DAW-As-Instrument, DAW-As-Sound-Design-Tool

I really wish Cubase would be more like Bitwig in how it lets you control plugin parameters and sound events.

Here is an example of how Cumbersome Cubase is in this respect. To make the AutoLFO MIDI plugin control (say) the frequency of an EQ, this is what you would have to do (not my instructions, got it from a YouTube video, and never found a better way):

  • First insert another MIDI plugin, the MIDI Control plugin, to let the EQ plugin “MIDI learn” to which MIDI controller to listen
  • Now you can insert the AutoLFO plugin and let it oscillate that same MIDI controller

And you just have to hope the routing is still place after you close and re-open the project. Usually it isn’t.

And as for AutoLFO itself, it is the bare minimum of a MIDI LFO. E.g. you can’t set a phase offset or tilt.

It is ridiculous, really. “Shockingly bad”, so Dash Glitch, before he actually migrated to Bitwig, never to return.

This is just one example, but generally it seems like Cubase is missing out on this DAW-As-Instrument-And-Sound-Design-Tool movement that you see happening.

I think no electronic music producer is interested in yet another plugin shipping with Cubase. But they DO CARE about immaculate and streamlined sequencing capabilities in the broadest sense.

And please Cubase, review your “Project Setup Dialog” chapter of the Cubase manual. It uses an example from the artist Venus Theory, who, rather painfully, also migrated away to Bitwig.

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I really don’t wish it was like Bitwig.

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It uses an example from the artist Venus Theory, who, rather painfully, also migrated away to Bitwig.

…and moved away from Bitwig…

I think an overhaul and enhancement of midi plugins and adding better modulation capabilities is well warranted. I don’t want Bitwig level modulation inside Cubase – leave that to Bitwig, which is built around that – but Cubase really does need much better parameter control with envelopes, LFO, etc, IMO.

If you look at the envelope features already inside the Cubase Sampler track and the FX Modulator, for example, Steinberg already has a basic idea to move forward. Expand that globally and/or throw all that into automation plugins that apply to any assigned parameters of any other plugins, plus some basic LFO options with offset, etc., and that would be great for me.

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I’m all for modulating parameters inside a DAW. But not if they’re going through 7-bit MIDI CCs. That is yesteryear technology. Do it with VST Parameters directly instead.

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Agreed, it needs to be a modern implementation.

If you don’t mind a 3rd party plugin, Shaperbox 3 is an incredible tool.

I agree, but AFAIK I can’t apply those Shaperbox 3 envelopes to any other plugins running in Cubase (including VSTi) and any other parameters in those other plugins, which is what I (and presumably some others) really want to do.

Shaperbox 3, as I understand it, is similar to (but much fancier than) what Cubase already includes with the FX Modulator plugin, which is pretty good BTW, and it has nice envelope tools, which are useless for what I’d like to do outside the plugin itself.

For example, if I’m running a VSTi like Diva in a track and I want to directly modulate multiple Diva parameters with LFOs and envelope shapes… then Shaperbox 3 (and Cubase FX Modulator) won’t help me at all. However, PLEASE let me know if I’m missing something and if Shaperbox 3 CAN help me do that, I must be blind and missed it!

Which leads me to speculate that we will probably be using the status quo until MIDI 2 is integrated into Cubase. If you are gonna develop new capabilities, it makes more sense to do it on what’s coming in and not what’s going out.

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Influencers who make a living from doing work for companies aren’t necessarily choosing their toolkit for artistic or workflow reasons.

This doesn’t reflect negatively on them, since it’s very difficult to make a living with music, and you gotta do, what you gotta do.

It does however invalidate their decisions as being benchmarks for anyone else.

Venus Theory and others are still very useful for showcasing what a product can do.

But not so much as reviewers of the relative merits of competing alternatives.

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But why would MIDI be involved at all?
Unless I’m missing something, these modulators would be internal to the DAW. Isn’t that the whole point?

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Side question: Is there any way for VST3 automation to be passed between plugins like MIDI and Audio?

All I seem to be able to find is hosts communicating automation data with VST3 plugins, effectively necessitating wrapper plugins inside Cubase to do realtime VST3 automation with various modulators.

