Adventures in Cubase, Part 1

Hello, and happy music-creating, everyone!

My previous blog posts have gone down a self-induced “black hole”; I’ll see what I can do about bringing them back…

This is the first in the continuing saga of my change from using Apple Logic Pro to Steinberg Cubase as the primary DAW for film composing. I used Cubase many moons ago when I owned an Atari Mega 2 computer. This was in “greyscale”, no colors, no audio; this was a sequencer, not a DAW, kids! As I became a Mac user in the early 90s, I moved to Opcode Studio Vision (loved loved loved SV Pro), then Emagic Logic Audio (later sold to Apple). I’ve been working with Logic since 1994. It was and still is a wonderful program. This past summer I attended a few Club Cubase seminars given by Steinberg software wiz Greg Ondo, and I also watched a number of the tutorial videos on the Club Cubase YouTube channel. Different aspects of the program started to appeal to me, so I eventually downloaded a demo and started chipping away at learning a new DAW. I also made this switch mid-project, to which I would normally say, “don’t do that!”; however, the transition really was seamless. I was able to get many of the similar key-commands I was used to in Logic happening rather quickly.

One of the first things I noticed was how great the audio sounded. Around the same time I started using Cubase, my audio interface went on the fritz (never a good thing when in the midst of a number of jobs), so I bought a Focusrite Saffire Pro 40. I’m sure the addition of the Focusrite helped in this regard; mixes seemed better to my ears, whether by the addition of the new hardware alone, or the use of Cubase, or both.

Some things are taking me a while to get adjusted to, namely the icons on the mixer; seems busy. A couple viewings of the mixer tutorial on the Club Cubase video channel has been a big help. The use of pastel colors is another thing….not a biggie, and I’m sure (I hope) that will evolve with further updates. I love how setting up multi-output VST instruments works in conjunction with folder tracks. Also, working with quick time movies is really great, and the stems-creation feature is killer. I’ll talk more about these things in later posts.

Here is my first Cubase project, “After Darkness, Light”, produced by Citygate Films forDesiring God. The opening choral piece was excerpted from “Lux in Tenebris” by James Whitbourn, used with permission.

Here’s a link to the ClubCubase YouTube Channel. Greg is a good teacher; he’s methodical, and gets the basics explained well in a short time period:

ClubCubase YouTube Channel

2 Synths Worthy of the Big - or Little - Screen

Here are reviews (from earlier this year) of 2 synths that will absolutely tear your head off (I mean that in a good way!), and if you’re doing soundtrack work, will give you the bottom, the grunge, the ambient goodness, to make your scores explode. These are reviews from, a most excellent site for scoping out synths and all things electronic music-related.

First up is the Moog Slim Phatty monosynth module. Reviewer Nick Batt (love this guy’s reviews; entertaining and informative, and lots of great playing along the way) also talks about how to pronounce Moog! This thing has bottom for days; Bob Moog was a synth designer par-excellence. Here we go:

Next is the Novation Ultranova, a killer virtual analog synth, and descendent of the popular deep blue Supernova. I have a Supernova II Pro X, a beautiful machine. Nick again does a stellar job showing this new machine and it’s capabilities. With lots of wicked effects and crazy sounds, you’ll be able to go real deep programming this machine:

Enjoy, my oscillator and filter-loving friends!

Novation Impulse: Sleek new USB controller; RED!

Novation is releasing the Impulse controller series. They’ve added red to the color scheme. I like red; love my Nord Electro 2, my red keytar…..

Back on topic: this keyboard looks like it’s built like a tank, I love it’s form (sleek and rugged), and am anxious to try one out. Novation claims the Impulse “has been designed to feel like an instrument rather than a computer peripheral.” That’s a good thing. I want to be able to wail on this thing! Some key features: Automap 4, a semi-weighted “precision” keyboard, knobs, faders, back-lit drum pads (you can launch clips in Ableton), free Ableton Live Lite, Novation Bass Station soft synth, and a Loopmasters sample pack. Read all about it here. Check out the video; Novation does good demos. Enjoy!

Korg Kronos 73: Synth Extraordinaire

I’ve been a Korg user since 1974; my first synth was Univox MiniKorg. It was a monosynth: no presets, a couple of waveforms, filter, envelope generator and VCA. Later on I acquired an M1, T3, S3, OW/1, OW/1Pro, X5DR, Trinity Pro, Triton Pro, ER-1, Z1, MS2000, Monotron…I think that might be it! With all the talk online about the new Kronos being a “game changer”, the demo videos posted, and having attended a local Kronos clinic, I was intrigued and anxious to get my hands on this instrument. Recently, I participated in a worship conference, Sovereign Grace Ministries Worship God 2011, teaching a synth class and performing in a live concert recording. The recording required two twelve-hour rehearsals, plus programming at home. I had the opportunity to use a Kronos 73 (thank you, Worship MD!) for the recording and class; it got quite a workout, and delivered big time.

My rig at #WG11: Kronos 73 & Nord Electro 2 73

The number one feature that made the live recording a breeze was the set list feature. Programs, combinations (Korg-speak for multi-program setups: splits and layers), and sequences can be assembled in the set list window. No more having to switch between those parts of the synth, and searching for program numbers, etc. Another feature that rocked in the performance was Korg’s “smooth sound transition”: sustaining a note while switching to another patch, without the first patch cutting off. Big thumbs up, Korg!

While these two features are really cool, the greatest thing about the Kronos is the sound. Simply amazing, it’s warm, lots of low end, sizzling highs; easily the best sounding synth in my arsenal. Analog emulations sound very analog, orchestral sounds, rich and sparkling, the EPs are dead ringers for old Rhodes and Wurlitzer pianos. The acoustic piano sound will make you want to play for hours, and the RH3 weighted action will help in that regard. The action works well with Synthogy Ivory, also. My main gig is scoring film projects, and over the last 10 years I’ve gotten away from using ROMplers; let’s say I’ve become less enchanted with them. The Kronos is changing my thinking in that regard.

I’m currently working on a news show open. I needed to beef up the sound created with my orchestral sample library; it wasn’t happening with my current sound choices. The show has a serious “breaking news tonight” kind of tone, and orchestral sounds are the main focus. I added some Kronos arco string parts, as well a couple of bass parts (the basses are detailed and rich), and the track improved noticeably. The new version got approved. I also used the Kronos on a promo for another client; I needed a horn band sound, and I only have a classical orchestral library for brass at the moment. Kronos delivered again. I recorded through the Kronos USB port into Apple Logic Pro. The recording was clean, and since it meant not using a VI, the CPU load was lessened; win/win!

More to come on the Kronos.