Any advice for a newcomer?

Howdy~

Please redirect me if this isn’t the appropriate spot for this topic.

Anywho, I’ve been looking to get into music-making for the last couple years and finally got my hands on Cubase Pro 8.5 along with Native Instrument’s Komplete 10 Ultimate. It’s all quite overwhelming, but I’m slowly learning the ins and outs of Cubase and all of its various functions. The internet has a vast wealth of helpful information and tutorials (most of which seem to be subject to heated debates and wildly varying opinions), but I would like to drop a line for you more experienced users out there. What helped y’all figure out this maze of a program and get started?

If it helps out any, I’m trying to do symphonic/cinematic scores. If it also helps, I’m using a pair of Sennheiser 650s. I know I’m “supposed” to get some studio monitors (according to many), but this is all I have to work with for the moment. Seems to work well for the most part, except anything I export seems to be mildly distorted and the volume levels go all over the place. Still trying to learn how to do that properly.

Cheers~

I too was quite overwhelmed when I first started, but what helped me was to get a solid grasp of the basics of mixing. At first I would compose something, record the tracks, and then start mixing it with neither a sense of where I was going with the piece musically nor an understanding of how to get there technically. Then I came across “Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio” by Mike Senior. This book changed everything! Mike Senior is a phenomenal teacher. I quickly learned that I was doing almost everything wrong (and I’m not being humble). There were all sorts of things that I should have been doing – which I now do! – that I was skipping. And my results, not surprisingly, were quite poor. After reading this book (from the beginning to the end; don’t skip anything, it’s all vital) I soon developed a process that I’ve used since and continual to tweak (with excellent results).

Cubase is just a tool like a hammer or a screwdriver. What’s important is to know what each tool’s function is, and how they all work together to realize your musical goals. Once you get the theory under your belt, then it’s just a matter of learning the specifics of how Cubase implements these tools. To do this I recommend using demo projects with instructions of how to approach the mix. And it would help to have mixed-down examples that let you hear what a ‘good’ mix should sound like (the quotes are there because what constitutes “good” is, of course, subjective). The key is to learn each step in the context of the entire mix.

Also, I know it may sound obvious, but make sure that you understand why you are performing each particular step of the process. Don’t, for example, just slap a compressor on a track if you don’t understand why you’re doing it (the track may not need it). And if it does need compression, make sure you understand which type of compressor is most appropriate and how to adjust the various settings. In reality you’ll need to trust your ears – theory will only get you so far.

I suggest starting with simple projects and then gradually working your way up to increasingly complex ones. Make sure that you can do the basics like getting good level balance with the faders, good stereo balance with the pan knobs, good frequency balance with EQ, etc. before going onto more nuanced processing like multiband compression and dynamic EQ.

Another useful thing to do (probably after you get the basics down) is to make a point of learning one new technique from a different person each day. YouTube is a great resource in this regard. There are so many talented, creative and generous people out there doing so many cool things that it’s absolutely inspiring.

Lastly, don’t forget to have fun. :slight_smile:

What he said! :wink:

Also keep your expectations realistic… you’re not going to be Bob Clearmountain/Andrew Scheps/Jaquire King in the next three months :wink:

Hi…When I use Symphonic I set all instruments to Velocity which gives me a gain most similar to other VST Instruments. Generally with VSTI’s I don’t use a compressor until closer to the final mix or master because they are nearly perfect without.

I have learned that practicing on one track extensively provides a more manageable learning curve as most of what I learn from a single track will apply to other tracks in an instrument set.

Initial Gain Staging was my most critical challenge so I recommend becoming familiar with the meters and keeping individual tracks near -18dbfs during soloing. Certain instruments will need a bit more gain to sit nice in the mix but that becomes self evident. If my project has fewer tracks I will target -12 dbfs on soloing for starters. As you add tracks your master meter will climb closer to 0 dbfs from the cumlilitive effect. You can easily turn up the gain later as a whole if necessary later on. Turn up your monitors if you need more volume during soloing. You can google dbfs and find some excellent articles on what it means.

I keep in mind that every plugin I use will likely affect my gain so soloing tracks, and checking my main meters is always my fallback. There are numerous gain settings throughout the process and choosing where to adjust gain is worth a few hours of practice. My best results have come from mixing gain down, not up, during the process.

Generally I like to leave my mixboard sliders at unity 0 for as long as possible in the process and often my final mix will still have unity on the mixboard because I use other gain adjusters instead. This is just my method, not a rule.

