Film scoring with Cubase

Hello everyone,
I am a new user here. I’m a composer who has always worked with “real” musicians in live performances. Cubase 5 is installed on my pc and I’m studying its features because I may begin to deal with film scoring. Now, I have some questions for you professional users:

  1. What are the cues precisely?

  2. What comes first? The full score or the digital project? If I started to compose a soundtrack, I would first write the score for the orchestra with Finale and then import a midi file into cubase and work with it (if I did not have a real orchestra, I mean). But I have read that the score is made later and I’m wondering how that is possible.

  3. I’ve seen that film composers often record the different sections of the orchestra separately (strings, brass, percussion etc). Why do they do that? Is it because they have to modify each section’s audio track separately without affecting the other insturments? If so, what kind of manipulation are applied to these audio tracks?

  4. I’ve also read that a film soundtrack’s project often deals with hundreds of midi tracks. What are they for? Are they particular effects? If so, how to notate them in the score?

  5. Cubase is one of the most used software for composing: do you know if in medium-low budget productions the soundtracks are made just with vst plugins (such as East west or Halion one)? And (since I would be part of these medium-low budget prductions!) do you recommend me to work with midi tracks or with audio tracks? Just consider that Finale allows me to export midi file (or even xml)

I know they are a lot of questions, but when I hear a soundtrack I always wonder if it was created with vst or with real instruments and how it was modified and manipulated and even how some effects were notated in the score. Probably I’m completely getting wrong, but I’d like to know how it works, because I do think that Cubase could realy help me in getting what I want and what I may need in the future.
Many thanks and sorry for my probable mistakes, but I’m not an Enghlish native speaker! :wink:

Any help? :slight_smile:

Can’t help sorry!

Do you intend writing Notation = Scores for live musicians for these films?


Will you be using real musicians who need a high end engraving done to ‘publishing standards’?

Generally, you’d start out with musical ideas…the textures, melodies, and instrumentation you’d like to use for a scene. You can do that through composed (bring in elements from Finale if you like)…or, you can improvise it in real time (play it on a keyboard).

Think of it kind of like the old Theatre Organ Anthologies before the days of talking pictures. The organist would create a massive repertoire of musical passages (here come the trolly…oh sweet they are in love…oh how sad that grandma died…the bad guy is getting chased…etc.) Next, he sits there in front of the screen and enhances the story with the repertoire he’s built up, and his instrument(s). He’s got sounds up his sleeve for everything from the “Battle at the OK Corral”, to…“awe, the family just got a cute new baby that loves to spit up on papa”.

Before you set up any ‘live recording’ sessions, you can already have a good mock up of what you’re shooting for with the real orchestra.

Composing melodic themes, textures, and so forth is often a ‘through composed’ process, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes simple is better, and all you need are some percussion accents, or tonal clusters, etc. You can make a bottomless toolbox of moods, melodic ideas, and textures. Make them any way you like, with whatever tools you like. The nice thing about a DAW, is you can paste them together and try different ideas on the fly, and get them to sync perfectly with your video.

If you don’t have a studio full of musicians that need parts printed out…I’d personally skip Finale until the very last stage (if you need it at all) and work Directly in Cubase. With practice and experience you’ll begin to learn what ‘scoring needs’ to 'take care of as you compose to save time later…but initially, you’ve got to learn all about the program…so pick something and dive in :slight_smile: It has a pretty good score editor, that ‘to me’ in so far as getting musical ideas into the program, and making them sound as I wish…is a heck of a lot easier to work in than Finale or Sibelius.

In Cubase you get ‘score translation’ abilities similar to Finale and Sibelius for when you need them (I.E. Expression maps that define what score symbols mean and how to translate them during playback), but you ALSO get a key editor (which allows precise and easy control over note durations), easy to use controller lanes (just draw your CC events right there on an automation lane on the track, or in the key editor), and powerful on the fly percussion mapping with a diamond note editor. The ‘logic’ editor is pretty powerful as well, and allows you to build simple scripts on the fly to automate many kinds of repetitive MIDI edits.

