Need a new DAW - is Cubase what I want?

I’ve been using FL Studio for a little over a year; it’s my first DAW. I write music from scratch. Occasionally I might use some prerecorded audio or samples, but mainly I start with a blank page and write everything. My compositions usually involve multiple instruments and ever-more complex harmonies as my skills grow.

I’ve been frustrated by FL Studio’s lack of musical heritage. Its original develop, GOL had no musical training and it shows in the product. For instance, it has no concept of key-signatures or keys. So If I have a long sequence of chords and I want to repeat them a note or two higher and lower, I have to transpose everything manually because without knowing what key I’m in, it can’t transpose them diatonically. Also its piano roll marks ALL the black keys as “sharp” and you can’t turn that off so if you’re composing in Cb-Major, (or anything on the left-side of the Circle-of-Fifths), too bad.

Also if you have a multi-instrument project and you want to export the MIDI file to, say MuseScore to print out the sheet music, there’s a lot of manual labor to assign separate MIDI channels to each instrument and copy them all into one place for the export. And again, no key signature. It also has a bug in exporting MIDI with time-signature changes.

Finally the user-community there doesn’t seem to have many people with formal music training so when I ask a question they often don’t understand it.

I’m told Cubase is more composer-friendly and more oriented to people with actual musical-training. Is this true, and if so what gotcha’s should I be aware of if I switch to Cubase?

Thanks in advance.

Hi and welcome on the forum,

Yes, Cubase is very much musicians oriented. Several film music composers are working with Cubase, including Hans Zimmer.

I would recommend to download Cubase Trial, you would find out, if you like the concept or not.

What you seem to be describing that you want is almost exactly what newer users sometimes critizise, i.e. that Cubase is “old school” and needs to move with the times. As a long-time Cubase user, I am of course biased, but I have found Cubase to be, well, more “musical”.

Seriously? Yes, I think it’s time you tried Cubase :slight_smile:

I would recommend to download Cubase Trial, you would find out, if you like the concept or not.
It took 10 months of heavy use of FL Studio, including making the music for 6 videos, before its deficiencies became overwhelming. My understanding is that Cubase has quite a long learning curve, so I don’t think I’d get far enough along that curve using just a trial version to really know much before making a purchase decision. So I want to have a high degree of confidence that Cubase is the best that money can buy for my purposes and then just jump in. I’m 68 and have a rare blood cancer so I spend all my time on art and music projects so if I’m going to be climbing a long learning curve I only want to do it once. I have five Windows PC’s so I’m not switching to Apple so I simply need the best in the Windows world.

How is Cubase for work-flow? FL Studio’s many limitations force me to take my head out of musical-creative mode and into geek mode constantly. Simple things like exporting a MIDI file just so I can print sheet music take many distracting steps. Will Cubase allow me to stay focused on my music and not have to fight the software all the time?

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Yeah, there are a bunch of Music Theory nerds in these parts. Cubase used to have the flats as sharps problem, but that has been resolved (although every once in awhile you still see something…) The thing to do is download the Trial version and see for yourself - although you will currently need a dongle to use it (Steinberg is in the process of getting rid of the dongle, but that’s still future) so that’s a small cost to test. But based on your questions I think you’ll be very pleased.

Off the top of my head here are some features that should be appealing. The Pro version has all of these but the lesser versions may not. You can compare the different versions here.

  • Built in Score Editor, not pro engraving quality like Dorico, but decent for most stuff
  • Chord Track - you can even force notes to conform to Key/Scale or Chord (or not of course)
  • Signature, Tempo & Transpose Tracks so you can change these on the timeline
  • The Logical Editor lets you manipulate MIDI Data in all kinds of ways, including manipulating Channels
  • Chord Assistant if you’d like some help or suggestions

Here’s some pix





image

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… and just to mention that Cubase Elements does not require the hardware “dongle”, so you could try the Elements trial, buy for ~$100, and the nice thing about Steinberg’s pricing is that you can always upgrade to higher editions for only the price difference – in other words, you can work your way up from “free” (trial) to the big kahuna.

I would be inclined to say, try Elements to see if you like the interface (GUI) – there are already plenty of nice harmonic features in Elements – and then decide if you want to purchase the “dongle” (USB eLicenser) in order to either trial Cubase Pro/Artist or just purchase outright.

Personally, I think you’ll be happy with Cubase’s “musicality”, and there is a strong support community here as well, so we’re happy to answer any questions inasmuch as we can!

