Working with Automation

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Automation is a powerful tool for customizing the sound of your project. You can use it to do tasks as simple as automating a volume knob (moving the volume levels up and down as the song progresses), or as complex as varying the sound of an instrument, its effects settings, and even the tempo of the entire song. Almost any GUI control can be automated allowing for very powerful control of your song.

Contents

What can be Automated?[edit]

The list of controls that can be automated is vast, as can be seen from this automatable list on the Automation Editor manual page.

Song-global Automation and Automation Tracks[edit]

There are 3 ways to automate a control: Song-global automation, Automation tracks and using a Controller in a rack.

Song-global automation[edit]

Song-global automation is a way to automate a control directly without using an automation track inserted in song-editor. You right-click a control and select Edit song-global automation. The default Automation Editor will open and allow you to automate the control. For Song-global automation, the bar numbers shown in the Automation Editor window are the same as the bar numbers of the song starting at bar #1. If you want to automate a change for a control at bar #7 in the song, you should do that at bar #7 in the Automation Editor. When you close the Automation Editor window, you have no indicators that this control has any automated actions attached. This is important! Especially if you have used a midi-import, or a file from an other user. If you expirience strange behavior, then it is quite often due to hidden Global-autoamtion! If you want to remove a song global automation, you can achieve that by right-clicking the control again and selecting Remove song-global automation.

Automation Tracks[edit]

Automation Tracks are tracks that you can add to the Song Editor or the Beat + Bassline Editor. You can create blocks in the automation track. Then, you can connect controls to a block within the automation track. If you double-click a block that has a connected control, and it will open in the Automation Editor. Unlike Song-global automation, the bar numbers shown in the Automation Editor do not correspond to the bar numbers in the song. Instead, they are relative to the automation block's start position in the track. For example, if an automation block begins at bar #4 in the song, then bar #1 in the Automation Editor corresponds to bar #4 in the song.

Song-Editor Automation Tracks[edit]

You can add an Automation Track t by clicking the Add automation (Add automation 1.1.0.PNG) button. Then you can add an empty block by clicking in an empty bar in the track.



Instrument automation tracks & editor.

Then, to automate a control using your new automation track, Ctrl+drag any automatable control into a block in the new automation track. If your automation block that already controls 1 or more controls, when you Ctrl+drag another control into the block, the second control becomes controlled by that automation block too. You can also Ctrl+drag a different control into a different bar or block of the same automation track. For a specific block in an automation track, you can see all the controls it automates by right-clicking the block in the Song-Editor; the Connections menu will be listed at the bottom. The "Connections" context menu item gives you the option to release (disconnect) a connected control from a block.

The right-click context menu of a block offers standard tools like delete, cut, copy, paste, mute/unmute, clear, and rename. To edit the automation within a block, double-click on the automation track block to open it in the Automation Editor. To draw the automation function, just click on the graph to create points as seen in the image above. Then you can choose different interpolation functions.


The image below is an example of automating a Beat+Bassline instrument using a Song-Editor automation track. The Automation track is connected to the base note control in the Audiofile Processor plugin for "kick_distorted01.ogg". The automation track moves the base note control up and down the plugin's keyboard thereby varying the key of the kick drum 4 times in a span of 12 bars.
Beat/Bassline automation track & editor.
Beat/Bassline automation track & editor.

Automation Examples[edit]

Fading in[edit]

One of the most common uses of automation is to gradually increase the volume of an element, so that it fades in instead of starting abruptly. To do this:

  1. Create an automation track.
  2. Hold ctrl and click and drag the volume knob or slider of your element onto the automation track.
  3. Open the automation editor.
  4. Create the starting point at 0 and the end point at 100, as shown in the image below. You may want to zoom in to precisely set the second point to 100.
  5. Set the interpolation to either linear or cubic, and you should get a smooth line between your start and end volumes.
  6. Now the automation is done, the fading in will happen when the automation clip is triggered.
Volume fade-in using automation track & editor.
Volume fade-in using automation track & editor.

