Automate Volumes Using Racks [Download]

Follow

Rafaël Frost

Producer / DJ / Label Owner at Frost Recordings
Follow

Latest posts by Rafaël Frost (see all)

Fader and volume, the perfect marriage. However bring automation into the house and that marriage can fall apart like shattered pieces of glass. Sounds too dramatic? It probably is. When talking about volume and automation, we’re talking about one of the most simple elements in music making, yet so essential and one part you’re probably dealing with most in your productions. Because of this, the following tip can save you a lot of time.

Picture the following scenario; you’re working on a build-up and have a snare-roll with a big reverb and delay on it. Just before it hits the drop you want to introduce a tom fill. To get the most impact, you want to cut off the snare-roll reverb and delay tails to get all the focus on that last tom fill.

It’s kind of a hassle to automate the reverb and delay dry/wet mix knobs of both two devices, so the most obvious choice would automating the volume fader to take all the volume down. All good, but then when you’re at stage of checking mix levels and you are coming to the conclusion that e.g. the snare-roll is a tad too loud. What do you do? You grab for the volume fader to adjust the snare mixing level… err!

Here is where the trouble starts…

Adjusting the volume fader will disable all volume automation you’ve put in for that tom fill, meaning you’re now forced to edit the volume automation for every single level adjustment you want to make on that volume fader. Of course you can throw in a Utility audio effect and adjust the volume from there, but that’s really fixing issues at the wrong end. Let me show you how I tackled this issue using a very simple made audio effect rack which actually comes with a nice extra.

So I when I say a simple rack, it is so simple that there is actually nothing inside it.
Say what? Yes that’s right, when you insert a rack in Live it actually creates a chain for you, with a volume slider. What we’re going to do is map that volume slider to a knob named Volume. Now for any cuts that I want to do, I will automate this Volume knob instead of the track’s volume fader, which I only use to adjust mix levels. The neat bonus is; by having volume control in a rack you’ve also gained to flexibility to control the volume at any point in your audio effects chain. So if you for example want to cut off the release sound of a lead together with a delay but want to keep the reverb tail going. Just put this rack between you delay and reverb and voilà!

So here’s how you do it:

1.) Create an audio or MIDI track and drop in an Audio Effect Rack.

Place an Audio Effect Rack

2.) Right-click inside the empty area and select “Create Chain”.

Create Chain

3.) Click on the Chain List icon.

Enabling the Chain List

4.) Right-Click on the “Chain” volume slider and select “Map to Macro 1”.

Map to a macro knob

The volume is now mapped to a new macro knob, however I prefer to adjust the knob’s value range so that the max value is 0.0db instead of going louder than that. This also makes for easier automation editing, as you then don’t have to tediously align the automation dots exactly at 0.0db. Having the max value at 0.0db you can simply drag automation all the way up.

5.) So to adjust macro knob ranges we have to click the “Map” button which is located in header area of the audio effect rack.

Enter the mapping mode

6.) In the top left of your screen you can now adjust the min and max values. Click on the “Max” volume slider and type 0.0, you can then exit by clicking the “Map” button once again.

Adjusting macro knob ranges

7.) Rename your rack and macro knob to “Volume” or to anything you like and click the top-right icon to save your rack.

Renaming the macro knob

8.) And there you have it, your shiny new Volume rack!


Your new Volume Rack

Nice bonus: place the Volume rack anywhere to control the volume at any point inside your audio effects chain, even after automation or copy the rack onto another track to have the same volume automation applied.

Place & copy the Volume Rack anyhwere you like

Oh and did you know you can put this on any audio or MIDI track and save it as default? This way you don’t have to insert it every time you create a new track. Right-click on any track and select “Save as default Audio or MIDI track”.

Save as Default track setting

That’s it, have fun and don’t forget to leave a comment below!

4 Comments

  1. I can see this being very useful in the latter scenario when you said you wanted to keep an effect like reverb going but remove the source+delay (since utility gains have a -35db limit). With regard to using utility-gains to adjust the source volume of an element in the mix I’m wondering if you can elaborate on why this is not a good idea? Is there a benefit to keeping a channel’s volume close to at at the fader ceiling and balancing your mix with faders? My approach to mixing in-the-box has always been keeping the faders at unity and using utility-gains first in the chain, or audio-source input vol (for audio) to set the balance of elements at or below the volume of my kick, typically -18db. Then I use the faders to do automation during the arrangement. If for one section in my chain I want to use an audio effect at a louder volume (say like a limiter) I can throw gains before & after the effect to bring the volume up going in then back down after to the level it was at before.

    • Hi Nicolas,
      I must confess I always leave faders untouched as well, but this is more an old habit, I am just too afraid to accidentally move a fader. If you’re referring to automating the Utility knob, it’s not an option as it only goes until -35db. If you meant using Utility as a fader, my opinion is that mixer view with faders give you a much clearer overview in one glance of what volumes are set, instead of having to select a track, scrolling to the end of a chain to adjust gain. You also start to see the benefits when using controllers that have access to the mixer view, so you can use knobs/faders to adjust your levels. Another reason is when using a controller such as Push, you every time would have to take extra steps to add new devices before the Utility as opposed to simply pushing the Add Device button. Hope that makes it a bit clearer.

      • Thanks for the reply! I meant using Utility as a fader typically at the beginning of an element’s chain in order to mix at lower volumes…keeping all faders untouched (unity/0db on every fader then representing the loudest an element will get in the mix). Since there is a lot of dynamic range working with high bit rates, the noise floor is much lower, allowing for this practicality. The main reason I ask about mixing lower at the source is with regards to plugin behavior going in at different volumes (the difference between going into a 3rd party limiter already clipping vs adjusting the input gain to get the same reduction). I was wondering if you mix at low volumes and boost everything at the end into your master chain or typically end up with a clipping summation and just run everything hot into your plugins on the master? On a per channel basis as well if you’re entering plugins at volumes close to the fader ceiling/maxing out the channel?

        • I never mix at low volumes, but prepare every channel as much as I can before it goes into the group or master. As such the minimal amount plugins I have on my master don’t have to work so hard. And yes, usually I prepare the channels so the kick/snare, basses and leads are as loud as they can while maintaining dynamics, before they hit the master.

          I’ve just finished an article which will go online this weekend describing a bit more on how a treat my channels and what’s on the master chain.