Yes and no. Cubase is a very deep and feature rich so if you want to understand it all it is going to take awhile. And honestly I’ve been using it for ages and am an expert in some areas, but there’s other parts of Cubase that I never touch - it does a lot of different things. While a Trial likely isn’t long enough to discover what you hate about Cubase (if anything) it is certainly long enough to see if the general workflow appeals to you.

The long learning curve is really for the nuance of Cubase not the bread and butter. Also in Cubase for many tasks there are a variety ways to get there.

In general this is sound advice. But in this specific case I’d say skip Elements. For one thing the Score Editor is not the same as Pro. Also some other features are missing in Elements that are likely to make Cubase sing for @art1 - who by the way has 5 PCs & a budget in search of the “best”

(Saying the quiet part out loud) All of us are saying to test drive the trial version. And I suspect we’re all thinking Cubase Pro is exactly what he needs.

… possibly moreso for those who do not already have a basis in music theory, which does not appear to apply to you.

I agree totally with this sentiment – and I hate to make the comparison, but Cubase is to music what Word is to text. Typically, I can do 90% of what I want intuitively, but for that last 10%, I need to dive deep and then discover that what I wanted to do was already there, but just not how I imagined it would be, and I need to adapt, but after a while, I get it.

I must reiterate that this is a totally biased opinion of a long-time user who started with the MIDI-only sequencers of the 80’s, ended up with a career in IT partly as a result (the “geek” element), but I resort to Cubase for creative/artistic/musical escape, not because it’s a computer program, and I don’t approach it from the geek perspective – although I do dive in now an again, just because I can :-).

I am here for the music, primarily as a musician, and Cubase is my tool of choice.

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There is a tiny chance we are the same person. My first sequencer was text based, didn’t get a GUI until Bars & Pipes on the Amiga. Sorry for going a bit off topic.

… agree, other than that it can be trialled without having to purchase anything, or wait for physical delivery of a USB eLicenser (the sooner that new authorisation system is in place, the better!)

I’m still not clear why so many people here are keen on starting with a trial version. Think of it like choosing a fighter plane. You don’t want to go into battle with the second best fighter plane just because it’s easier to learn to fly; you want the best fighter plane and you simply make a commitment to learning how to fly it. So I just want to make sure I’m not overlooking an alternative product that’s more professional, more stable, or has a more efficient workflow.

On another thread here (“cubase-no-longer-film-composer-mainstay”) people were raising doubts about the long-term viability and commitment to development of the company. Any real worries there?
Speaking of workflow, in FL Studio I do everything via the Piano Roll; I use mostly a small set of classical and jazz instruments - mostly sampled piano, woodwinds, cello, a few percussion instruments, and I have good expertise in a three synthesizers - Sytrus, Sakura, and GMS - when I need to make some other sounds, but I don’t often. So I don’t use a lot of tracks, but I try to make up for it with interesting harmonies and rhythms. I always have an Akai MPK249 MIDI keyboard attached so I can try out chord progressions and melody lines, and note envelopes, but I enter everything with a mouse on the piano roll.

How does this part work? I have two computers I expect to use this on. I write music for videos so one will be in my editing studio. The other is at my GF’s house. So do I just load the sw on both PC’s and it runs on which one has the dongle?

Naw, it’s more like test driving a car before you buy (even though you “knew” going in you were gonna buy the car).

I doubt it. The film folks are an important segment of the Cubase user base, but there are a bunch of other large customer segments - folks just like you is a big one. Also Steinberg plays an important role in Yahama’s musical product lineup.

That’s pretty much what I do for anything that’s not a guitar. My keyboard skills lie somewhere between clunky & embarrassment. The Key Editor is quite nice for writing parts you can have the notes color coded in a variety of ways. All of these notes are in both the current Chord & Scale except the F#.

Exactly. You can install the applications on as many computers as you like, including Macs, but it will only run if it has the USB eLicenser attached. The big disadvantage is that you might forget to bring the USB eLicenser with you, or worse, you could lose it. The value of the purchase currently is the license loaded electronically onto the USB eLicenser.

N.B. Steinberg have told us that this mechanism is under review, i.e. there is a new authorisation system being developed which will supplement what is already available, but there are no details available yet.

Just do it!

It sounds like Cubase is exactly what you are in search of …

… and, maybe, Dorico. :musical_score:

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You also need to consider all DAWs have plus and minus points so Cubase may not tick every box but I doubt any of the DAWs will. Also if you go round forums you will find that all DAWs have bugs. I personally love Cubase and have used it for just about as long as it’s been out.

