Cubase 10.5 ; clueless noob question!

I have Cubase 10.5, and no musical talent ! I am frustrated , because the main thing that is holding me back from progressing beyond a drive full of 4 bar or so loops and ideas , is the fact that everything sounds flat, muddy , uninspiring and generally not what I hope to achieve. No issues with my equipment, pretty sure it’s my lack of talent and familiarity with the program . Another thing is due to environmental issues , I have to work with headphones. Don’t judge me for that ! Is there something I ought to be doing in setting up a blank template for a new project, in terms of EQ plugs and such? I know the equipment and the 'phones are capable of reasonable sound quality , as evidenced by the fact that other work - not mine! - sounds pretty damn good on it.

For info, here’s my kit as it stands right now,
Windows 10 64,
Cubase 10.5 , updated as far as it goes these days,
Behringer UMC404HD interface,
Samson studio reference 'phones, model not sure , but they don’t appear to ‘enhance’ the sound in any way, as others I use for hi-fi may do.
Mostly Native Instruments plug-ins, in addition to the bundled Steinberg plugs, all updated fastidiously,
various ‘actual reality’ synths , Novation MiniNova, Roland Gaia and System 1 Aira,which took some figuring out how to get 'em working in the program , although integration leaves something to be desired in my opinion. Seems like the only use for the USB connexion is to clock 'em- don’t seem to be able to control them fully as I thought I might with Cubase. VSTs are SO much easier to work with , but these synths have some killer sounds and features .

So…anyone got any wisdom on where I should put more effort? Any suggestions for a blank project template I could download and add my own instruments to , that maybe I could learn from? Please don’t tell me to find some talent, it’s hard enough just being a struggling eejit as it is !!! Thanx to all for any clues for this clueless eejit!

Learning audio engineering is not all that different than learning a musical instrument in terms of complexity and the time it takes to get good at it. You wouldn’t take up piano and expect to sound like Lang Lang after a few months. So cut yourself some slack and accept that it is a learning process that will slowly improve over time.

Also without knowing what you are stylistically going after it’s hard to be specific. Using a compressor on a singer-songwriter piece is going to be different than how you’d use it for EDM, jazz or afro-beats. So stylistic norms will also come into play.

Here’s some general tips

Arrangements matter more than many folks think. Are the various instruments and parts reinforcing each other or fighting against each other? Maybe the vocal is not clear because it is being masked by some piano chords which could be avoided by moving the chords up or down an octave. Stuff like that. Also getting four instruments to sound good together will be easier than twenty instruments. So calibrate your goals to facilitate some early wins.

Minimize your corrective processing. Just because a Track has EQ and a compressor on it doesn’t mean you should use them. Try balancing all the Tracks without using these tools at all. Once you’ve got that sounding its best then use these tools to correct specific problems - i.e. roll off a bit of high end because the guitar is sounding harsh. While tools like EQ, limiters, compressors can be used for both corrective and artistic purposes I think it is best to initially focus on the corrective side because that’s where you’ll learn how to correctly use the tools. Once you understand them in that context then move on to using them artistically. The misuse of compressors is one of the easiest ways to make audio sound like crap.

Good luck.


Well, Raino,

you have given me some ideas of how to proceed. Seems I need to walk first, run later! I will take a good,hard look at what I want to achieve, maybe see a bigger picture, things that are so obvious I really shpoulda seen 'em ! At present, all my abortive projects are all of a minimal track count, so there’s not too much going on. I can’t see me ever needing more than say, a half-dozen tracks or so, given my musical taste. For the record , my influences are, in no particular order, Kraftwerk , Devo, Boards of Canada, Prodigy, Gary Numan, John Foxx, Pitchshifter , mainly the synth-based ‘minimalwave’ stuff. Although having said that, I do listen to some guitar-based stuff occasionally, Godflesh, Big Black ,Front Line Assembly , that kinda thing.

It’s when I listen to this stuff I’m into , that the dissatisfaction creeps in. I really wish I could get a bit close to the production values of this material. I realise that takes brute talent to acvhieve , but for me , ‘close enough is good enough’ . Or a my guitar teacher of 40 years ago told me ‘close enough for government work’. An example , if you’ve ever listened to Kraftwerk’s 'Tour de France ypu might get an idea of what inspires me. There is so much ‘space’ in the recording . it’s as much about what ISN’T there as what IS there.

So, I’ll just slow down, engage low-gear, and see where applying ‘less is more’ takes me .I’ll start by getting one track how I want it to sound, and, once that is done, get another track to sound ‘right’ with it, by looking at what I did for the first track , hopefully I can find some good lessons and pointers there.

Thanks for sending me in the right direction. It is very much appreciated, and wise words, indeed.

I’d strongly disagree with this. While talent is always nice to have in abundance there is a huge amount of craft that is essential to successful audio production. Craft is what makes it sound good, talent is what makes it sound interesting.

What specific things sound lacking to you in the pieces you’ve done so far? Is it the composition itself, the arrangement, the quality of the actual sound, a combination of some elements, or something else. What are you hearing in other folk’s work that you’d like to hear in your own? And equally important, what elements of your own pieces do you think are working how you’d like?

One caution is that when you are comparing your recordings to professional releases that is really apples & oranges. Those recordings have been mastered by folks who (for the most part) specialize in mastering exclusively. You might find that your own recordings compare favorably to a pre-mastered mix of the very same releases.