Thoughts on Cubase

Getting to grips with recording on a PC

I've been using Cubase 4LE for over a year now, and I'm gradually learning how to get the best out of it. Having been restricted by the four tracks of the Fostex in my earlier recording career, it takes a while to become accustomed to having a virtually unlimited number of tracks at your disposal when recording on a PC.

For example, on the Fostex, when recording a keyboard track, all the various parts had to be on the same track. If I wanted to change the volume and pan settings between verses, I did that manually by turning the knobs during the mixdown. In my early recordings with Cubase, I was doing the same thing - putting all the keyboards on one track. Given that there is no option for manually turning the knobs during the mixdown here, I had to get involved with automation tracks, and those can be very frustrating to work with. It's only just recently struck me - if I have two different keyboard parts - put them on two different tracks! That way I can set their level and pan independently, and no automation is required.

The same can work with percussion - on Sunshine, one of the percussion tracks features two different percussive sounds. I was having trouble finding a right level at which both sounded right. In the end the answer was simple - duplicate the track, and delete one of the sounds from each so that I can set the levels of the two parts separately. I have all these available tracks to work with - so use them!

I've become more adept at editing tracks recently. I find the split tool the most useful, for isolating a portion of a track to move, delete or copy. That last option is one I don't want to use too much - I want my recordings to sound spontaneous, rather than for example playing the guitar track for a verse and copying it for the other verses. However, a small phrase, like the five-note guitar twiddle in Bang The Drum, I am happy to copy - especially considering how many takes it took to get it right once! Moving bits of a track backwards or forwards to correct an obviously out-of-time note or beat is also fine if I can get away with it.

The recording punch-in/punch-out facility is invaluable, and it's one thing that is certainly much easier than in the Fostex days. When recording a take, I'm now more likely to carry on if I make a mistake, knowing that I can redo that small section with a punch-in/out if the rest of the take works out fine. I find the idea of recording one take and patching it where necessary more appealing than recording multiple full takes and trying to combine them into one perfect track.

In reality I've probably hardly scratched the surface of what Cubase can do. There are whole sections of the manual, e.g. "hitpoints" and "slices" that I've not been able to penetrate at all. I also haven't really looked at how to do looping yet, but this is something I need to do if I want to render some of my recent songs in multi-track format.

I am making progress, though, and now with the upgraded version 4.1.3 I hope to be free of the irritating instabilities and crashes that required me to save my project under many different names. I've looked at the prospect of upgrading to the latest full version, but to be honest it would probably just add more bewildering functions that I would never use or understand. At the moment I prefer to stick with what I know.

Cubase LE4 running on my PC