Just curious. What synth/sampler are you using these days that doesn’t have lots of different assignable LFOs built in?

I sometimes want to create LFOs quickly for raw samples. Sometimes I’ll throw them in HALion where LFO potential is only limited by the power of my computer. To me it’s just as fast, faster really, than messing with ‘sampler tracks’ or cutting and pasting on audio tracks and then jumping through hoops attempting to force the host to do what HALion (or Kontakt, or Falcon, etc) can do with ease.

Once or twice I wanted to do some panning and tremolo effects with some stuff triggered in Sforzando instances. No shortage of plugins that’ll do that sort of stuff directly to the audio stream, and no complicated automation lane was necessary. I’ve also used bidule before, as I wanted to trigger a plugin, but then use comb filters and stuff to isolate select frequencies and mod them from there. Bidule can bridge between, echo, mutate, and more in real time…to the audio at the individual sample level, to VST parameters, OSC, and/or MIDI events. It’s been the ultimate Swiss Army Knife of a plugin in ALL of my hosts for years now…gluing in ‘never had it and probably never will’ features to them all. Using cutting edge VST3 stuff in VST2 only hosts (or vice verse). Etc, etc, etc. More than paid for itself in only a few quick projects out of the gate.

I have nothing against the feature requests for better automation lanes and whatnot. I agree that it’s long over-due (MIDI tracks are way more powerful when it comes to precision or batch-logic-editing/slicing/dicing, but at a loss of resolution), VST Automation lanes ARE quite rudimentary in Cubase at present).

My only point is that for many ‘modulation’ demands, ‘if’ it’s not already built into the instrument itself, there are quite often plugins that ship with Cubase that are ready to ‘get it done’ with strong power user workflows and high precision results. (For basic mod jobs like panning, sweeping, stepping, tremolo, vibrato, etc)

When it comes to stuff like HALion, Kontakt, Falcon, etc (and also for hardware like Montage, Fantom, VAST, KRONOS, etc.)…the powerhouse modulation tools are already there, and have been for decades. Even a Sound Canvas (the real deal, or a software clone) from the 1990s can LFO mod its own pitch/filters/levels and the lfo parameters can be tweaked in real time using a few GM listed CCs.

They are completely remote controllable, scriptable, syncable, side-chainable, and more. Spending a little time learning how our instruments work, that were built from the ground up with sound design at microscopic levels in mind is well worth it. They tend to have far superior tools for modulation tasks in place NOW, where every single DAW on the market is literally decades behind when it comes to trying to make them ‘do our instruments/plugins’ job for them’. If I want to phase in an LFO for a given oscillator in one of my synths…well, I been doing that with a few CCs, and swapping LFO assignments in real time with Sysex commands and such since nineteen ninety weird.

Plus, a number of very interesting utility type supplemental plugins and apps (Plogue bidule, loads of stuff from Blue Cat Audio, etc) exist out there that are very sound investments, and will make ALL of your hosts do more things you want to accomplish creatively, and with interesting/powerful workflows, that can also end up making your most intricate ‘sound design tasks’ far more ‘portable’ across different hosts and platforms, NOW. Don’t have to make wish lists and wait. Loads of stuff on wish-lists of DAWs and Scoring Apps have been available as ‘plugins’ for decades now.

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With the new remote control system I think it ‘might’ be possible to pass off some variables to a shared memory area? I haven’t look all that deep into the API yet, but it would make sense that some kind of ‘global space’ might exist that any/all remote scripts running might be able to ‘share’ and manipulate so it’d be synced across any remote that uses it.

I’ve known one sure fire way for years, but it’s ‘third party’ cheating…

Subhost plugins that need to share common parameters in Bidule.

In a plugin like bidule, you can create your own VST parameters at will, and then link them to anything hosted in the bidule instance however you like. It also has ‘bidules’ for converting CC to VST, and vice verse.

For a simpler objective like sharing some parameters across multiple plugins, it’s not hard at all to set it up and start making interesting things happen.

