Creating orchestra mockups in Dorico vs. Cubase

One topic I haven’t been able to find much discussion on is a comparison of MIDI editing and playback features when compared to Cubase. I’m working on music for piano up to orchestra and have been using Cubase to create mock-ups. My parameters are:

  • Cubase 9.5
  • Only VST instruments
  • Mostly East/West Hollywood Orchestra Gold / Play at the moment
  • Lots of expression maps

What kind of control or functionality will I lose if I try to move onto Dorico for creating mock-ups? Is it a non-starter, requires a ton more work, or somewhere in between? Is there controller lane editing? Can I re-use existing expression maps? Detailed tempo fudging (like the tempo track in Cubase)?

In other words, is it reasonable for a primarily VST-based composer to use Dorico exclusively?

A marketing guy could truthfully answer “yes” to all three within the letter of the law, but in reality the functionality you can use to do the operations is probably too basic to use on a “real” project. For example you can only display one controller lane at a time, you can’t cut-and-paste sections of it, you can’t usefully combine controller changes generated by playing techniques with user editing, mutually exclusive playing techniques aren’t implemented without manual workrounds to disable one when another starts, etc, etc…

I’m not implying that Steinberg employees would deliberately mislead you, of course - nobody that I know of is trying to hide the fact that Play mode in Dorico is still a work in progress.

And no individual note velocity editing yet. This is why I’m currently sticking to Logic when I need “finished product” mockups but using Dorico with Note Performer (plus a few simpler virtual instrument substitutions such as for piano, etc.) for mockups that primarily require a final score (or for when I wish to compose via a score, vs. in a DAW).

I think the best way to find out is to set aside some time to grab a Demo, sit down, and try a project for yourself. See if you fall in love…
The best tool for the job is one you enjoy using and feel at home with.

What “I” feel like I lose when messing with Scoring Software…
Control of the workflow. In something like Cubase you get all kinds of ‘options’ in how you prefer to work. A variety of editors specialized for different purposes. Multi Screen support. Various Groove and Theory aids. More than a hand-full of post processing tools and plugins. Audio tracks, plus the amazingly deep abilities to edit those waveforms down to the individual sample level. The ability to integrate and sync with just about any gear/kit/equipment/third party stuff etc. Well explored and understood project and track ‘logical editors’. As you already know, finding your personal groove in a Pro DAW tends to start out as a massive ‘blank slate’ of ‘dumb tools’ that can take a while to learn about, master, and find/build your best workflow, but once you do, it’s hard to beat. At this time, if you need to sync with other media, hit precise cues, integrate with gaming engines, work with mounds of third party plugins/gear, or do any post-processing at all, there is still no substitute for a full featured DAW.

What you gain…
It’s a Fast, intuitive, and easy way to get notes on a page and get some immediate auditory feedback. You can pretty much start creating music from day one. Fussing with setting up instruments…fancy templates…etc…all that stuff is optional and will come as your needs grow, but you can start making a complex symphony or opera on DAY ONE. Not so with a brand new DAW out of the box (unless you have well developed DAW chops over the years)…you’ll pour through a manual for hours just figuring out how to set up your first VSTi and route it through the Mixer the way you like, learning various audio engineering and technology terms and processes, etc.

If you want something to throw on a laptop and be able to throw together lead sheets, publish beautifully detailed scores/parts, and coordinate performers, or put lessons in front of students, etc…Dorico is definitely worth a look.

You get tools that produce extremely nice engraved scores/parts. It’s done by a crew of very experienced Scoring software gurus who know all too well the workflow and output mistakes of previous generations of scoring software. They’ve poured through tens of thousands of scores from every era of known music publishing and begun to give users the power to do it all with a minimal learning curve. Dorico is still a youngling, but he’s already got an impressive set of score building and engraving teeth.

The ‘foundation’ is there to begin building a long term workstation that will eventually become the best of both worlds (DAW-centric power user tools, plus fully featured/pro grade Engraving, Quazi Automatic Score Interpretation, Instrument Integration, Scripted/Logical editing tools, Mixing Desk/Tools, etc.). At version 2.x…it’s not yet a viable Cubase substitute for me personally. I think it WILL BE someday…but at this stage, it still requires a lot of tedious user intervention to get nice score interpretations. The potential is there to eventually match up with, and teach Dorico to use all my favorite instrument libraries, but at this time it’s far more efficient for me to simply spread it all out in a DAW where I can layer/render/batch-process/and more.

Those of us who use Dorico daily keep adding bits as pieces (expression maps, drum maps, techniques, etc.) as we compose. Like with our old DAW setup…Dorico gets a little smarter as we teach him how to talk to our libraries and interpret things the way we like. Personally…it’s still a DAW job when it comes to polishing off and mastering a decent mock-up. To me, there’s still no substitute for using at lest ‘some’ live musicians in the mix…even if it’s just a couple of principal players…plus…at some point the project typically needs to be synced with other media, or mastered to a target format anyway…so I work in Dorico when I need printed music, and in my DAW when it needs to be ‘heard’ at the highest quality.

So…for ‘the ear’, and for ‘welding and melding’ multi-media together…the DAW remains king, and will for quite some time. Power for price ratio is still untouchable. As pricey as a leading DAW like Cubase Pro can be…it’s amazing what all comes in the BOX!

For publishing scores/parts, creative inspiration, ease of use, intuitive work-flow (for those with traditional backgrounds in music notation/theory), Dorico is hitting a home run for me.

Thank you everybody for your detailed responses. It seems like for now, we’ll still need both types of software. Maybe someday in the future, we’ll have a scoring DAW that does it all, but sounds like we’re not there yet.

Dorico is definitely heading in the right direction, though, and is the closest anyone has gotten so far with a notation program, so I wish them all the encouragement I can muster to keep fortifying this DAW-like functionality! Would love to ultimately be able to move all my VST’s to Dorico and go back to writing from actual notation again instead of relying first upon the piano roll in Logic! In the meantime, the combination of Dorico with Note Performer is an incredible stopgap (given Dorico’s power and Note Performer’s expressiveness).

  • D.D.