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Author Topic: DAW workflow suggestions  (Read 8564 times)
Marc JX8P
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« on: May 18, 2011, 09:39:58 PM »

I've recently upgraded to Cubase 6 and while I was setting it up, it occurred to me to share some of the things that I've used over the years to speed up my workflow. Maybe you'll find some of it usable, maybe not, but I thought we could use this thread to exchange some of our own ideas on the subject for each of the DAW's we use. Goodness knows that I'm still learning here and always trying to find some new things. So here goes:
  • Use key commands. If possible - like in Cubase - define easy to remember key commands for the most used functions. For me this is:
  • Skip one bar forward (and back), and skip 8 bars forward and back. This allows me to quickly move through an arrangement.
  • Select everything on the current track (so you can quickly move a track back or forward or other editing).
  • Create a new track. I've set up different keys to create either a midi track or an audio track. Cubase allows you to store a track with the VST/VSTi on that track as a track preset, so I've also created track presets for my favourite current VSTi's: Omnisphere and Kontakt.
  • I've created an empty template containing a master reverb effect and two effect busses, one for drums and one for pads. Both have specific compressor and eq settings, and are already set for a specific amount to the reverb. So whenever I add an instrument, it's very easy to assign it to a bus if it's percussive or a pad, or to assign it to the reverb effect. I've not created other busses as standard since so far I've found that other sounds are too individual to combine. Still, I've used bussing a LOT lately when working with vocals.
  • I also try to work with favourites in presets of VST/VSTi's as much as possible so I can find sounds or effects back that I really like.
I have to add though that it still takes me ages to complete a track... Wink
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« Reply #1 on: May 19, 2011, 07:56:18 PM »

Sounds very organised - one thing that I have difficulty with where music is concerned Roll Eyes
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« Reply #2 on: May 27, 2011, 12:17:59 AM »

Sounds very organised - one thing that I have difficulty with where music is concerned Roll Eyes
Although much of my work is conducted intuitively, approaching the creation of a song from absolute zero, the use of pre-organized production strategies makes a lot of sense. It feels like time to further explore the idea...
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Marc JX8P
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« Reply #3 on: May 27, 2011, 08:40:19 AM »

Also, bear in mind that this is not about limiting yourself to one strategy, or confining yourself to one when chosen. It's more about setting stuff up so you can make music without thinking too much about technical stuff. For example, previously I would add a VSTi, create a MIDI track, link that track to the VSTi, move the corresponding audio track close to the MIDI track and only then get to play. Now I have a key for 'Add track', I then click on the VSTi I want, and I have everything set up ready for play.

More in general, I really recommend using key commands and it really frustrates me that not every piece of software has freely definable key commands for every function as these are really time savers. At least Macs have that handy macro function which works with keys and can be bound to any command.
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« Reply #4 on: May 27, 2011, 01:30:20 PM »

Making the transition from hardware workstations to PC workstations was such an incredible step up in efficiency & workflow,that I never bothered with learning key commands and figuring out what all those buttons on my midi keyboard do. Huh Wink

I had become so accustomed to using my mouse,that I only use the key-bed & pitch & modulation wheels on my midi controller.What has made matters even more simple for me,is how efficient the configuration is of my Presonus DAW is.

So many folks spin infinite yarns,rants & raves about Pro Tools being the ultimate DAW...so much so,that my aspiring-DJ-nephew's reason for buying Pro Tools,is that "everyone's using it" and I want to be able to swap files seamlessly with other people.

Maybe Pro Tools is the "industry standard",but I feel that Presonus S1 was made specifically for me. Cheesy


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« Reply #5 on: June 04, 2011, 02:21:00 AM »

Maybe Pro Tools is the "industry standard",but I feel that Presonus S1 was made specifically for me.

