Before I start talking about this week’s learning, I have three confessions to make:
1) I've been learning more on Cubase and not keeping a good enough note of what I now know that I didn't before, so a lot of this will be reflecting, rather than me having made notes like ‘WHY IS THIS NOT A THING???’ or ‘THIS IS SO AWESOME!!!’ along the way - there have been many of these moments and I’ll try to recall as many as I can.
2) I've been learning Ableton Live and have been redesigning the Albatross Archive live show using it rather than Mainstage - that will be the subject of another upcoming blog as it's been really fascinating for me to learn to translate between the two DAWs (SPOILER: RACKS ARE AWESOME).
3) I've just ordered Cubase Pro 8.5 (+ the USB eLicenser).
Having got used to Cubase a little more I've realised just how great it is, and also just how restricting the Elements version is. I've also come to accept that it'll be my main DAW of choice for when I move primarily to Windows (later this month) - largely because it doesn't care if I'm using Windows or OS X (i.e. 'digitally agnostic'!). Being locked into one OS feels worse and worse, especially one as prescriptive as Apple products are, and so moving to Cubase is definitely the first step toward that release.
Now, back to the learning.
o Transport Panel - this is something that I initially found a little annoying at first, but definitely got used to (‘F2’ to show/hide this made life much easier). As with all things in Cubase it’s nice and customisable, and certain features such as the jog/scrub wheel are nicely done. This feels like there are lots of fun tricks that can be done with it and I’d definitely looking forward to looking into it with more depth - I’m severely underusing the Left/Right locators at present!
o ’Special Tracks’ (i.e. Arranger Tracks) - something I wasn’t expecting is how the ‘special tracks’ work: instead of there being a set tempo track that you can see, you have to create one, which can then be placed wherever you need it, as if it were any other audio/MIDI track. This sort of flexibility works really well, as long as you’re familiar with it - it definitely took way longer to find ‘how do I make a bar of 3 / 4’ than it should have!
A real stand-out mention has to go to the Arranger Track, which I think is incredible and love how it works. At its most basic it allows you to clearly define which parts of the song are verse, chorus, bridge etc. but when you dig a little deeper it allows you to treat these elements with incredible malleability: want to try out what happens if you go Verse Bridge Chorus instead of Verse Chorus Bridge? Just reorder them in the Arranger window and try it out! The playback cursor follows the new arrangement with you having to move any of the regions at all.
Especially with regards to adaptive audio for areas such as video game this tool can be essential - want to try out what it sounds like if you keep moving between two areas with different soundscapes? Easily done. Really impressed with it - AND it has a really nice interface with the aforementioned awesome that is the Transport panel!
o The Manual - I previously expressed my irritation about the lack of resources and the comparatively lacking community feel that DAWs such as Ableton have cultivated; however, I’d like to praise the official documentation itself - THE MANUAL. I feel it’s really well written and informative about the areas it covers and, assuming I know the exact terminology for what I’m looking for, holds a wealth of information. While I’m aware this should be the assumed case with manuals and official documentation, I find this is an area that is typically lacking in music software, boiling down to ‘Ask On Our Forum/Social Media’ style instruction, which I understand but would be less important if the foundation advice was more solid.
o Basic Toolbar - I LOVE any toolbar with easy numerical access (and personally hate that LPX has now gone to ‘Toolbar = T, Marque Tool = R’ style thinking). I also really like the multiple variations of basic tools: the ‘Object Selection’, most basic of tools, has three variations (accessible through multiple clicks of ‘1’) which serve entirely different and essential processes (‘Sizing Moves Contents’ has been a personal favourite of mine and something I’m not used to at all - as with all things, it’s probably in LPX and has never been obvious enough for me to notice).
o MIDI Tracks/Racks - now that I’m starting to understand these a little better I’m coming to understand how much kinder they’ll be on CPU use. I think this still needs a little research first though (especially in the ‘Kontakt - do I use multiple instances or multiple channels’ area) but at least the option is clearly there.
Current Gripes (/"Would Be Nice To Have")
o Removing/deleting a VST instrument from the Instrument Rack: click the name of the instrument, select 'No VST Instrument'. It feels strange that they decided to not include a straightforward 'delete' button/cross, but as with all UI matters there must have been a specific reason for it... but still....
o Easy setting of the session’s end - done through the Project Setup menu, though would be nice to have a click/drag option (straight out of LPX; I do prefer how it’s done than Cubase’s equivalent.
o Basic navigation - I’ll still struggling a little with basic zoom in/out/seeing what I want to see style issues. While I happily accept that this is entirely down to me not learning key commands, I do find myself spending a lot of time not being able to see the parts of the screen I want to. It’s something that will come with time, but doesn’t feel as intuitive as it could be; having ‘H’ and ‘G’ as ‘Zoom In/Out’ respectively is fine, but not having ‘Zoom In/Out Horizontally’ even defined as default seems weird (personally I set these to be ‘Shift+H/G’ respectively).
(While I was writing this I found that “Logic KeyCommands” is actually a key command preset, though on closer inspection didn’t quite fit the bill for me - though I commend the effort!)
As I’ll be moving to Cubase Pro 8.5 fairly soon I’ll be able to write more informed opinions on what Cubase has to offer; Elements feels great for a beginner DAW but I’m finding some odd limitations which feel unfair to mention.