Adding expression[edit]

You can automate the Master Tempo control to slow down as the performance approaches the end of a phrase (a Rallentando or Ritardando) and have it resume its pace immediately afterward. This gives your song expression, as if a live piano player were emphasising that section. The tempo automation graph looks like a single "negative" sawtooth pattern.

Automate tempo for Rallentando.
Automate tempo for Rallentando.

Eighties Acid Style[edit]

The Acid House and Acid Trance movements were famous for using the Roland TB303 to play a repetitive melody and and then varying the filter cutoff frequency (and other envelope parameters) to change the sound over the length of the song. Because of the repetitive nature of the melody you might be tempted to use a Beat/Bassline track to store the melody, but any automation in the Beat+Bassline Editor repeats as the beat pattern repeats instead of changing continuously throughout the song.

Example files:


First, create a new track in the Song-Editor using any instrument, put a bar of notes in it, and then make that bar repetitive by copying it to create 24 total bars. In the example project file, I opened the bar in the Piano Roll, copied bar #1, and pasted it 3 times to create a 4-bar phrase. Back in the Song-Editor, I copied that 4-bar block, and pasted it 5 times to get six 4-bar blocks (= 24 total bars).

Next, add an Automation Track to the Song-Editor.

Acid filter setup.
Acid filter setup.

Next, open the instrument's plugin settings window and select the Env/LFO tab:

  1. Turn on the Filter section,
  2. Set the filter type to Moog,
  3. Make sure that the LFO's AMT (amount) is set to zero,
  4. Ctrl+drag the filter's Cutoff control to the automation track in the Song-Editor.

Align the start of the Automation block with the start of the Instrument block (bar #3 in the example project file). By aligning them, the bar numbers in the instrument and automation blocks will correspond.

Acid tracks setup.
Acid tracks setup.

Double-click the automation track block to open it in the Automation Editor. Using the mouse, draw various shapes: blocks, rising/falling curves, sawteeth, and jumps. Drawing with the mouse can be difficult. Use Shift+click to draw a straight line--this gives you a bit more control to draw fine, gradual changes.

Acid filter cutoff automation graph.
Acid filter cutoff automation graph.

Remember that Q (quantisation) sets the resolution of control points (number of control points per bar), and it may affect the sound. Starting at bar #9 there are 4 upward sweeps with the Q set to 1/16, and then starting from bar #13 there are 4 downward sweeps with the Q set to 1/32 (i.e. twice as many control points). As LMMS follows the automation curve during rendering, it doesn't change the filter cutoff frequency in an analog fashion, like someone turning a knob. The cutoff frequency is changed digitally (in steps), so it actually jumps instantly from one setting to the next. The Q value sets the time duration between these steps. This means that coarse Q values may allow you to hear the changes in cutoff frequency as distinct steps--the 4 upward sweeps (coarser Q) may sound a little stuttery or jerky, and the downward sweeps (finer Q) may sound smoother. For even finer control, you may want to use a Q of 1/64. But, because it is more difficult to draw a truly smooth curve when drawing with a mouse, the downside of finer Q values is that your own inaccuracies in drawing the control points become audible and are harder to edit out.

Sounds flying past[edit]

This example is a series of stacatto claps in a Beat/Bassline track that "fly" from right-to-left then back left-to-right.

Example files:


Automate stereo panning for fly-by.
Automate stereo panning for fly-by.

Make a staccato beat with "clap01.ogg", and repeat it for 4 bars in the Song-Editor. To automate the fly-by, Ctrl+drag the "clap01.ogg" Pan control to an Automation track in the Song-Editor, then double-click the Automation track block to open it in the Automation Editor. In the Automation Editor use the Draw mode tool to:

  1. Click at 100 (full right) at the beginning of bar #1
  2. Click at -100 (full left) at the end of bar #2
  3. Click at 100 (full right) on the vertical line just before the end of bar #4
  4. Click at 0 (center) at the end of bar #4 (optional)
  5. Set interpolation to linear

And now the clap sounds "fly" from right-to-left and back again!

Navigation[edit]

Reference: Automation Editor

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