Hi Art
Welcome :grinning:
I agree with mkok post.I would say Cubase has a lot going for it.But I would say try Cubase out and see what happens,after all all DAWs are tools for creating music and each has their bugs,unique ways of doing stuff,tools etc
Cubase is very popular from me as a hobbyist musician to professional people like Hanz Zimmer ,etc
The thing to remember is that Steinberg goes back a long way,and Cubase is very well established, and is very capable of creating many genres of music

I’m more of a through composed via plugins and MIDI instruments DAW user as well.

I flirt with other DAWs on multiple platforms but haven’t found anything amazing enough to pull me away from Cubase on Windows.

When it comes to legacy support…nothing else on the market I’m aware of touches Cubase. I can still mix/match/sync gear from nine-teen eighty weird, while also implementing the bleeding edge plugin software of today. Scads of features and support that newer DAWs never had, and never will.

Cubase provides a lot of theory and musical tools that others don’t.

It has some nice groove engine abilities that others don’t.

If you want to work with video, it includes a lot of features to make your scores hit cues on the time track with precision (auto adjust timing to hit the cues).

If you want to sync with game engines, one can upgrade to Nuendo and get developer hooks for popular game creation engines, and retain compatibility with all the stuff made in Cubase. Nuendo can then help test, prepare, and package those game engine files.

On workflow, one has so many options. Out of the box Cubase is more or less a big empty skeleton. You get much flexibility in terms of project types and formats, and how you like to set up a work-flow. You get three mixer maps to set up for different needs in a project, plus preset options galore to change that stuff around on demand.

Over time, like with most any DAW, the individual learns to make presets, templates, macros, and other personal things that make work quicker and more precise. Cubase has enough macro and logic editing to transform it into a pretty ‘smart’ DAW.

When it comes to step-input, I fell in love with Cubase right away, as it has a no nonsense generic remote system that allows MIDI events to remote control pretty much anything in the DAW. I elected to teach the MPC pads on my controller to build a setup where I can do ‘step-entry’ without even having to touch my computer keyboard. I.E. Tap an MPC pad that set the next note entry to a whole note, tap a key and it goes into the score or key editor. Tap another pad for quarter note, tap a key. Etc, etc…

To me, the composer tools and legacy support are my favorite parts of the DAW. To some who mainly just want to track, sample edit, and mix efficiently…all that stuff is just ‘bloat’. They’re more interested having high level controls to automate the big mix-down without tinkering so much with theory and individual instruments and instrument-patches. So…what comes across as ‘bloat’ to some sound engineers, is solid gold to composers and content creators.

One thing I wish Cubase had but doesn’t, is some sort of advanced scripting engine. While it does have the combination of macros, project, and midi logic editors, sometimes I wish we could just do something like…bypass all the UIs involved in doing batch processing with Cubase, and instead write a lua script from the ground up.

I’d like to see the Logic Editors include more event types. I.E. all the special score symbols and whatnot.

I’d like improved XML import/export. It’s not terrible at this, but I’d love to see improvements. We keep getting features like ‘sample tracks’ and more sound plugins…but no love for things like better XML score support, advancements in the score editor, etc.

I’d like for Cubase to someday supply all the same editing/cycling features to the project automation lanes that MIDI tracks offer. I.E. Introspective recording on an Automation lane. Run a logic editor on an automation lane. Set some punch marks, cycle, and have multiple takes of the automation lanes stored on each pass. Using insert modifiers on the automation lanes (like the Auto LFO track insert for MIDI).

I’d like a few more automation lane types added. I.E. To toggle the monitor and record buttons. (I can work around the lack of a special lane by using MIDI Tracks > Virtual Port(s) > Generic Remote…but for something this simple, why don’t they just add automation lanes for those track controls?).

So, it ain’t perfect in every respect…but none of them are.

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PS

I almost forgot one of the very best things about Cubase.

The media bay for this DAW is ugly to look at, but hands down, it’s the most powerful one I’ve seen to date.

You can bag/tag/preview pretty much any media files on your system! Want to check out an instrument patch for one of your plugins without taking 10 minutes to load it into the project and audition? No problem…click it in media bay, and tap a few keys! Somehow it finds the right plugin, loads it in the background, and provides a little UI where you can quickly check out the preset!

Even the stuff packed away in VSTsound files! I’ve noticed that at times it even appears to see inside ISO images of things like Akai and Roland sample disks (I do have HALion 6 installed as well)!

While it’s not much to look at aesthetically, it is indeed a very well rounded relational database with a great set of tagging, searching, filtering, and auditioning tools. If a preset/instrument/media file lives on your system…media bay makes quick work of finding it and bringing it into a project or plugin (drag and drop, or use OS file system, and more).

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