PreSonus Blog

“Automating” the Unautomatable

You can record most hands-on control changes as automation by using Control Link, which has always been one of my favorite Studio One features. However, not everything exposes its parameters to automation—so let’s explore track-to-track recording, and embed your hands-on control changes as audio.

How to Set It Up

With track-to-track recording, you record the output from a Source track into a Target track. Set the Target track’s input to the Source track (fig. 1). You’ll monitor the Source track, not the Target track. So, turn the Target track’s fader down (the input monitoring setting doesn’t matter). Select record mode for the Target track. Note that track-to-track recording is inherently a real-time process.

Figure 1: Setup for track-to-track recording.

Of course, you’re not limited to recording the output from another track—you can record any Output, Aux Track, or Bus (but not FX Channels). As to why this is useful, I’ve found four main applications.

Hands-on control for external hardware. Although you can automate some external hardware effects parameters with MIDI, that’s not always the case. Older effects, stompboxes, and analog hardware that was intended to be set-and-forget (e.g., tube preamps whose saturation you might want to vary over time) can’t be automated. Insert Pipeline in the Source track, set up Pipeline to bring the hardware’s ins and outs into the Source track, and then you can manipulate the effect’s controls while recording the results into the Target track. If you need to make changes, re-do the recording (although you may only need to punch a section).

Capture random effects processes. Several effects have randomized functions, so they never play back audio quite the same way twice. Recording audio from a Source track with this kind of effect inserted captures the resulting randomization. If you don’t like the results, try re-recording until you have something you prefer. Note that this can also record the output from an Instrument track that includes a randomizing insert effect.

Capture touchscreen control gestures. Studio One’s multitouch effects are very touch-friendly, and touchscreen gestures can connect with automation. But sometimes, it’s great having that palette of controls right in front of you, where you can change control settings on the fly while you get into the improvisational heat of the moment. When these effects are inserted in the Source track, you can record the audio caused by the real-time touchscreen changes into the Target track.

Accommodate what you can’t automate. This is a weird use case, but it’s another example of why track-to-track recording is useful. To compare the different cab sounds in the Line 6 Helix, I wanted to record an audio example of a guitar riff while I changed the amp sim cabs. But you can’t automate cab selection, and with 41 cabs, I didn’t want to have to stop, change the cab, and re-record the next example. So, I just looped the guitar riff, recorded into the Target track, and clicked on a different cab when I wanted to record it.

There are probably other applications I haven’t considered—so if you think of any, please mention them in the Comments section!