Automation workflow?

Hello all,

I’m still baffled by a few of Cubase’s quirks, many of them relating to how clumsy and click-intensive simple automation procedures are.

I work almost exclusively with midi, and when using VSTs, the mod wheel is one of the most common parameters, and the first parameter I automate.

Steinberg seems to disagree.

To automate CC1 in the automation lane, I must first search for it. Four clicks later, I find it in the “More” section of the parameters box. Great. Now I can draw nice smooth curves.

To automate CC1 as a MIDI part, I can customize the key editor to display all controller lanes including CC1, but drawing automation here is an absolute headache, requiring the use of an additional tool, and the fact that after it’s drawn, there’s no way to quickly edit the shape and contour of the curve because it’s comprised of individual data points. I must simply redraw the whole shape.

  1. What’s your typical MIDI automation workflow? When do you write a part in the automation lane vs. as a MIDI part?

  2. Is there a faster way to access the CC1 automation lane? A key command? A workflow hack? Am I the only one going crazy by this design quirk?

  3. Can someone please explain the logic behind having two discrete locations for writing automation data? Is it an essential utility or does it frustrate your workflow?

FWIW, this is the first time I have ever heard of anyone using automation to edit midi data. Editing midi data is usually done with, well, the midi editor. And I suspect that might be the answer to your question. You’re doing something unusual, so the workflow in Cubase isn’t optimized for that.

midi data is usually performance data. It’s is generally recorded, then edited as a way to adjust the performance. Automation on the other hand is generally a property of the mix, not of the performance. Consequently, the two are handled in different ways.

To put it another way, I think the problem is your statement that “the mod wheel is a parameter”. It is not a parameter. It used to control a parameter.

:open_mouth:
There is really only one place to write CCs: in midi editors, and one place to write automation: in automation lanes below tracks. However, Cubase also provides a way to use Automation lanes to write CCs, which for users using Cubase before that was added, long ago, it added flexibility. It also interacts with the midi editor CC lanes in a configurable way.

You could probably stop doing it that way until you’re more familiar with the program-- use the CC lanes in the Key and List midi editors or the Edit-in-Place Midi Editor on the Project Page. Personally, I find the editing tools for CCs in the midi editor to be brilliant, and worth the time investment to learn.

Don’t know what you mean by ‘additional tool’, you can draw in the CC lane simply by holding down alt/opt and using the pencil that appears.

N.B. GlennO Indeed… Unfortunately, the term “automation” has been used in manuals and elsewhere to mean both CCs and actual automation. Very unfortunate, and I have protested this kind of poor linguistic hygiene :wink: for the confusion it creates.

Thank you both. Coming from Logic X, where this is not the case (both the automation lane and the midi data window are simply different ways of looking at the same information.)

I prefer writing CC data into the automation lanes because it’s easier to achieve and manipulate the shape of the curves. Drawing the same shape in the midi editor feels needlessly byzantine (but I also see its virtue if you’re trying to draw, say, a sawtooth).

I edited while you were writing, so I put some more verbiage in there, if you need some fiber. :wink:

Cubase provides a multitude of ways to get something done, which adds complexity. But depending on the kind of project I can choose which to use. An example is- I mostly use Cubase for composing or transcribing, so it’s almost only midi, and I never touch the automation lanes. I also have occasion to create soundscapes and cues for dance/theatre- for that I use audio+midi and the Sampler Track which I see as hybrid audio midi track, and I use the automation lanes for everything.

The solution it looks like, would be the ability to configure what appears in the drop-down list of automation params.

Also, I think you can use track presets to load a track the way you want it, but I didn’t check to verify.

fyi, that’s not true at all. In Logic, parameter automation is parameter automation and you do that in the project window. Midi editing is midi editing and you do that in the midi editor. They are two completely separate things.

The fact is: automation of midi data makes no sense. That’s like saying “driving a steering wheel” :slight_smile:. Why Cubase offers the ability to put midi data in an automation lane is a mystery to me…no other DAW I’m aware of offers this nonsensical feature.


That’s not quite right. You mean to say you prefer to edit the parameter controlled by the CC data in the automation lane.

In other words, plugins often offer midi control over parameters. I think this is what Steve is alluding to. For example, you could either use automation to control a filter cutoff, or you could attach a midi CC to that parameter and control it via midi CC. Those are two different ways to accomplish the same thing, but in no way is automation equivalent to midi CC.