I had a conversation with one of the producers of the IMAX movie surround soundtracks, and he was very critical of the audio productions submitted from Pro-Tools users. Drop-outs, glitches, and digital artifacts are very common. His own plan is to switch from the hardware DAW they use now, but Linux (Ardour) is the software tool he will evaluate first.
My point: ProTools is only one of many capable audio software choices, and is not without its flaws.
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Marc JX8P
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« Reply #6 on: October 04, 2011, 01:11:33 PM »

Since I've changed some things in my Cubase workflow I thought I'd add them here as well. First of all, since a while Cubase supports so-called instrument tracks. Normally when you'd use a VSTi, you'd basically be using two tracks in the Arrangement window: one for the MIDI part and one controlling the VSTi's audio output. This works perfectly fine and gives a lot of control but in big arrangements it becomes wasteful of your screen space. So, using an instrument track you basically combine that midi and audio track. This works great and looks a lot more tidy so I've started to really use these now. The only exception is when I need multiple midi parts to influence the same VSTi (for example with drums), for which I still use the 'old' solution (but then I have multiple tracks anyway).

I've got a few new key-commands which really are very helpful to me:
  • Zoom in tracks/undo zoom: the first one quickly zooms in vertically to the selected tracks which is great for working on automation data
  • Open channel settings: show the channel settings (inserts, sends, eq and such) for the selected track
  • Open VSTi: open the VSTi for the selected track. Another time saver as I don't have to search the instrument icon and click it.

What is also very cool is the track overview which I've now activated as standard: it's an overview of the entire arrangement at the top of your arrangement window. The really neat thing is that the visible portion is indicated by a box overlaid on top of the overview and you can resize or move the box to quickly move and zoom the actual arrangement window!

Talking about workflow, Steinberg are about to release a range of modular micro-controllers (the CMC range) which vary from 4 faders to a transport section, to a channel controller and lots more. I'm definitely interested in a few of these and will let you know how they work out. You can do a lot with key commands but having actual buttons which give visual feedback by lighting up is of course always a lot better.
« Last Edit: October 04, 2011, 01:17:11 PM by Marc JX8P » Logged

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« Reply #7 on: October 04, 2011, 05:53:15 PM »

Marc,

Great ideas!  I never really considered using too many instrument tracks because most of my plugins are multi-timbral, and I actually use them that way.  And I THINK (unless I'm wrong) you have to have one instance of the plug in per instrument track, and can't really use it... multi-timbrally.  Is that correct?  I'm pretty sure it is, so I tend to use the instrument rack in Cubase and activate the channels I need based on what I'm using.  I do agree though that all those darn tracks in the arrangement view does get a little unweildy.  I'll definitely look into this though and try to use instrument tracks when I can, because.. you make a great point about that.

One other thing that I do that I'm not sure other Cubase users are aware of--the way I zoom in and out of the arrangement is to hold down the ctrl key (in windows) or command key (on mac) and use the mouse wheel (or equivalent on th mac, depending on your controller).  This will zoom in and out of the arrangement based on your mouse pointer location, and as someone who uses AutoCAD day in and day out which has a similar zooming function, I find this to be the most useful way to zoom around the arrangement for me.  With a mac trackpad, it's actually even better, since you can also scroll side to side EXTREMELY easily with the track pad (not easy, or impossible with a regular windows mouse).  This is a huge plus when you're editing midi track data.

Ironically, I was just looking at Steinberg's new CMC controllers, and I must admit that I'm intrigued.  Although a great many Cubase functions can be controlled with my Motif XF8, one thing that I would be particularly interested in is the CMC-PAD controller with velocity sensitive pads to do my drum programming with.  I currently have an AXIOM 25 midi controller and use the pads on that, but with the aquisition of the XF8, I hardly touch the Axiom anymore--with the exception of the drum pads... so a smaller, and more focused controller for that kind of thing would come in handy.  Anyway, if you do end up getting one or two of those controllers, let us know.  I'd love to see a review.

I also definitely need to look into track presets and the other shortcuts you mention.  Part of it is me trying to figure out exactly what I need in a preset, but if I can get off my lazy butt, I'll bet they would be a really great time saver.   Thanks for the ideas!
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« Reply #8 on: October 04, 2011, 08:00:35 PM »

OMG - I DIDNT KNOW ABOUT THE CTRL+SCROLLWHEEL ZOOM! Thanks - I've been wishing for something like that. I guess I should have read the manuals better but like I probably said before, I'm mostly of the 'Try stuff until something works' style of thought... Wink Glad to hear you're interested in these ideas and it's interesting to see how you use Cubase. The cool thing about a forum like this is to see how other people approach something like this and to take from their approach what suits you. In this case, you can bet I'll be using that ctrl-scrollwheel zoom from now on!