Marker and tempo tracks galore. Finale and Sibelius simply can’t compare in terms of power or ease of use when it comes to isolating parts of a soundscape quickly (setting various loop points, arrangement variations, locators, etc.), and having easy and precise control over the tempo. I.E. Imagine you want a big gong sound at the precise moment the villain gets bopped in the head. Cubase would make it super easy to set a marker and ‘resize while time stretching/shrinking’ so all your leading music fits the time line and the gong plays exactly where it should.

Time stretching to hit cues is a breeze in Cubase…just set your marks, lock any events that you do NOT want moved about in time, then drag parts/folders and viola, the timing is automatically adjusted. Again, this is something that a scoring package like Finale isn’t really designed to do as well or as intuitively.

Scoring packages like Finale do have some groove engine capabilities, but they’re no where near as flexible and easy to customize and change as they are in a DAW. I.E. Decide you want more ‘swing’ in a series of measures, and you only want that swing on beats 2 and 4, but to keep a straight feel on beats 1 and 3? No problem with Cubase…just play the ‘groove’ you want (or draw it in if you’d rather), and apply it to the bars you want.

While Finale and Sibelius are pretty easy to use when you stick to the sounds and ‘instrument profiles’ that come with them…things can get complicated rather quickly when you decide to pull in your own samples, or third party sample libraries. Sibelius can actually require that you learn a strange system of patch selection called SoundWorld, and constantly manipulate that stuff in an external program. Finale lets you build sound sets and attach them to various ‘scoring symbols or text instructions’ from inside the Main UI, but again, you can find yourself having to rework all sorts of filters and priority lists.

Cubase on the other hand, makes it easy to assign key triggers, CC messages, or whatever you want to any note using a variety of methods. You do still have to build them as you need them at first, but Cubase has a set of tools that makes it easier to pull in any synths, samplers, or live tracks that you desire. Of course you’ll save things you design as presets so you don’t have to keep ‘reinventing them’ over and over again.

With CuBase, Workflow can vary depending on the type of score you’re doing and your ‘mood’. You can sync up your video, and just play parts right in and worry about scoring later…or, you can sit down and through compose in Score Mode. Whatever makes you happy :slight_smile: Scoring packages are going to bind you to a single work flow.

Cubase also supports something called ‘note expression’, which allows you to attach CC like events directly to a note itself (independent of the traditional controller lanes). Hence, copying or moving a note to another stave or measure would bring it’s controller data along with it.

In short…think of Finale as a score ‘interpreter’, that does a pretty good job of trying to guess in ‘generic template terms’ how it should play the notes and symbols you put on the page. In contrast, Cubase makes YOU the ‘conductor’, with total control over every fine detail of the performance. With a DAW, you can control every nuance of each attack, swell, pitch, and release characteristics of each note. You can even fake ‘harmonics’ and put in the sounds of brass valves clattering and musicians ‘breathing’ or sliding their fingers over the strings if you want ‘that much detail’.

If you’re not just responsible for ‘music’ but also other elements of a sound track (doors opening and closing, ambient room or nature sounds, silly sound effects, etc…) again, the DAW is going to give you precise and easy control over what plays when on the timeline.

When it comes to working with surround sound…well, that’s something any of today’s scoring packages are NOT currently set up to deal with. Cubase + Halion 5 is pretty amazing in this respect…pull 7 and 8 track samples right into Halion for sample triggering or granular synthisis, etc.

Most of what I’ve touched on in this particular post concerns working with MIDI or VST instruments in Cubase Pro from versions 7-8.5 (sorry, I’m not experienced with Version 5, but I’d imagine it can do much of what I’ve mentioned above). With those sorts of instruments you can even make radical changes with a few clicks and strokes like…changing to an entirely different key, or shifting from an ‘equal temperament’ tuning system to a ‘Just Major’ system.

