The Automation Editor Panel

Each panel in Bitwig Studio is focused as narrowly as possible on a specific function. The Arranger Timeline Panel is, by necessity, the broadest of our editors. While it also supports working with automation, that is not its primary purpose. Working with automation is, however, the only purpose of the Automation Editor Panel.

Track Editing Mode

When the Automation Editor Panel is initially called up within the Arrange View (by clicking the Automation Editor Panel button in the window footer), it opens in track editing mode.

In this mode, the interface should look quite familiar. Due to the presence of the Beat Ruler (see Arranger Area, Arranger Timeline, and Zooming), unique beat grid settings (see Beat Grid Settings), and unique snapping settings (see Moving Clips and Snap Settings), this looks a lot like the Arranger Timeline Panel. The difference is that the general purpose Arranger Timeline area has been replaced with the Automation Lane area for our currently selected track.

And the Automation Lane area is essentially an enlarged version of the primary automation lane we just saw in the Arranger Timeline Panel. This one also has a Parameter chooser on the left side, and the Automation Lane area is being used to display the automation curve of this parameter over a backdrop of the track's contents.

All of the automation drawing and editing functions we learned in the Automation Lane section of the Arranger Timeline Panel will work identically here. But there are a couple differences.

  • The Automation Editor Panel contains only one automation lane. If you are looking to view multiple parameters from one track, the Arranger Timeline Panel is the way to go.

  • The clip aliases (that float above the Automation Lane area in the Beat Ruler) are indicators of where the track's clips are starting and ending. But these aliases are also editable.

    In the same way that Arranger clips can be moved (see Moving Clips and Snap Settings), edited (see Adjusting Clip Lengths), and looped (see Looping Clips), these same actions will work on the clip aliases. Just remember that the Automation Follow setting (see Parameter Follow and Automation Control) will determine how automation is affected by any clip movements or edits.

So this track editing mode of the Automation Editor Panel is a focused way to work with standard track-based automation. And for less standard, less track-based automation, there is the Clip Editing button in the top left of the panel.

Clip Editing Mode

At times it will be useful to have automation attached to a clip rather than to a track's timeline. This is ideal, for example, whenever you want the automation to repeat each time the clip does, or when you are working with the Clip Launcher.

When you want automation to be attached to an Arranger clip instead of the track's timeline, you can switch the Automation Editor Panel from track editing mode to clip editing mode by enabling the Clip Editing button.

When you are working with Launcher clips, all automation is done in clip editing mode with the Automation Editor Panel.

Once we break out of the track-based mindset, the same considerations come up as when we talked about the Clip Launcher Panel originally. Without the context of a track, our clips are essentially untethered to any fixed timebase or duration. And for this reason, clips viewed here generally use position (often spoken as "bar 1, beat 1") as the relative start of the clip.

This is also where the Launcher's notion that clips should loop by default comes into play. In the clip editing mode of the Automation Editor Panel, we now get to decide if a clip's automation data should be tethered to its musical content or should play more freely.

The Free Running button contains an icon of a man running with the word Free. Once enabled, the clip's automation data can now be adjusted to play back differently from the clip's notes/audio. Once the Free Running button is enabled, the Start parameter below can now be adjusted, determining which part of the clip's automation will play back first.

Beside the Free Running button is the Custom Loop button. When enabled, this allows you to set different values for the automation's Loop Start and loop Length settings. When disabled, the clip's automation will loop just as the clip's musical content does.

These options can create some very dynamic situations, as in the example shown below.

Aside from the Free Running and Custom Loop buttons being enabled, the only change made was increasing the automation's loop Length from (one bar) to (one bar and one quarter). By making the automation loop repeat every five beats while the clip's notes repeat every four beats, the automation and notes will only line up in every fifth bar (every 20 beats).


When any of these parameters are changed, you will need to retrigger the clip for the changes to be registered.

This example is just one way to create rich variation among a single clip's musical content and automation. With the options available, you are free to find your own preferred usage.

Relative Automation

All the work we have done so far involved absolute automation. In this paradigm, the automation values specified map to exact values in the parameter's units. A series of examples was already given at the top of this chapter: -9.43 dB, 2.88 kHz, and 124 %.

Bitwig Studio also has the capability to adjust most parameters in a relative way. With relative automation, you can move a parameter ±50% of its total range (additive automation), or scale a parameter toward zero, anywhere from 100% of its current value to 0% (multiplicative automation).

When we started working in clip editing mode, three buttons appeared beside the Autom. Type label.

These three icons represent our automation mode choices of absolute automation (A), additive automation (+), and multiplicative automation (x).

When any of these icons are shaded in, this indicates the presence of that type of automation. So the image above is displaying that absolute automation was present for the selected parameter. An unshaded icon suggests that none of that automation type is present.


All forms of automation can be present for a single parameter. In this case, the absolute automation is applied first and then modulated by the additive automation. Multiplicative automation is applied last and has the final word, as multiplication always does.

For one example use, I will take a one-bar Launcher clip. I want its filter cutoff to move up a little, down a little, and then back to the middle in each bar. I can draw this with additive automation.

We can see that this automation is ending at 0.00% so this additive automation is bipolar, moving up to about 20.0% and dipping evenly to about -20.0%. We can also see that the additive modulation icon is the only one shaded so it is currently the only form of automation for this parameter.

Next, I will drag this Launcher clip into the Arranger and loop it so that it lasts for eight bars.

By viewing the absolute automation — the track automation here, since we are back in the Arranger — the automation curve has been extend for our eight bars, but it doesn't appear to be balanced around zero anymore. Let's look at both our automation and Filter device together.

We can see now that the default value of the Cutoff parameter is a good deal below the center of the range. Since the automation is relative, we can move the Cutoff knob to recenter where the automation lands.

I will leave you here with two ideas. The first idea is to now draw absolute automation over the course of these eight bars, taking the Cutoff from low to high and then back to low. I will do this by double-clicking to add three automation points, and then ALT-clicking and dragging the center point to reshape the curve.

The solid blue line represents the absolute automation curve. The shaded curve is showing the final parameter value, which is the result of both the absolute and relative automation together. By activating the transport, you would see the Cutoff control animated to match the absolute automation curve, and the Cutoff knob's indicator ring would be moving to match the final parameter value.

The second idea is to not use absolute automation. Instead, use relative automation to give a sense of motion. And then during playback move the parameter control itself in realtime, perhaps with a MIDI controller (see chapter 15: MIDI Controllers). This could be a very strong performance technique.


Whenever a parameter's level indicator is moving separately from its control (as with the Cutoff knob and its indicator ring in the previous example), modulation is taking place. Relative automation is one form of modulation, and several others are discussed in The Unified Modulation System.

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