A few hours (like 72 lol) soloing tracks with main meters visible and a lot of reading about gain staging was my one most valuable time investment thus far.

Hope you have a great time!

I’m a big fan of the Groove 3 video courses. They have Cubase specific videos (don’t ignore older versions of Cubase as 90+% of the content still applies), general explanations for tools (e.g. how compressors work), and music related videos such as how to program drums or basic music theory. They also add several new courses each week. The cost is pretty reasonable if you use an All Access Pass ($15/mo $150/yr).

https://www.groove3.com/Cubase-training-video-tutorials
https://www.groove3.com/native-instruments-training-video-tutorials
https://www.groove3.com/Mixing-Basics-training-video-tutorials

Cubase pro+ ultimate for a newby ? Well… i’m not willing to bring a bad spirit to the discussion, but you have made a risky decission. if you have a lot of time, reserve the next six months (at least) just to get started to know and understand what you have bought and how to use it (at a very basic level), or make a small selection of the type of instruments your interest is going towards, and try to understand them a little more on how they are supposed to be managed and start there.

it is just an advice from an older fart, but quantity is most of the time a (very) bad thing that distracts you from what you really want to do, and i suppose that that is making music. For most types of music you really do need only a small selection of main instruments (and probably variations) but that fit to the purpouse you need it for, and if you want results, controlling/managing/programming your instrument is key just like you need to learn a non digital variant of any other type of instruments.

I know it’s cool to have a lot of it all. I also do have a staggering amount of instruments today, and believe me, many many people do. But your question was not how it feels to be like a millionaire with software vsti’s, but any advice on how to get it up and running. And FWIW and it is just an opinion, it is exactly the opposite that is a wise decission. Try to get it up and running with a small number of instruments that present what you are willing to achieve, and try to let them play, sing, perform, or scream the way you hear it in your brain. Once you are there, you can scratch them of the list of tools you need to “master”.

Believe me, your combination is a killer amount of software, both in terms of quality and quantitiy, but it is very easily also a killer of your idea’s.

fWIW,
kind regards,
R.

This is really an important point. Too many options can be very detrimental to getting good results. You would be wise start with a small subset and ignore the rest.

Many years ago I overbought VSTi’s, plugins, and a variety of other fun music stuff. Eventually I realized I had a bunch of tools that I only knew how to use marginally at best, Over time I let upgrades pass, didn’t install items on new PCs, etc. until I got down to a set of tools I knew reasonably well. The truth is you really only need, for example, a few different compressors or reverbs, and 6 or 8 might be nice, while more than that will just reduce clarity about how to use any of them. I just counted and I have 14 different reverbs (not counting variants of the same basic reverb). Of those I use 4 on a regular basis.

I own Ultimate 9, but I bought it because it made economic sense. There were a handful of NI products I wanted. But when I priced them separately they cost more the the whole bundle so I bought that instead. And while I have learned and use some of the items that weren’t on my initial list there are vast portions of Ultimate I never use.

So take roel’s advice and initially focus on a small subset of the tools available to you. Then expand it from there.

If you tell us a bit about the kind of music you want to make the folks on the forum can give you some advice on what to focus on.

Oh, and have fun. DAWs are amazing musical playgrounds.

I will certainly take a look into that book. I know that mixing is incredibly important, and getting everything juuuuust right is perhaps the biggest challenge I’m facing. Everything you mentioned is incredibly helpful. I’m taking baby steps in almost every regard, and using the demo-projects as a reference point to help understand how and why everything works is an excellent starting point to learn. I’ll be sure to check out Youtube as well. Thanks~

Certainly, haha. If all my years in music have taught me anything, it’s practice, practice, and more practice. I’m determined to stick with it as long as it takes, and hopefully turn it into something more than a hobby down the road~

I’ve been experimenting mostly with velocity and the articulation/dynamic function. From what I can gather so far, velocity control is good at adding a punch or toning down particular notes in a section, while the articulation/dynamic function is good at making certain parts a bit louder/softer, or implementing those nice crescendos/decrescendos (I’ve been sending this function straight to the VST volume level if it’s supported). That being said, I haven’t really experimented with any plugins yet. Somebody correct me if any of the above is wrong, haha.

