· By Jay Bhalala

A Deep Dive into Automation in Ableton Live and FL Studio for 2023

Automation is a fundamental element in electronic and dance music production, driving creativity and shaping dynamic soundscapes. In the past, mix engineers had to manually adjust faders and knobs to achieve changes in their tracks. Today, with modern digital audio workstations (DAWs), automation has become an integral part of the music production process.

In this guide, we will explore automation in-depth, covering its applications, debunking myths, and understanding its importance in your music production workflow. Whether you're a novice or an experienced producer, automation is a tool that can enhance your music production journey. Let's dive into the world of automation.

Understanding Automation:
As artists, we often have unique ways to describe concepts. When it comes to automation, let's take a look at some definitions:

  • Joshua Ollerton: "Automation allows you to control and manipulate parameters within your DAW to guide the flow and energy in a track, adding variation and depth to your production."
  • Monoverse: "Automation is a means to create organic, evolving movement in music. It empowers producers to intricately sculpt tracks, generating tension and opening doors to creative possibilities."
  • Levi Whalen: "It's a process that enables you to program knob-twisting robots to influence various parameters while you relax with a cup of coffee."

Now, let's clarify some facts and debunk myths about automation:

Fact: Enhancing Listener Experience
Music listeners often have short attention spans. Automation helps maintain engagement by guiding the listener from one section to another, providing clues about what's coming next. Automation is a powerful tool for creating tension, which pleases the listener.

Fact: An Essential Sound Design Tool
While automation is often associated with mixing, it extends to sound design. It simplifies the process of morphing sounds over time, smoothening rough edges, and adjusting amplitudes.

Fact: A Valuable Compositional Aid
Automation blurs the line between composition and mixing. It plays a role in the compositional process, whether you're automating a MIDI effect, transitional effect parameters, or a low-pass filter for a riser.

Fact: A Crucial Mixing Technique
Automation is an indispensable mixing tool. It controls volume, dry/wet ratios, decay times, EQs, filters, and more. While you can avoid automation in mixing, it enhances your mixes.

Myth: Complexity of Use
Automation has become more accessible with advancements in technology and user-friendly interfaces. While it might seem daunting to newer producers, this guide simplifies the process.

Myth: Lack of Necessity
Automation isn't a prerequisite for making music, but it is indispensable for creating captivating and dynamic compositions.

Myth: Requires Advanced Skills
Automation is not a complex concept to grasp. It's easier to understand than compression, phasing, or EQ. New producers should embrace automation from the outset.

In summary, don't hesitate to use automation, even if you're a novice. The sooner you get comfortable with it, the better your music will become.

A Visual Exploration of Automation – Common Types:
Automation comes in various forms, with four primary types: fades and curves, binary, steps, and spikes.

Fades and Curves
Fades and curves are perhaps the most common automation types. They are often used to control parameters like volume, dry/wet levels on effects, ADSR values, EQ and filter settings, and pitch.

Binary Automation
Binary automation provides an instant on/off effect, suitable for controlling parameters like synths and effects, muting/unmuting sounds, highpass and lowpass filtering, and activating synth functions.

Step Automation
Step automation allows for precise control, particularly when changing synth parameters like synced LFO rates or oscillator pitch. It finds applications in transposition, adjusting dry/wet levels on effects, A/B crossover for synths or effects, and synced rhythmic effects in various genres.

Spikes serve as micro-fades or curves, ideal when fades are too gradual, binary is too limited, and steps are too abrupt. They create sharp "tension and release" effects, making them suitable for transitional effects like filters, distortion, reverb, and rapid filter cutoff adjustments.

Harnessing Automation in FL Studio:
Now, let's explore how to use automation in FL Studio.

Creating Automation Clips in FL Studio
In FL Studio, you can automate nearly any parameter. The most common method is to right-click on a parameter and select "Create automation clip." This approach works within FL Studio's sampler, mixer, and most Fruity stock plugins.

For non-Fruity plugins like Vital or Serum, which lack a direct "Create automation clip" option, you can utilize the "Multilink to controllers" feature. Here's how:

  1. Tweak the desired parameter.
  2. Right-click, select "Multilink to controllers," and choose "Create automation clip."

This combination of methods should cover most cases when you want to automate a parameter in FL Studio.

Tips and Tricks for FL Studio Automation
While learning to use automation in FL Studio is straightforward, mastering its full potential is an ongoing journey. Here are some tips and tricks:

  • Setting your automation points: Right-click to create a new automation point, and left-click to adjust it. Right-click on a point to change its shape.
  • Copy-pasting automation values: Right-click an automation point, select "Copy value," and paste it to other points.
  • Create automation for a specific section: Select a section of the track by holding CTRL and dragging across. Any automation you create will fit that section.
  • Create live automation with your MIDI keyboard: Link a parameter to your MIDI keyboard using "Multilink to controllers" or CTRL + J.

Using Automation in Ableton Live:
In Ableton Live, the workflow is slightly different. Here, automation is "hidden" behind your audio and MIDI tracks.

Creating Automation Clips in Ableton Live
To view your automation, click the "Automation mode." This will show all active automation.

To create an automation, right-click any parameter in Ableton Live and select "Show automation." If a red dot appears next to a parameter, that means an automation has been created for it. If multiple automation are created for a device, they will appear as a drop-down menu.

To create an automation for a third-party plugin, simply load it in your Audio effects chain. It will then appear in the Automation drop-down menu, where you can choose which parameter to automate.

Tips and Tricks for Ableton Live Automation
Automation clips in Ableton Live are powerful tools. Here are some useful tips and tricks:

Changing automation shape: Right-click on automation and select different shapes.

Lock automation clip to the arrangement: Enable "Lock Envelopes" to prevent an automation clip from moving when you move a clip.

Simplify automation clips after recording: Right-click on a time selection and choose "Simplify Envelope" to streamline your automation.

The Golden Rule of Automation:
When adding automation, have a clear reason for it. Ask yourself why you're adding automation and how it enhances your track. For example:

  • "I'm adding a highpass fade during this build-up to create tension and impact for the drop."
  • "I need binary automation on this reverb at the end of this phrase to signal a new idea."
  • "I'm using filter cutoff spikes to add movement to this static saw pad."

Having a purpose for automation helps you work efficiently and ensures you don't overdo it.

Thinking Beyond the Norm: Now that you've grasped the basics of automation, start thinking creatively. Consider unconventional uses for automation, such as automating a fade over the entire track. These explorations can lead to original and innovative compositions, enhancing your enjoyment of the music production process.

In Conclusion: Automation is a powerful tool in modern music production, offering endless creative possibilities. Whether you're using FL Studio or Ableton Live, mastering automation can elevate your tracks and captivate your listeners. Embrace automation as an essential component of your music production journey, and let your creativity flow.