Audio tracks can also be time stretched/shrunk, processed, quantitated, retuned, and so forth…but not as easily or intuitively as the stuff you create with a MIDI or VST plugin instrument. You’ll be more limited in how much you can ‘edit’ an audio track and maintain authenticity. This is why recording real musicians should wait until the last stage…where you’d rather get as many ‘takes’ of them playing/singing your ‘score’ as possible so you can pick and choose the best bits of every track and take in the final mix-down…rather than spending time trying to ‘fix compositional and timing issues’, throughout the recording session.

What can I say? Many many thanks for your reply1 You have clarified my ideas…Now I “just” have to study all its features, try over and over and…make mistakes! :wink:

No problem :slight_smile:

If film and game scoring is something you’re interested in taking up professionally, there are a few books out there on the topic. I can’t really recommend any specific titles at the moment but your favorite search engine should turn up a few.

Different industries, companies, universities, guilds, etc…may well have a ‘style and formatting guide’ for packaging and delivering various elements of a completed film score project. Think of it kind of like different ‘writer’s guides’…Journalists use AP or Chicago, Psychologists and Educators use APA, Literary Scholars use MLA, and the list goes on.

While music production is far less ‘standardized’ than the writing guide examples offered above…each gig may well have you compose to a kind of ‘style and formatting guide’. Different teams working on the project will need different elements in different formats at different times as the total movie is put together. It’s difficult to have any clue what clients are going to want in that respect and it can suck the life out of you trying to predict and prepare too much of that in advance.

So…focus on making the music in any format you can first. A fountain pen on napkins is better than fighting with software all day and getting nothing done :slight_smile: If you’ve got the music…there are always people out here willing to help you figure out how to get it onto media so people can hear it :slight_smile:

I think I have not understood what you mean: I have never heard about a “style and formatting guide”. What is that for? How is it applied to music composition with Cubase or Finale or something else? Then, what is this format you’re talking about? It does seem to me that it can be something very important, but I haven’t got its sense.
Thank you again! :wink:

It’s not that important until you have a job, commission, or contract. Some clients might expect the finished product that you would turn in to them to be formatted a very specific way upon delivery.

Specific fonts and sizes for various scoring practices.
Specific file formats.
A certain preference in the order of tracks in the project.
Coloring schemes for different types of parts.
Inclusion and formats for Documentation, Notes, Credits, Copywrite information, RISC numbers, etc.

Think of it like doing a school paper, where the professor says, “I want this done in APA format!”. In that case, you’d grab the APA writer’s guide and make your paper and all its references fit that mold.

To my knowledge there is no such thing as a universal industry wide standards guide for how to present a film score; however, individual producers may well have a ‘guide of their own’ that composers are expected to follow. I.E. If they plan to work directly with your DAW project, they might prefer everything done in AIFF rather than WAV. They might require a certain sample rate or bit width on your audio tracks. If they want paper scores, they may have very specific requirments on how that should be formatted for printing, etc.

That’s why I say early on, focus on building a repitore of plug and play themes and ideas with MIDI and/or Instrument tracks, and don’t worry so much about how you do it or what tools you use. If it has to be finalized for a specific suite of software and/or formatting standards…you can worry about that last (or turn it over to an engineer to sort out and go back to composing). Not every production is going to have the budget or resources to do a full scale through composed symphonic score with live musicians, and it’s not very likely that you’ll land gigs that large early in your career either…so you can create elements that you’ll use as a foundation again and again from project to project, and build a reputation of being able to collaborate with clients and score up video quickly, efficiently, and on time.

Being able to communicate/collaborate and show clients your ideas, listen to them very carefully and make adjustments, and deliver stuff they ‘can use’ on time are what matters most. In commercial music, collaboration and people skills are at least 90% of the battle…making a musical masterpiece is nothing if it’s not what the client has in mind, and it’s not delivered on the deadline. Cubase Pro is pretty cutting edge when it comes to exchanging data , collaborating with Clients, and setting up ‘remote’ recording sessions.

There may not be a universally accepted one, but this is new from CineSamples and was designed by one of the top film score music copiests in the biz, Robert Puff. If you make a score look like this, I don’t think any film orchestra will have issues.

Thank you very much Brian. I specially like your words about Finale and Sibelius.