The instrument tracks are basically multi-timbral, although there's nothing to stop you from using layers and splits in a multitimbral VSTi. Since it would all share the same mixer channel, however, there wouldn't be any use since you'd lose the advantage of seperate eq's, inserts and such. As far as I can see, the instrument channel has to be thought of more as a 'single timbre' than 'single vsti' channel, so allowing different outputs for a multitimbral VSTi would seem against the whole idea. They're still keeping the 'old style' rack though and for some uses that's still the best.

I'm thinking of getting the CMC-PD as well - both for controlling several functions in Cubase as well as for live use with Ableton Live. It's one of the few models in the range that's able to function with other DAW's as well and it seems to be the perfect small live controller I've been looking for. For now, I'm thinking of getting the CH, TP and PD variants as they seem to fit my needs most directly. I haven't much use for the FD one as I mix on a per-channel basis mostly (also, I have a Remote 61 with faders should I want to do that).
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« Reply #9 on: November 01, 2011, 02:27:51 PM »

UPDATE: I've ordered a couple of the new CMC DAW controllers from Steinberg and they should be arriving soon which means that I could check them out this weekend. I've ordered the TP and CH variant to control the DAW and the specific channel I'm working on respectively as well as the PD. The last one will hopefully also find a good use with Ableton Live as I'm still looking for a compact controller to both control Live and get status information back. So - expect more info soon! Smiley
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« Reply #10 on: November 02, 2011, 08:13:39 PM »

Marc,

Looking forward to your thoughts on the CMC controllers.

I was in a local studio the other day to have a mix and master done of one of my recordings, and the engineer there was using Nuendo 5.5.  So it was educational for me to watch a pro navigate around what was essentially Cubase 6.  He also happened to have several of the CMC controllers, although they were new to him, so he hadn't had a chance to mess with them too much.  He said the PD controller was nicely responsive, and they work as they should.  They certainly looked nice, although the pads on the PD controller are a bit smaller than I'm used to with my Axiom 25.

Looking forward to your take.
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« Reply #11 on: November 03, 2011, 01:18:37 PM »

I just received them yesterday! I'll only be able to really check them out this weekend, but a few first impressions:

I love the build quality. It's plastic but it feels very sturdy. Controls feel good as well, especially the knobs which are detented. They were a little bit bigger and heavier than I had expected, but still very compact and the weight means that it doesn't go flying over the table with every pull on the USB cable. The usb cables provides are quite long which is handy and fit snugly into the sockets of the CMC's. Also, the controllers have a little extendable stand on their back towards the top so you can raise them a little bit towards you.

Two small niggles. First: the little plastic connector that you can use to tie two of them together is a bit flimsy; it works well enough when the controllers are on a flat surface (which, I guess, is how it's meant to work anyway) but as soon as you lift them up, the assembly will start to sag and twist away from each other. It feels a bit like an afterthought, but if you're not planning to walk around with two connected CMC's in your hands then it's perfectly functionable. The second thing is that I would have liked to chain the USB connection from one to the other so I'd just have one USB cable to deal with (having said that: that probably wouldn't work with the available power on a single USB connector).

I did check out the PD a bit with Ableton Live and it worked very well, just like I hoped. The pads light up when played and/or - and this was very important to me - when you send midi notes back to it. I was able to send midi notes with different velocities and also I could build a tempo indicator by putting notes in a midi clip and sending these back to the PD. Cool thing: the pads have different colours for different velocities (yellow, green, red, quickly from my memory), so you can have a lot of visual feedback.

The other ones are the TP and CH controllers which I'll talk more about later. But so far it seems like these little controllers were indeed exactly the thing I was hoping that they would be.
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« Reply #12 on: November 05, 2011, 03:15:34 AM »

Played around a bit more with the PD - same findings as before; all kinds of fun options open up, esp. in combination with Live. For example, you can use the top row to trigger (and indicate that they are running!) four scenes (a scene is Live terminology for a set of loops that runs simultaneously), use the bottom row to simulate a tempo indicator and still have eight pads left to play a bit of percussion. I also discovered that it actually allows you to control 16 banks - each being a set of 16 pad note assignments, and there's an editor software for it as well.

