How to Automate in Pro Tools FAST

Julian Worden

Julian Worden

Don't forget that there's a video on this topic on this page too! Scroll down!

Automation is often a necessary evil in that it can be incredibly tedious, but it also can also bring a production to the next level. Whether you’re looking to turn up a vocal only during one line or you got a really cool idea for a special effect that you want to try out, you’ll want to know how automation works.

As a result, I’m going to help you out with that! Here are some of my favorite keyboard shortcuts and strategies for making my automation changes as quickly as possible. Watch the video down below to see them in action!

CTRL + Click/CMD + Click and ALT + CLICK/OPT + Click to Create or Delete an Automation Point

You pretty much can’t get anywhere with automation if you don’t know these, but it’s okay because they’re ridiculously simple.

Open an automation lane on your track, hold down CTRL/CMD and click on a spot on the automation line that’s in the lane. Now you have a point that you’ll be able to move around however you’d like. Want to delete that point? Hold ALT/OPT, left click it, and it should be gone.

CTRL + Drag Up & Down/CMD + Drag Up & Down for Slower Value Changes

When you’re dragging an automation point or section up or down, it can get a little difficult to control you’re movements. The point or section can easily jump around all over the place, leaving you in the dust if you’re only looking to make a small 1dB adjustment, for example.

That’s where CTRL + Drag Up & Down/CMD + Drag Up & Down comes in handy!

Holding down CTRL or CMD while dragging an automation point or section up or down will make the change much smaller. In other words, this shortcut makes making smaller adjustments a lot easier!

CTRL + Windows + Right Arrow/CMD + Apple + Right Arrow for Quick Automation Value Jumps

Let’s say you have a vocal line that needs to be a little bit louder during your chorus. Just as that line starts, you want to turn it up by 1dB, keep it at that volume for the duration of the line, and then turn it back down to its original value immediately once that line is over. Here’s the fastest way to go about that.

First, make sure your Smart Tool is enabled. In my 3 years of using Pro Tools I’m not sure I’ve ever turned the Smart Tool off once. You should probably just leave it on all the time because it’s really convenient and it makes it really easy to perform certain tasks.

Next, hover your mouse over the top half of the vocal waveform. You should see your cursor change to a capital “I” Shape. Left click and drag your mouse across the vocal line that you want to turn up. Now, it should appear highlighted.

At this point, most people would move over to the track view selector, click volume, and then make their automation change that way, but we’re going to use a keyboard shortcut to do that instead.

Instead of moving your mouse to the track view selector, simply press and hold CTRL + Windows/CMD + Apple on your keyboard. While continuing to hold them down, press your right arrow key. Now, your track view should’ve changed to “volume” and the area you highlighted should still be highlighted.

Finally, bring your cursor to the top half of the waveform once again and drag up 1dB to make your change.

Highlighting a Section in an Automation Lane and Dragging Up or Down

This time, let’s say you’re combing through your entire vocal track making automation changes as you see fit. In this instance, you don’t have a use for the keyboard shortcut I was just talking about, but there is a very quickly way to make your changes.

As previously described, make sure your Smart Tool is enabled and move your cursor to the top half of the track you’re trying to make your changes on. You’ll know you’re in the right spot when your cursor changes to that capital “I” shape.

Left click and drag left or right to highlight the line or word that you want to make your changes on. Once your selection is highlighted, move your cursor to the top half of the track where you made the selection. Now, your cursor should look like a downward facing bracket.

All you need to do at this point is drag up or down to make your change and then you’re done!

Crescendo and Decrescendo

There doesn’t seem to be a keyboard shortcut for creating an automation crescendo/decrescendo very quickly, and if there is then I haven’t heard about it. As a result, this is the fastest way that I could figure out how to do it.

By using the steps I described in the previous section, select the range of audio that you want to crescendo or decrescendo. Let’s say it’s a snare roll.

Start at the beginning of the snare roll, end at the end of the snare roll, and drag the section’s volume up or down. Drag up if you want to decrescendo and drag down if you want to crescendo.

Once that’s done, simply delete one of the points to create the slope you’re looking for. For a crescendo, hold ALT/OPT and click on the point at the bottom left of your selection. For a decrescendo, hold ALT/OPT and click on the point at the bottom right of your selection.

Keep in mind that if you want to make adjustments to the crescendo once you’ve created the shape, you can do that quickly by moving your cursor to the middle of the top of the crescendo. Wait to see your cursor change to that downward facing bracket shape again, and adjust up or down.

Very Fast Plugin Parameter Automation

In this example, we’re going to say that we want to automate the low band gain of an EQ on a kick drum track. We’re turning it up during the chorus because we want the kick to get particularly beefy there.

First, open up the EQ plugin. Hold CTRL + Windows + Alt/CMD + Apple + OPT and left click on the gain parameter for the low band. You should see two options show up: “Enable Automation for ‘Low Band Gain’” and “Open plug-in Automation Dialog…”. Click on the latter, “Enable Automation for ‘Low Band Gain’”.

Next, hold down CTRL + Windows/CMD + Apple and left click on the gain knob for the low band once again. This time, you should see the track view of the kick drum track get switched to the gain knob for the low band. Now, with only 3 clicks you’re able to start making your changes really quickly.

I hope you got something out of this! If you did, be sure to sign up for the Beneath the Bunk Studios Newsletter for updates on new blog posts and videos by clicking here. Also feel free to click/tap any of the circle icons below to follow me elsewhere.

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