So, in your case, do not automate midi CC. Instead, automate the parameter, for example filter cutoff. That’s how you would do it in Logic. I’m not sure how you got down the “automate midi cc” rabbit hole, but ignore that. Instead, use Cubase the same way you use Logic for parameter automation.

I’m not alluding, I’m speaking explicitly. :wink: It’s a matter of the jargon used. In Cubase, automation lanes can be used for midi CCs, and the user gets the advantage of a different drawing method if that’s what they want.

It’s got nothing to do with VST plugins. It can be used for hardware devices also in a plain, old midi track. If you view the terminology outside of sequencer jargon, all of midi is automation.

I can see that…I suppose there’s a narrow use case where you’re working with a midi-controlled hardware device and you need to use automation lanes instead of the midi editor for some reason. But, that’s getting far afield from the OP who said he’s working with plugins :slight_smile:.

yes, though he did ask three questions which enlarges the scope, And forum content is for the ages… :mrgreen:

Thank you again, both. Excellent information.

Without being able to edit the drop-down parameter list, it seems like the most efficient workflow would be to use the midi editor for its intended purpose, but I’m just not seeing the “brilliance” behind its design.

Having used Logic for so long, I really miss being able to just “rubber-band” midi CC information, where I could simply draw two nodes and bend the line connecting them with the strike of a modifier key. I find that in trying to draw similar line shapes in CB’s midi editor, either with the pencil tool or with the parabola selected, the process isn’t nearly as elegant or as precise. There are spikes and drops in CC data because I’ve got to account for hundreds of small data points, which I then need to go in and smooth out. (This is why I gravitate toward the automation lanes, where the rubber-banding method is preserved.) And even the most rounded shape I draw is essentially two dots connected by a straight line, which doesn’t make sense when I’m trying to create a gradually evolving sound. Maybe it’s not even perceptible to the ear, but the thinking behind it eludes me.

What aspects of the CB midi editor make you such an advocate?

Don’t forget that under “MIDI/MIDI Controller Automation Setup”, you can choose where real time controller events during recording will go. With the right combination of settings here, you can even have Automation Lanes show CC events that are stored in MIDI parts. You also get say in how Cubase will behave if it comes across events in BOTH locations (should it prioritize one over the other, or merge and average them?).

You can easily move/transform automation lane data into a MIDI track. You can easily move/transform CC data from a MIDI track into an automation lane. Sometimes it requires a couple of steps to extract what you want into a fresh track, edit it there, then merge it back…but with a little practice there are all sorts of nifty techniques to isolate and work with things.

Furthermore, you can change channel CC events living in a MIDI part into note-expression events that are ‘note-bound’ (double click a note in the key-editor to get at it), rather than being channel events in the CC lane. With note-expression events being bound to individual notes, they’ll quantize and move/cut/copy/paste around relatively with note edits, rather than having to be dealt with on their own down in the CC lane. I.E. If you have a CC11 crescendo in a note-expression container, and move or quantize the note, the CC11 data moves with it. If you just have the crescendo drawn down in the CC11 lane, or stored in an automation lane, and you move or quantize the note, well, the CC information doesn’t automatically move with it.

Personally, I find CC data on a lane in the key-editor easiest to work with for doing precision edits. Getting the Logical Editors involved from here is a breeze, and saves HOURS of frustrating mousework! While there are a bunch of ‘individual events’, there are a number of ways to ‘group select’ them and ‘slide/scale/reshape’ if working with a curve. There are also tools to get rid of duplicates, and ‘thin’ the number or resolution of events, as MIDI often does NOT need so many, since the resolution is typically limited to a range of 0-127 anyway, and the ‘response curves’ are typically set in the instruments themselves. I.E. Why keep sending CC11,112 over and over every few milliseconds (it’s not changing, you’re just clogging the stream with useless events) as an automation lane would do (unless you set end points and cut it up) when you only need to send it ONCE at given moment?

Despite preferring to ‘edit’ controller events in Key-Editor lanes, I tend to bounce it all back to note-expression form after an edit. But then again, I need my stuff to hit cue points with video, so I’m always messing with tempo and more (constantly using Logical Editors to change the overall groove as well)…so the note-expression route is ‘worth the bother’ in my case.

You can also easily unbind note-expression style CC events, and put them back to being loose channel controller events. It’s just a few clicks to bounce it back and forth as needed.

It’s all really powerful and flexible to be honest.

As for what is ‘sensical’…well, it all depends on your project, and preferred workflow.

