9. Automation

With the mixer interface (chapter 7: The Mix View) and our introduction to devices (chapter 8: Introduction to Devices), we examined both track and device parameters that you will want to set as your own tastes dictate. But fixing these parameters to certain values is probably not enough.

If you can think about how a song develops — from the arrangement growing as parts gradually fade in and find their place in the stereo field, to instruments becoming more animated as their tones morph and brighten, to parts gradually fading away by both losing volume and increasing reverb — then you can visualize the series of long and short curves that represents a piece of music and its structure.

Automation is the animation of any defined parameter over time. It is usually thought of as narrative and rigid (in the same way the Arranger Timeline defines a particular musical progression), but Bitwig Studio also supports both a clip-oriented approach to automation, and techniques for having multiple layers of control cooperate to shape individual parameters in a relative way.

We will start our look at modulation back in the Arranger Timeline Panel, where we can work directly with traditional track-based automation. Then we will meet the Automation Editor Panel, whose sole purpose is displaying and manipulating automation. Finally, we will see how clip-based and relative automation can enhance our workflows and music in ways both novel and powerful.

Let's get those parameters dancing.

Automation Basics

If you work with music software and are used to only one type of automation, it is track automation. With this kind of automation, values for a parameter — volume, cutoff frequency, reverb amount, etc. — are stored as fixed values. So when the playback head reaches an automation point of either -9.43 dB or 2.88 kHz or 124 %, that exact value will be set and preserved until the automation dictates otherwise.

Bitwig Studio can accommodate this kind of automation, and it can be achieved with our old friend, the Arranger Timeline Panel.

The Arranger's Automation Lane Section

The one item in the Arranger that we have not looked into yet is the Automation Lane button within each track header. When a track has this button enabled, the Automation Lane section for that track becomes visible.

The Automation Lane section appears just below the track header and extends across the Arranger Timeline area as a place to show its own time-based data. Like all automation lanes, this one is resizable.

This track header section contains the following controls:

  • Parameter chooser: Indicates and selects which parameter is displayed in this primary lane.

  • Pin Parameter button: Maintains this lane's focus on the current parameter. This is disabled by default, which causes focus to follow the last clicked parameter.

  • Add Lane button: Creates an additional automation lane that is fixed on the currently selected parameter.

  • Show Favorites/All button: Toggles between displaying additional lanes for either your favorite parameters or for all parameters that are automated.

By clicking on the Parameter chooser, we will see a list of all automation targets for the selected track.

The list is displayed in signal-flow order, starting with any MIDI automation lanes that are present. Listed next in order are all devices directly on the track's device chain. (Nested devices appear within their parent device's menu.) After that are Mixer elements, including track Volume and other parameters shown above. The last item, Add MIDI lane…, calls up a window.

In order to add a MIDI automation lane, you have to set the MIDI Channel and the Type of message for this lane. Message types include Pitch Bend, Ch. Pressure (sometimes called aftertouch), and Control Change (which also requires a Controller Number).

The background of the Automation Lane in the Arranger Timeline faintly hints at notes or audio events on the current track. These cannot be selected or edited; they are just illustrations to help you define your automation in relation to the track's contents.

This area is where our automation functions will be defined. And while this lane might seem empty, one subtle datum is present.

As the picture above shows, there is a light gray line just above the note outlines. This is the current automation curve of the track's volume. And since there are no additional automation points, that curve is a flat line at the current setting of +0.00 dB. If we were to grab the volume fader in the track header and make it quieter (by dragging it to the left), the gray line would follow.

Drawing and Editing Automation

We will start with manipulating single points of automation. Similar processes will also work when multiple values are selected.

To create a single point along the automation curve: click in an area along the curve, and then drag the point to the desired value and position. Or single-click anywhere within the automation lane with the Knife tool.

We can repeat this a few times to create a small shape.

Note that dragging your mouse along the automation curve displays the parameter value beside your cursor for that song position. Also note the blue circle that has appeared near the top of the volume fader's range. This automation indicator — which looks like a misplaced automation point — indicates that the parameter in question is under the control of automation.

To create a single point outside the automation curve: double-click any area of the automation lane.

To move an automation point: click and drag the point with the mouse.


The absolute grid setting constrains the movement of automation points. To temporarily toggle this setting off, hold SHIFT while placing points.

To adjust the transition between two automation points:ALT-click and drag the curve between two points.

To reset a transition (to linear interpolation):ALT-double-click the transition.

To shape both transitions around an automation point:ALT-click and drag the point.

To delete an automation point: double-click it. Or single-click the point to select it, and then press DELETE or BACKSPACE.