The CH and TP controllers are Cubase specific and install as easily as the PD: after installing the drivers and other software (it's a unified installer for all the controllers and software) you connect the controllers after which you start Cubase, to find the controllers working as they should. the CH is a channel controller and aside from the big volume slider (which is like a ribbon controller and feels and works surprisingly well) and the pan knob it allows you to do all the usual stuff: mute, solo, bypass effects and such as well as open the track window and (if connected) the virtual instrument on the track. All buttons give visual feedback from the corresponding functions in Cubase and the fader displays the volume setting by means of a set of leds that light up. The pan knob does a similar thing where the center of the knob glows stronger the further you pan left or right. Rather nicely, you can switch tracks with two previous/next track buttons and eight of the buttons can be assigned alternate functions in Cubase, which you can then trigger by means of pressing a shift key and the button in question.

The TP controller is basically a transport controller, but besides starting and stopping it also allows you to move around in your arrangement, set markers, activate cycling between markers and activate recording mode. However, what is really cool is a horizontal ribbon controller like the fader on the CH, which can be set to control one of several functions such as scrolling through the arrangement, zooming horizontally and tap tempo. Once again, buttons light and leds in the ribbon controller light up to indicate the status of each controller. The TP also has four buttons that can be configured to an alternative secondary function.

So far - based on a few hours of playing around - they work really well, feel sturdy and I look forward to doing some real work with them. What I missed in the CH was the option of letting the main fader or pan knob control other automation than their predetermined setting but I'm hoping that will maybe come later. Another minor niggle is that I would have liked the Shift key which is used to trigger the secondary function in both controllers to have a latch function so you wouldn't have to keep pressing it when you're using multiple secondary functions. Finally, and this is really a bit of an unfair niggle, while it is nice that you can assign custom secondary functions to some buttons, this does make it somewhat harder to remember what you chose for these buttons.

All in all, I'm extremely happy with these. Ironically, I've been looking for a while for a perfect generic controller and it seems now that a compact dedicated controller was precisely what I wanted! Smiley
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« Reply #13 on: March 06, 2012, 03:54:56 PM »

Ok.  Having really started to make some inroads into my Cubase workflow, I thought I'd finally share some more of the things I do to make life with my DAW liveable.

1.)  VOLUME AUTOMATION:  Automation SHOULD always be done last, right?  That's what everyone preaches.  And when I say last, I mean LAST.  The problem is that when your working on an electronic piece that requires a LOT of automation to create the sounds you need--or to bring instruments in and out of the mix at different points in the song, you sort of HAVE to do some of that automation while you're creating the track.  There's no getting around it.  What this also means, though, is that when it comes down to doing a final mix of the track once you've got all the elements in, and you need to raise or lower the OVERALL volume of your heavily volume-automated track, that is a real pain in the butt. The answer for me is to use some kind of plug-in that allows me to control gain independent of the fader volume.  So when I need to lower the overall volume of a track that's heavily automated, I end up adding a "Studio EQ" plug in in Cubase to the insert chain and use the gain control on that plug in to lower or raise the overall volume of the track.  In Ableton you can do the same thing with the "Utility" plug in.  Some people will say to ONLY automate volume at the plug-ins, and NEVER automate the fader volume.  That also makes sense, but either way the result is the same.  It allows you to make overall changes to level without having to mess with the automation you've painstakingly recorded.

2.)  BOUNCING TO AUDIO (Specific to Cubase):  Cubase has some oddities about how it handles routing, and this can manifest itself in strange little restrictions you find yourself confined to.  It took me a little while to understand how to overcome my old-school way of thinking, but it turns out Cubase is perfectly capable in this area.  One thing about Cubase that absolutely drove me bonkers for a while was that it seemed in order to bounce a midi instrument to audio (an incredibly useful technique for a variety of reasons) I needed to set the left and right locators accordingly, go into the "Audio Mixdown" dialogue and select the track I want to bounce, and select to export it back into the project on a new audio track, and then have it go through the entire rendering process, blah blah blah.  I HATE having to do it that way, but it turns out bouncing can MUCH EASIER.  Here's how:

