, and presto - your written information is there in all it's blue linear glory. Edit as desired (watch the snapping though!). *

* Something VERY IMPORTANT and worthy of note for Cubase users, some notes about VST vs VSTi automation in Cubase...

Automation data for VST effects, as applied on an output channel (ie audio channel, VST output channel, group channels etc) in the mixer, is found in the automation tracks as described above. That is to say that the relevant output channel in the mixer will be represented in your project window by a track, on which you can click the little + sign to access all you automation goodness. This is obviously very straightforward for audio tracks.

Slightly more complicated are those for group tracks, which behave in exactly the same way, but which GENERALLY (!) live in a folder track, to keep them out of harm's way. To access those, you need to click the + on the Group Channels folder track, then the + on the relevant group's track (you can do it on the main track for that group, without hitting +, as there is no audio info in the way on these tracks. That is to say it is not always essential to fold out an automation subtrack).

Most complicated of all - and something that is markedly different in Cubase and Logic, are VST instruments (VSTi's). I AM NOT GETTING INTO A DEBATE ON THE MERITS OF EACH APPROACH HERE (both have their benefits, but fwiw I find SX's way ultimately more flexible for my needs Grin Oops ).

In Cubase, when you make a new VSTi, it gives you TWO tracks. YES TWO TRACKS.

These are to be found in the VST Instruments folder track that is created when you make a VSTi for the first time in a project.


Yes, two tracks.

1) To automate controls ON THE INSTRUMENT ITSELF


Note: Multi-output instruments will have a track for every output channel, so in theory creating one VSTi can result in having a shitload of tracks appear. naming the ones you will use is the way Wink Also, putting unused into a folder called 'SHIT' or something helps keep things tidy.

Okay, so 1) makes the knobs on your synth/sampler etc move - and has the same name as the VSTi. It also has a little keyboard 'show VSTi' button on it, which helps for recognition (as well as getting the bapstid to pop up).

And 2) behaves the same as an audio track, as described above.

So when writing automation on the VSTi, that is, twiddling synth knobs, data will appear on the VSTi track.

When writing automation for say, the flanger on the SOUND COMING OUT of the synth/sampler (say, a Blade Runner sample), it will appear on the audio output automation track.

This matter often causes confusion, so get that striaght in your head. The info going INTO the synth or sampler (ie knob control movements) is DISTINCT and SEPARATE from controlling the sound coming out of the instrument.*


Fire away.

[Image: protabl3.gif]
Don Cherry Wrote:Every human is blessed in her or his life with one love (passion), no matter how long it may last. This Absolute love will last in one's heart and soul forever.



top notch stuff chief!

started farting around will all this recentley, so there's a good few handy shortcuts there!!


well done Macc.

and yeah - most of what you said applies in Logic too in case anyone needs to know. Wink

macc Wrote:also, putting unused into a folder called 'shit' or something helps keep things tidy.

this is the type of stuff i should pay more project windows are usually embarrassingly messy and disorganised.

anyhoo......noice juan macc! Xyxthumbs
Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creative!" 

cheers man i knew a fair bit but still a load of good tips and new stuff

you really should consider (maybe) writing a book, when youre not writing tunes/ninjaing/working/posting.... or maybe some articles for like future music or sound on sound. you can submit articles on the sos site i know, not sure about the others. But FM and CM are based more at beginners, and this would be a great introduction. Youve got a good style of writing to explain things, youll have to change it a bit so non-sc people can understand Teef and youll get paid. Now youre 'famous' as well!

printed off this and the other two while works paying !

Cheers man



dodz Wrote:this is the type of stuff i should pay more project windows are usually embarrassingly messy and disorganised.

anyhoo......noice juan macc! Xyxthumbs

aye, and you can show some initiative withthe names too...

past classics include 'cockhead', 'shitty mcshitshit' and simply 'piss' (a perennial favourite).
[Image: protabl3.gif]
Don Cherry Wrote:Every human is blessed in her or his life with one love (passion), no matter how long it may last. This Absolute love will last in one's heart and soul forever.

nice one macc!!!!

ur a true leg-end Xyxthumbs
u HAVE 2 SEE where its BEEN, in order to TAKE IT where its GOIN.

didnt read all yet !!!!! big up for all the work

nice one macc!

awesome dude, party on.


good work, expanded on what i'd already tried so that's just lovely. thanks for taking the time on that bob. Xyxthumbs

Macc Wrote:Sounds good, I'm always twiddling my knob.


Nice one macc!
[Insert signature here]

thanks once again

gotta read this one l8r
Macc - big up!

hello backpacker Wave

id forgotten this forum was here Hahaha

good stuff cos where would our music b without automation

cheers Cool

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