Inspiration is fickle. There’s no telling when a new melody or beat or sound will suddenly pop into existence in your brain. When it does, it can be about as slippery as a greased eel, with even the slightest distraction liable to return the idea, ghostlike, to the ether from whence it came. In the absence of a way to run a line-out from your noggin’s internal sound system, then, the best thing to do is to get your idea sketched out in your studio as soon as possible.
Once upon a time, when that mystical fizzle of inspiration struck, you could just switch on a synth, bring its signal up on a desk, and then start to work out the idea almost immediately. However, with a modern DAW, you have to boot your computer, load the software, create a project, create a track, choose an instrument, find a suitable patch or sample bank for that instrument, set up effects, and so on and so forth. The spontaneity is lost and the opportunities for distraction escalate with each step.
Thankfully, the clever folks over at Steinberg recognised this shortcoming with DAWs, and have packed Cubase with an effective set of tools with which to mitigate the problem.
As a regular Cubase user, you’ll be well aware that, when creating a new Cubase project, you are shown the Project Assistant window from where you can select a template to act as the starting point for the project. While the standard built-in templates can be useful, what we’re really interested in here is the ability to make custom templates, tailored to suit your own rig and requirements. This is easy to do, as I’ll show you in the walkthrough.
Project templates can contain everything that a normal project file stores: audio engine settings, I/O, internal routing, tracks, effects, instruments, drum maps, and so-on. Templates can also contain actual track content, but for this to work reliably with audio and video content, it’s important that the associated media files are stored in a common library location that’s always available to Cubase. You also need to be aware that any changes to such source-media files will impact on any projects – past and future – that are based on that template.
While project templates are a quick and handy way to configure Cubase for a specific type of session, their usefulness only goes so far. It would be impractical to create templates that cover every possible eventuality and they offer no way of speeding things up once you’ve created a new project and started working within it. This is where presets come in to play.
The most convenient way to access Cubase’s presets is via the Media tab of the right-hand zone of the project window. The User Presets folder shows you the ones you’ve created, and Presets shows you all predefined and user-created presets. Each of these folders contains a number of subfolders, one for each of the different types of preset that Cubase manages.
Track Presets define many of the settings for a track – like the name, channel configuration, inserts, pan position, and so on – and can be simply dragged from the Media Browser to your project, or applied to an existing track. Cubase comes with presets for audio, instrument, sampler and MIDI tracks. You can also create multi-track presets containing definitions for two or more individual tracks at once, perfect for creating drum recording or vocal double-tracking set-ups.
There are two types of preset for managing effects plug-ins. VST FX Presets define an effect plug-in and its parameters, while FX Chain Presets store the plug-ins and settings used by a chain of processors. You can drag these presets to a track’s Insert stack in the project window, load a preset into a track in the MixConsole, or drag a preset to the Track List to create a new send effect out of the plug-in or chain.
Similarly, you can configure each track’s channel strip using Strip Presets and you can use VST Instrument Presets to manage your own definitions of instrument and accompanying instrument parameters.
Taking the time to create templates and presets that suit the tasks and jobs you perform regularly, which are tailored to your hardware setup and preferred workflow, is a very worthwhile use of your studio downtime. Let’s have a look at the various ways you can do this…
Creating templates and custom presets: step-by-step
1. Create an empty Cubase project and add an instrument track that uses your favourite drum sampler/sound source. Give the track a suitable name, load a favoured sound bank into it, and assign a Drum Map to the track if you have one.
2. Add another instrument track, this time using a preferred source of bass sounds. Name the track and then load a generic bass patch into the instrument – choose something that will work for a wide range of ideas.
3. Add an instance of HALion Sonic SE to the instrument rack and load some general-purpose sounds into a few of its MIDI channel slots. Be sure to add a MIDI track for each of the HALion ‘slots’ you use.
4. We’ll imagine that we’re also working with some live instruments – guitars and vocals – so we’ll create mono tracks for these. We’ll record a DI from the guitar’s pickup, so insert a guitar-amp plug-in on its track.
5. Add a compressor and a de-esser to the vocal track, and make some rough initial tests. Also add an effect track based on your preferred reverb processor, set up a nice vocal ’verb, and create a send to it from the vocal track.
6. We’ve now got a setup that will work for general sketching of ideas, so go to File > Save as Template. Enter a name for the template, then click the Show Attribute Inspector button located at the bottom of the window.
DOCK OF THE BAY Cubase’s MediaBay is an integrated database that helps you to find every scrap of media on your system that Cubase can work with. As well as providing effective search functions, the use of attribute-based filters makes locating a suitable sound or preset a doddle.
7. In the Attribute Inspector, click the Content Summary row’s Value field to select a description for your template, or double-click the field to enter your own. Select a value for the Template Category. Click OK when you’re done.
8. Close your project without saving it. Select File > New Project from the program menu. In the Project Assistant window, select the category that you gave to your template. Find your template and create a new project from it.
9. Ta-da! The new project matches exactly with the template you created. Given the kit track uses a favoured drum-sound source, you may want to use it in other projects, so right click on its track and select Save Track Preset.
10. In the window, make sure the Attribute Inspector is visible. Enter a name for the preset, and use the Attribute Inspector to define details about the preset (attributes are used for filtering in Cubase’s preset browsers). Click OK.
11. The set of sounds we loaded into HALion Sonic could be useful, so we’ll store those. Open the instrument’s panel, click the diamond-shaped button and select Save Preset. Enter a name and attributes and then click OK.
12. Select your vocal track and open the Inserts section of its Track Inspector. Click the diamond icon that appears at the top of the section and select Save FX Chain Preset. Enter a name and attributes and click OK.
PRESET INSTRUMENT PATCHES Creating track presets for your most commonly-used instruments is a great time saver. It’s also worth going even further and creating track presets for patches from within those instruments, saving you from hunting through the instrument’s patches after it’s loaded.
13. You can create more presets from the other tracks and plug-ins. Once done, close the project and create a new, empty project. Open the right-hand project window zone and select its Media tab.
14. Go to User Presets > Track Presets > VST Instruments. Your drum track preset will be shown in the browser. To create a track from the preset, drag it from the browser to the project window’s Track List.
15. Switch to the right-hand zone’s VSTi tab and add an instance of HALion Sonic SE as a rack instrument. Click the diamond icon at the top of the plug-in’s window and select Load Preset from the pop-up menu.
16. Use the Attribute Filters to locate your preset and double click it to load it. Note that if you wished to create the instrument in a track, you could simply drag and drop the preset from the Media browser to the Track List.
17. Create a new audio track, then select Media > MediaBay. Open the MediaBay’s left-hand zone and use this to locate User Content > FX Chain Presets. Drag your vocals FX chain from MediaBay to the Inserts section.
18. We’ve looked at only a few ways you can create and deploy templates and presets in Cubase, so keep digging to get a fuller picture. Also, always be sure to define good attributes so you can find your presets easily.