I’ll certainly keep everything you said in mind and experiment on one or two tracks. I feel like I’m going to be spending a lot of time in that mix-board window, but figuring out how to do it correct now is better than continuing to struggle with it later. Thanks~

I’ll definitely have to check these out. I love course-style videos like this, especially if they’re easy to follow. I recently watched somebody on streamworks audio do a crash course through the basics, and it helped clear up quite a few things.

Aye… I’m very aware I’ve made a particularly large, risky investment. And believe me, this wasn’t something I took lightly on a “spur of the moment” type of scenario. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I dedicated a couple years (on and off) into trying everything I could get my hands on: Fruity Loops, Ableton, Pro Tools, Cubase, LMMS, trial versions of Kontakt and their various VSTs. Cubase clicked the best for me, and I’m certainly willing to invest the time needed to learn everything it has to offer. I would ultimately like to turn this into something more than a hobby, but only time and hard work will tell.

As far as the Komplete 10 Ultimate goes, I saddled that purchase just to have anything I might ever need for a long time. Silly, I know, but I love playing and experimenting with sounds. That all being said, I’m focusing mostly on Session Strings/Horns while supplementing percussion from various VSTs (I would LOVE to get LASS/LADD one of these days).

I’ll be careful not to overburden myself and put my focus where it needs to be. I’m no software multitasking prodigy, that’s for sure, haha.

Aye. Like above, I’ll certainly be starting with just a handful of VSTs until I get the hang of it. Even then, I’ll more than likely stick to just those until I feel absolutely comfortable switching it up. As far as plugins go, I haven’t dabbled much into them. I would imagine what’s included inside Cubase is more than enough to get started when I get around to experimenting with those.

As far as what I want to make, I’m diving into symphony/cinematic stuff; scores somebody might use for a game or movie. I have first-hand experience with most instruments with the exception of percussion and a very firm grasp on theory. I can comfortably put my ideas on paper, but inside a DAW, I have the ability to create and play the actual piece… After I figure out how to work everything, haha.


Sorry it took me so long to reply… Work has been beating the tar out of me recently. I appreciate everybody’s thoughts and suggestions, and I’ll be sure to take them to heart. Feel free to add or ask anything. Cheers~

Good. It sounds like you’ve got your expectations in line with reality & understand how to approach it incrementally. The folks on this forum tend to be pretty helpful, so don’t hesitate to ask. It is helpful to put your DAW specs & software used in your signature - makes it easier for others to offer useful advice. :wink:

Also since you are coming from a theory background you might be tempted to start off with the Score Editor. I’d advise starting with the Key Editor instead. It’s typically easier and quicker to input & manipulate midi data in the Key Editor and later finesse how that data is visually displayed in the Score Editor (which has a bunch of extra complexity that doesn’t impact how your music sounds just how it looks on the page).

Are you going to mostly do midi stuff or audio recording too?

I’m doing mostly MIDI stuff. Once I get the chance, I’ll be looking at getting an audio I/O device so I can plug in my piano and electric cello, and possibly get my sound processing away from the inside of my computer (suggestions are totally welcome). Speaking of processing, I’ll round up all my specs and include them in a signature on my next day off.

So far, I’m loving the key-editor. I can work my way around a keyboard layout much faster than notes on a manuscript. Makes it rather fun, haha.

I know you asked “What helped y’all figure out this maze of a program” , but you need to know that Cubase (or any DAW software) doesn’t exist in a vacuum and there are technical/PC/Mac problems that you will encounter.

For example, I had major problems with Cubase working properly because of Cubase not playing friendly with my video card. I just solved a problem with Native Instruments Kontakt 5- which was making Cubase 8 freeze when loading- because Native instruments required I have C++ Redistributable Packages for Visual Studio on my computer and I didn’t have them installed.

So, you must be constantly on alert for new drivers and what is required from your operating system for software to work correctly. Furthermore, you go on the software provider forums and there will be 5 different opinions/reasons why your problem is occurring. So, you have to weed through all of that to get to your answer. It would be nice if tech support could easily hone in on your problem, but often it is a laborious process. So, good luck making music between all the time you’re going to spend dealing with tech/software issues. Don’t let it get you down. It is part of the DAW experience.

Yes there is a pretty steep learning curve and a ton of issues that you will inevitably deal with. However, remember that we have all gone through this - every one of us. We have all spent evenings pulling our hair out trying to get something to work and finding out it was a box left un-ticked. Perhaps created a masterpiece of a take and forgot to save before a subsequent crash. Had to troubleshoot a problematic vsti that is crashing Cubase.