To delete all automation for a parameter: right-click on the parameter and select Delete Automation from the parameter's context menu.

To redraw an automation curve: click and drag horizontally with the Pen tool.

Once you release the mouse, the curve will be optimized to maintain its shape with the minimum number of points.

To select multiple points: either click and drag a selection rectangle around the points of interest, or switch to the Time Selection tool and click and drag horizontally.

To time scale a range of automation points: first make a time selection (with the Time Selection tool), and then ALT-drag on the left or right boundary of the selection.

Parameter Follow and Automation Control

While you could use the Parameter chooser every time you need to find a parameter, the chooser can help you. Its default behavior is to focus on whichever parameter you select with the mouse. We call this initial automation lane the joker lane because like a wild card, it takes on whatever function you want it to.

For example, clicking the track's mute button will now focus on the primary lane for that parameter.

If you then click on the track's volume fader, focus will return to the volume parameter.

As you can see, the automation that was drawn a minute ago has not been lost. This primary lane is simply shifting its focus with each mouse click.

To lock the Parameter chooser to its current selection: enable the Pin Parameter button.

In the example shown, the Parameter chooser will now stay focused on the Volume parameter even if you click on the track mute button or any other parameter.

Additionally, Bitwig Studio will let you temporarily override the automation values you have set. This will automatically occur whenever you grab an automated parameter and adjust it.

The automation indicator for the volume parameter has switched from blue to green, indicating that the automation's control of this parameter has been broken for the time being. At the same time, the Restore Automation Control button within the display section of the window header is now tinted green, indicating that it is armed.

To restore the control of automation over all parameters: click the Restore Automation Control button.

The Automation Follow button, beside the beat grid settings in the bottom right corner of the panel, is worth mentioning here. This button toggles whether track automation is moved in tandem with Arranger clips or not. The setting is enabled by default so moving a clip would have the following effect.

Disabling the button and moving the clip back would leave any and all track automation behind.

The would hold true for movement functions, such as copy, duplicate, etc.

Additional Automation Lanes

At times it will be useful to view the automation curves of several parameters at once. To achieve this, Bitwig Studio supports fixed automation lanes that appear beneath the dynamic primary lane.

To create a fixed automation lane for a parameter: select the desired parameter in the chooser, and then click the Add Lane button.

While it looks as though the lane just duplicated itself, there are some key differences here.

Only the top lane has a parameter chooser. The new lane — and any subsequent lanes — only has a text label indicating the device and parameter being automated so it cannot change focus.

You will also notice that the new lane has two slightly different interface buttons beneath.

  • Favorite button: Marks the parameter to be displayed in the favorites list.

  • Delete Automation button: Deletes all automation for the lane's parameter and removes the lane.

As the Show Favorites/All button above is indicating with its star icon, tracks default to displaying favorite parameters. When favorites are being shown, clicking the Add Lane button both creates the fixed lane and automatically marks this parameter a favorite. The enabled Favorite button of our new lane demonstrates its status.

To remove a fixed lane's favorite status: disable the lane's Favorite button.

This essentially puts us back to where we started.

Please do not confuse the Delete Automation button for a "close" button. Clicking it instead of the Favorite button will collapse the additional lane, but it will also delete the automation for that parameter.

To display all parameters that have automation: toggle the Show Favorites/All button to the All setting and icon.

The list of automated parameters can also be accessed from the top of the Parameter chooser list.

Recording Automation

The automation write mode is set within the Play menu in the window header's transport section.

There are three modes for recording automation.

  • Latch mode begins recording automation values as soon as you begin changing parameters. Recording then continues until the transport is stopped.

  • Touch mode also waits until you have begun changing parameters to begin recording automation values, but once you stop interacting with a parameter, recording is halted and any preexisting values are preserved.

  • Write mode is the most destructive, recording automation values from the time the transport is launched until it is stopped. Any preexisting automation points that are passed will be overwritten.

Automation recording is separately included in both the Arranger Timeline Panel and the Clip Launcher Panel.

To record automation in the Arranger Timeline: enable the Automation Record button in the transport controls section of the window header, and then start the transport.

Whether the transport is playing or recording, any parameter adjustments made on this track will be printed as automation. Once the transport is stopped, the automation curve will be optimized and the Automation Record button will be disabled.


In the Dashboard under the Settings tab on the Recording page in the Recording section is an option called Write Automation on Record. If this option is enabled, the Arranger's Automation Record button will automatically be enabled whenever the Global Record button is armed.

To record automation in the Clip Launcher Panel: enable the track's record arm button and the Launcher's Automation Record button, and then begin recording a clip.

If the Automation Lane button is enabled for the track, the clip's automation will be displayed in the bottom of the clip.

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