Being Guided By Your Ears Not Your Eyes

With current DAW software, we have unlimited ability to use automation to hone aspects of sound to a micro level.  And, there is a huge difference in the detail of automation that’s possible today, even compared to relatively recent advancements in hardware technology (like flying faders on consoles)… these days it’s simple to setup unlimited complex routings of automation, based not just on user defined curves and patterns, but fed by audio from other tracks and sound sources.

The screen shot below shows a section of the Reaper project for ‘Cantana 1‘… this is the automation on a single reverse cymbal swell in  part of the track, and is automating volume and pan, plus the frequency and gain of a high-shelf filter.  Typically I would have at least 2 or 3 such sounds in parallel, at 20-30 different places throughout the track.

being-guided-by-your-ears-not-your-eyes-1

As with many technological improvements though, endlessly flexible automation can be a blessing and a curse.  Recently I’ve found that although being able to automate sound changes in such fine detail can make it easier to achieve highly professional-sounding productions, having such a detailed visual representation of automations can lead you to have an over-dependence on visual cues, and stop just using your ears and listening.  I find this particularly with creating the automation on incidentals like that in the screen shot above… having a visual instinct that automation curves should be linear or evenly progressive, and then tending to let that instinct override whether that type of curve actually sounds right or not in context.  The ‘shape’ of automation at a given point should be driven by the other sounds at that point, and not by having a curve which looks ‘nice’.

I find this also when auditioning parts of tracks and watching the main ‘arrange’ page of a DAW… it’s very easy to anticipate changes and parts that are coming up by their depiction on this screen, and this can prevent you from having an objective, and listener-centric opinion on those parts and changes.

I’ve also read countless interviews with pro producers in Sound on Sound and online who say similar things, and often try and switch off DAW screens when tracking and mixing to avoid this.

As this year’s progressed, and I’ve trusted my ears more and more, I’ve started becoming much more aware of how distracting visual cues in a DAW can be, and tried to more and more ignore them, and focus solely on what I’m hearing.

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