You will get there. Perhaps not tomorrow. We are a pretty helpful lot here by and large and can usually help with any issues that come up, because we have had those same issues.

I got up and running pretty quickly with Steinberg’s Quick Start video series. However, I had prior experience with numerous other DAWs. Every DAW is basically a different interface for the same software (minus some minor differences), so once you know one, it’s easy to learn another.

Tips?

  1. Be really motivated. Be the type of person who gets out of bed in the morning and goes to sleep at night thinking about Cubase. Enjoy it thoroughly.

  2. Refer to the operation manual often (hit F1 on your keyboard to access it quickly). Even if you think you understand a feature, look it up and read about it – you’ll probably discover a time-saving feature or keyboard shortcut that you never would have known otherwise.

  3. Google. Use “site:steinberg.net/forums” in your search string to target these forums. Soundonsound.com has published a lot of brilliant Cubase articles too.

Coming from my own experience the main pitfall is wanting to master the wrong things and too much in too little time. Like Roel says, don’t go exploring 100’s of vst’s and buy external gear you have no idea about how to get it working in Cubase. This will surely frustrate you and keep you from learning what is really important to start with: mastering Cubase and finding and getting comfortable with your own workflow. I don’t think it matters much if you start out with 8.5 Elements or Pro. Certain options or elements are crucial to certain setups and workflows. If you have external gear and want to process these separately within Cubase it’s almost essential to get Pro because this is the only version where you can configure separate busses for each in/ouput a device has (provided you have an audio interface you can connect them to of course). Also when it comes to symphonic/cinematic scores, which is important to you, it’s almost essential to have the use of expression maps. Also only Pro comes with this.

A mistake I made in the beginning was to jump from one thing to another that was not really a part of the workflow I was in at that moment. I was busy exploring the workflow in my mixer and thought ‘hey, let’s try track versions and after 5 minutes lets dive into the logical editor and the next, lets see how best to manage automation. It’s like browsing the Internet. You have so many links to click on and it’s so easy to get distracted from what you set out to do.

Start a project and stick to what you set out to do and make sure you master that workflow. If you get stuck somewhere don’t skip it but read in and make sure you know how it works before you continue. If you don’t you will have to deal with the same frustration next time you get to that stage. It’s also not about everything you can achieve with Cubase. It’s about how you can use Cubase to create the music as you intended. Not everybody needs to manipulate midi events on a molecular level or needs complex sidechaining flows in the mixer. Not everybody needs to sample his own sounds with 50 velocity layers. If you do, it will most certainly cross your path while working on your workflow. If not just forget about it until one sweet day it might come across or you have some time to kill exploring additional things like that.

Once you get familiar with your personal workflow there’s plenty of opportunity to get distracted and experiment with other things that can enrich your way of working. But first you need a solid base you can build on. Believe me, it will pay off in the end and help you not to get frustrated with every little problem that comes your way.

+1000!

This is the single thing that transformed the sound of my mixes, being that I used tape for years I was setting track levels too hot when I switched to Cubase. By keeping individual tracks below -18db my mixes sound warmer and more open and I never have to touch the master fader. In my mixer preferences anything above -18db turns light red to remind me to pull levels back. The “digital nastiness” of mixing in the box almost disappears if you follow this tip.

You shouldn’t really be getting any ‘digital nastiness’ even if you are clipping (as long as you’re only listening back in cubase) because of the 32bit mixing engine. Mix it down… sure it clip to hell and it’ll sound ugly… or if you have the control room dial beyond zero and you’re hot.

Here’s a complete Cubase 7 course for free.

Cubase 8.5 is essentially the same thing with added features…

https://m.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLKRYWdEpbc5OJqQxdiqKs2RT_fy7tJ6wB

Cheers

Do the experiment yourself have all the faders at 0 and drop the master until it stops clipping, then try with the master at 0 and the individual faders dropped until the master output is the same, the first mix will sound thin and nasty with audiable artifacting and the latter will sound clean but warm. That’s without even mixing it down.

Are you using control room? Have you disabled your stereo outs? If you haven’t then you could be listening to the control room outs and stereo outs at the same time which might have the effect you’re talking about.

Honestly should shouldn’t make a difference if you’re clipping or not.

I don’t use control room. It’s not just Cubase we’re worrying about here - it’s the myriad of third party plug ins - how do they cope with being over driven? You can be as doubtful as you like but after discovering this tip I went back and remixed 10-15 songs - the difference was staggering.