Most of the time when I receive amateur mixes for mastering, one of the main issues seems to be that there is little or no automation used. When it is paired with an overall static arrangement – the kind when every element is full on right from the beginning of the song, and remains that way all the way to the end – it usually results in a pretty boring and often fatiguing listening experience.
While correcting arrangement problems are a bit of a bigger task, especially when something wasn’t recorded live, you can certainly give your music greater dynamics with some well thought out automation; or you can simply automate the living shite out of your tracks, and call it a day. That would probably be the safest thing to do, and you would end up with the best, most exciting sounding results.
Let’s go through some of the more obvious points where you could (and often should) use automation:
- – when you recorded parts longer than necessary, use the mute button, to avoid the “everything is always on” experience
- – let the verses “breathe” by muting or pulling down the levels of certain elements, so the choruses can have more of an impact on the listener
- – alternatively, you can turn up certain parts in the choruses (usually, but not exclusively the lead elements, like vocals)
- – change the tone of certain things during the choruses, for example bass guitar, rhythm elements, or snare, with the use of EQ, distortion/saturation or other effects
- – change the amount of reverb/delay during the verses and choruses (you will often meet songs where the verses are dryer than the choruses, but by all means, make your own rules); as well as in the intros and the outros (they are often drier and more intimate than the rest of the music)
- – change the stereo position and width of certain elements and/or their reverbs throughout the song
- – ride the level of certain elements, like lead vocals or the drum bus into the compressor
- – gradually increase the level of the mix from beginning to end, to give a feeling of constant “growth” to the listener
- – if you have an “everything is always on” recording, change it up by introducing gradually more and more elements throughout the song, also make them sound more and more dirty (distorted) and/or distant/big
To sum it all up, use automation as an artistic and aesthetic tool, and enjoy the process. That way your music will be a joy to master, and to listen to as well.