A.) Create a new audio track, and name it "Bounce" or something similar (I have this in my template files).
B.) Create a new group track and name is "Bounce Buss" or something similar (In template files).
C.) Set the input of the new "Bounce" audio track to come from the new "Bounce Buss" group track (Setup in template files).
D.) Set the output(s) of the midi instrument(s) you want to bounce to the "Bounce Buss" group track E.) (IMPORTANT: You can also use a send for step D instead!  HOWEVER, you'll want to make sure you set the OUTPUT of the new "Bounce Buss" group track to "No Buss". This will ensure you're not doubling up on the outputs to the main buss of the instruments you are bouncing.).
F.) Record enable the "Bounce" Audio track.
G.) Set your play cursor anywhere you want to start the bounce.
H.) Set record on the transport, and play to start the bounce.  The midi instrument(s) will be recorded directly to the "Bounce" audio track.
I.) Move the newly created audio event to the Audio track of your choosing for further editing.

It sounds like  a lot of steps, I know, but most of the setup work can be accomplished in your template file.  I MUCH prefer this method to the "Audio Mixdown" route, where you have to worry about the left and right locator locations, what format your exporting to, what the file will be named... where it's saved... blah blah.  Drives me batty.  The above procedure is much more workflow friendly and elegant for me, and more in line with how other DAWs work.

3.) AUDIO TRACKS--RECORD ENABLE AND MONITORING (Cubase only):  I do a fair amount of music with vocals.  So I record vocal take after vocal take, etc.  I do not use any kind of direct monitoring method for various reasons, so my monitoring is handled through Cubase.  This means that in order to hear myself while I'm recording, I need to not only have the track record enabled of course, but I also have to enable the "monitor" switch for that track.  The problem is that while that "monitor" switch is engaged, I can't hear that track PLAYING BACK after it's been recorded.  I need to then disable the "monitor" switch in order to hear what I just recorded.  When you're doing take after take, and you need to hear the results of each take in the mix right after you record it, the constant enabling and disabling of the "monitor" switch is a nightmare.  Turns out there's a preference setting that solves this whole problem for me.  Here's what I do:

A)  Go to Preferences --> VST.  You will find an option that says "Auto Monitoring".  Set that to "tapemachine style".  

What this will do is this:  When you record enable an audio track, it will keep the monitor switch DISBALED.  When you actually start recording, however, that monitor switch will automatically be ENABLED--allowing you to hear what you are recording on that track.  When recording stops, the "monitor" switch will automatically be DISABLED again, thereby alliowing you to hear that track when played in the mix.  This effectively eliminates my need to ever have to touch the "monitor" switch for a vocal track I'm trying to record to except under special circumstances.

(By the way, there's also another useful feature in this preference screen.  In Preferences --> VST.  The top option: "Connect Sends Automatically for Each Newly Created Channel" is SUPER useful, as it will automatically create sends to all existing FX channels when you create a new channel in Cubase.  Takes more resources, but it's SUPER useful if you know you're going to be using your FX channels alot.)

OK... I have more, but that's more than enough for now.  Smiley
« Last Edit: March 06, 2012, 04:01:51 PM by SLD Music » Logged
Marc JX8P
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« Reply #14 on: March 15, 2012, 03:20:10 PM »

Hi Scott, thanks for sharing of your tips!

1. I recognize the problem. The automation window that's new since version 5 is I believe intended for this but tbh. the problem hasn't occurred often enough for me to really research that. You could also route the output of the automated track to a new group channel I guess and use that to change the overall gain.

2. I'm not entirely sure but are you talking about bouncing VSTi's? I've never considered this to be a problem; I have a key for setting the locators to the selected midi parts (default key is p I believe). Then I solo the track and then I use the export audio function (I've got that bound to another key combination) and let it create a new track. Still, I guess it's what works best for you. For external sources I create a new audio track (key combination), select the right input and just let it play back.

3. Cool! I've no experience at all with that kind of stuff though! Smiley

Lately I've been going back to Ableton Live to set up some new songs but let me tell you, I'd much, MUCH rather use Cubase for constructing new stuff. Then again, maybe I'm just trying to use that program in a way it isn't intended.
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