If you’re a step-input person, working with big ‘through composed’ scores, where tracks/staves are typically done with MIDI tracks, connected to “Rack Instruments”, then it may well make more sense to do all your CC stuff in the MIDI tracks themselves, and avoid keeping them in ‘automation lanes’. In this case, I find the “Edit In Place” feature, which allows you to expand a key-editor view, with CC lanes and all, right there in the main project view to be extremely useful.

In contrast, if your workflow is more of an instrument track user, with a style like, “Let me play these ‘licks’ in while recording with my keyboard/MPC/Wind Jammer, make a bunch of patterns and loops, and arrange it into a ‘song’ later.”…well, it can be very easy and convenient to keep controller data in the automation lanes where you can watch it all go in as you play, and do quick and dirty edits after the fact. In this case, why not enjoy the convenience of keeping CC performances on automation lanes? You can always convert and move the Data into the MIDI track(s) as independent CC events in key-editor lanes, or even bound to the notes as ‘note-expression’ events later for ‘precision event-by-event editing’ if you need to do so.

There is even a third option for recording real time controller movements…I haven’t fiddled with it much since I usually do ‘expressive’ data manually, long after I have ‘played anything in’, but I think it is possible to have real time controllers go straight to note-expression events, in lieu of either of the methods I’ve discussed above. There’s a tab for it in the track inspector for track types MIDI and Instrument.

There are times and places where each method (or a hybrid of the two) are more convenient and pragmatic. In my experience, it mainly matters when you start using lots of “Logical Editors” to save your self tons of time/effort by batch processing things using these ‘mini-scripts’. Cubase gives you MIDI Logical Editors, and it also gives you PROJECT Logical Editors. Depending on what you’re trying to do…sometimes the MIDI variant applied to parts/events is better, and sometimes the Project variant applied to tracks/lanes is better. Either type of Logical Editor can be bound to macros, which can in-turn be bound to MIDI events for remote control using Generic Remote maps.

If you’re sick of mousing yourself to death, stop and think, "Can I do do this whole part, or a selected portion of it with a ‘batch-script’? If so, Logical Editors are your best friend. I.E. I want to change the groove or feel by adjusting the velocity of every note falling within X milliseconds of the 2nd and 4th beat of a measure, and move them so they rush the beat a bit. Why do it one note at the time with a mouse, when you can process the whole track with a single Logical Editor? Same can apply to CC events to a large degree, you can scale them, and move them about with Logical Editors, and save a lot of time and frustration. I.E. I want CC11 to drive notes a little ‘louder’ as they play ‘higher on the scale’ and ‘softer’ as they go lower…rather than draw all that mess in one note at the time, I could do it to every note in the part with a simple "Logical Editor’.

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What I got from the OP was:
We shouldn’t need a click fest to find CC1 (Modulation)
We need Bezier curves in the Key Editor.

A Bezier curve would indeed be nice, but for now we have the line tool, which includes praboloa, sine, square, and triangle patterns, plus the good ole free hand draw method.

I haven’t had much (really any) trouble just using combinations of these options to get any kind of sonic curve I need in a MIDI part. I draw part of the curve in, swap, draw in the next part, then ‘group select’, start it playing and loop the segment I’m working on, and scale to need (while listening…more concerned with what it sounds like than what it looks like).

Don’t get me wrong, I’d like more curves in the editor too (especially for Automation Lanes). I’d like MORE event types and manipulation methods included in the Logical Editors (this even more so than visual gimmiks like more mouse driven curve types).

In my experience, fancy/dense curves within the constraints of CC resolution (0 - 127) are over-rated. With most instruments I find simple lines, or scattered dots (a rough sketch of a curve that isn’t very densely packed on the timeline) of controller events to be more than adequate. I’m sure there are exceptions, with instruments that have audible changes with every minute CC change, but those are RARE in my experience.

I believe this may be one reason more and more instruments encourage us to go over to VST based controls, through the automation lanes. The potential resolution is far greater than traditional MIDI controllers. “Someday” instruments will develop that take full advantage of it…

In places where it is used often, CC1 is quick and easy to find. It’s only in places where it is rarely used that it requires a few clicks to find it.

FWIW, I suspect the parabola tool will do what people want 90% of the time when they ask for bezier curves. Second, I’ve never seen anybody propose a sensible proposal for how bezier curves would work in a midi editor. You need control points for bezier curves, but unlike automation, the key editor midi has no control points. That’s the essential difference between automation and the key editor. You could imagine some kind of a complicated/contrived system where you create temporary control points for the purpose of creating the bezier curve, but as somebody said above, you’re kidding yourself if you think that would be easier or would give better results than line segments.