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Quick Tip: Creative Volume Automation of Pads

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In the first example, we'll use volume automation to make a flexible sidechain effect, and in the second example, I'll show you how to use creative volume automation to give a track room to breathe. I'm using FL Studio, and these tips are useful for all DAWs.


Step 1: Setup

First, let's have a listen to what we have right now.

If you'd like to learn how to make a sound like this, check out the Reverse Glass Tutorial. But for this tutorial, we'll begin by adding a volume plugin to the mixer track. I'll be using FL Studio's Fruity Balance.

Next, create an automation clip controlling the volume level.


Step 2: Design

Now we have a volume envelope. Let's zoom in on one bar and draw the shape so that it ramps up from 0 to 100 on each beat.

Let's slice this bar and paint it across the playlist to save us the trouble of drawing this shape a lot of times.

Now I'm going to adjust the curve of our fake sidechain. Note that any alterations that are made to one of these automation clips will change the other sliced copies of it.


Step 3: Getting Creative

One of the advantages of drawing a volume envelope rather than using sidechain compression or an LFO is that you have more freedom in adjusting the sound. You could have each beat sound a little bit different if you wanted. In this example, I had the third beat of each bar start later and I adjusted the curve dramatically:

In this next example I had a percussive shape on the first two beats and a sidechain shape on the second two beats. This would be quite difficult to accomplish through sidechain compression or an LFO!


Step 4: Making Room in the Mix

Now that we've seen the basic idea, let's apply it to another situation.

Right now the Pad is playing constantly and it's big enough that it is distracting from the drums and bass. So let's use a volume envelope to give us some space in the mix. I will open a volume plugin and create an automation clip like before, and I will have the sound fade down during the bass wobs and come back up.

One thing I'm thinking is that we can actually turn the volume up on the pad now because it's not competing with the bass.


Step 5: Adjustments

Lastly, I'll make some changes to the shape. I wanted a sharper point at the beginning of each of the bars, and I wanted a more convex curve. I also wanted to move the pad out of the way of the bass.

It's surprising how volume automation can really help a pad fit in with the track. This is useful in a variety of situations and the shape of your volume automation will be different for each song.


Final Thoughts

  • Automation clips can give us the same effect as Sidechaining, but with more freedom.
  • This works great on Pads as well as other instruments like Bass Synths.
  • If you'd like to hear how this sounds in a full track, you can check it out here.
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