Works kind of like this…

Load an instance of bidule in Cubase (Rack, Instrument, Effect Slot, whatever). At first no VST Parameters show up in Cubase for bidule, So you set up a few and name them whatever you like.

Load some instruments/effects/whatever in the bidule instance. Pop open a panel and ‘link’ the parameters you’ve registered with the host (Cubase) to whatever you like that is hosted and registered inside Bidule.

You can have multiple links among parameters if you like. Spawn off all the ‘extra’ parameters you like, named whatever you like, and if you want/need it, build logic to transform stuff in real time. I.E. You could design a complicated one knob ‘cross fade’ effect among dozens of parameters across multiple plugins if you like.

You can also do stuff like set up a ‘bank’ of controls, and make snap shots of their positions as ‘presets’. You could even build remote methods to cycle or select specific presets for such a bank.

Yep, you get all sorts of tools to ‘modulate’ those parameters in Bidule as well. LFO, stuff to create side-chain triggers, MIDI triggers, and more. It even has stocastic MIDI event and random math generators at hand (can easily ‘convert’ the output of these ‘random number’ and ‘pattern’ generators to other scales/ranges/resolutions for audio/spectral/and more). Nice monitoring abilities for MIDI, audio, and more.

It’s based on ‘visual object UI’ concepts, so it’s pretty easy to understand and use; although it isn’t very pretty to look at…and can be a bit tedious to build a complicated network with (popping open dialogs for different building blocks, tweaking, and then connecting all those together with ‘virtual cables’. If ‘coding/scripting’ is more your style, you can grab the dev kit and learn how to just ‘code more complex bidules’ so they’re pretty much plug’n’play into a bidule network.

In general, you’ll most likely want to consolidate any plugins that need to ‘share’ parameters into the same bidule instance, but it is possible to use OSC networking protocols, or virtual MIDI cables to ‘communicate between different bidule instances’. Each bidule instance can run OSC servers, clients, or both at the same time, and since that’s IP based stuff, you can keep it local, or even share it across your LAN/WAN, or even over the internet.

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Basically if somebody tries to use an external device to control Cubase and any of its paramters.
As long as you don’t do that MIDI would not be involved.

I would use such a modulation system rather for effects, not so much for instruments.

Also, @Brian_Roland, you might want to keep all that modulation/envelope/LFO good stuff separate from whatever VST/VSTi you are using, in the case of switching out plugins but keeping those envelopes/LFOs, or swapping/copying/cloning envelopes/LFOs between plugins, or matching/routing envelopes/LFOs between different plugins, and so forth. If I build an envelope/LFO inside HALion I obviously can’t copy it from HALion to Diva or to some filter VST I like.

Anyway, to your other points, @Brian_Roland, glad you brought up third party plugins as extra tools (and I’m happy to see that Bidule is still updated after all these years, wow!), etc., it’s a valid approach for sure, but some improvements to Cubase in this area would be very welcome and are probably past due. The fact that Steinberg is clearly aware of user needs when you look at envelope tools in the Sampler Track, Modulator FX plugin, and as you mentioned, HALion, it’s clear they are responding to a segment of their customer base. So now they need to expand that out globally inside Cubase. There are a lot of ways they could do this.

In the meantime, though, as you explained, there are workarounds. But again, those workarounds require extra hassle and/or expense and/or have other limitations, for things that are becoming more standard each passing year in other DAWs. And again, I’m not advocating for Cubase to become Bitwig. I love Bitwig and use Bitwig, let’s leave Bitwig to Bitwig. However, there are PLENTY of use cases in a large context of projects and genres where big improvements in Cubase are warranted.

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But what if you want one LFO to rule them all - i.e. multiple parameters in different plugins? That’s what I mean by DAW-As-Sound-Design-Tool in its own right.

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I do not know this plugin, but I understand the MIDI timing (not from Shaperbox but from Cubase) is really bad - actually “shockingly bad”, that was the exact target of this quote in my main post

But there’s already MIDI Remote that covers that part. My point was, modulators such as LFOs and envelopes would manipulate VST parameters directly without any MIDI involved.
Then you could use MIDI Remote to manipulate the LFO/envelope parameters.