Cubase: Start To Finish, Part 1: Project Setup

In this series we're going to take you through all the stages involved in producing a track in Cubase, from getting started to final mastering. In the first part we'll tackle setting up your project.  

1. Templates or Starting From Scratch? 

When you fire up Cubase you are taken to the Steinberg Hub and on the right-hand side you will see a bunch of templates that are grouped by type: recording, scoring, mastering and so on. You can choose one of these to create a project with a specific set of tracks already loaded. Each template has a description underneath its name so you can see at a glance what it’s best suited to. If you want to create a blank project, you can go to the More tab and from inside it, choose the “Empty” option.


2. Project folder location

It’s also important to make sure your data is going to be stored somewhere sensible. By default, Cubase will create sequentially numbered project folders inside your user folder and store data there. However it can be a better idea to manually specify a save location before you start, so that you know precisely where your recordings are going to go. Before you do anything else, select File > Save As and choose both a location and a name for your project. This will ensure that all your recorded audio and project file backups are stored in a root folder, and that you know where it is.

3. Choose an Audio Device

We’re going to assume that your audio and MIDI hardware is properly installed on your system: happily, dodgy drivers are much less of a problem than they were a decade ago. Nonetheless you should check that your drivers are up to date, since changes to Windows or OS X can sometimes interfere with hardware drivers. Your hardware may also have a control panel where you can make settings and it’s often possible to jump to this from inside Cubase. Go to Devices > Device Setup and then to the VST Audio System item. From the area on the right, click on ASIO Driver and choose the device you want to use to get sound in and out of your Mac or PC. This menu will contain different items for you than it does in this picture, but choose the device you have connected.

4. Check your ins and outs  

With the device selected (in this case it’s the Xiosynth), it appears in a tab below the VST Audio System tab. If you click on this you can see settings for the device: make sure the ins and outs that you want to use are checked as visible and active. If you click on the Control Panel button here, you can open the panel specific to your hardware, where you will be able to set buffer settings to control latency.


5. Choose a MIDI device 

You will also need to get MIDI in and out to trigger virtual instruments or control other parameters. From the top of the list in the Device Setup menu, choose the MIDI Port Setup item. If you have a MIDI device like a keyboard installed, it will appear here. In this case, the audio interface also has MIDI capabilities so it appears as a device of the same name, though yours may be two different devices. The important thing here is to check again that the device is visible and active, especially the In port. You may also need to send MIDI out from Cubase to trigger external gear, in which case the Out port will need to be on as well.


6. Set up the project  

The next step is to go to the Project menu and choose Project Setup to open an important window. This determines the settings that the project will use, so it’s vital to check it out before you start recording. The really crucial parts here are the Sample Rate and Bit Resolution menus since if you record at too low a quality you will be losing fidelity. Nor is it helpful to record at massively high quality unless you really need to. A sample rate of 44.1 kHz (CD) or 48 kHz (DVD) is usually sufficient, as is a bit resolution of 24 or if you want maximum quality, 32-bit. Although you can change project settings after starting a project this is better avoided so get it right at the start.

7. Open the Transport panel 

To check your signal is coming in correctly you will need to open the Transport panel if it isn’t already visible, which you can do from the Transport menu. This panel is configurable so if you can’t see the audio and MIDI indicators, right-click on the panel and switch on the MIDI and Audio Activity options.


8. Check MIDI input  

Now try pressing some MIDI notes and you should see MIDI “level” appear in the indicator. The same applies with audio—play your source, such as a guitar or mic, and look for level. If using a mic, remember that you need to monitor on headphones to prevent feedback.

9. Make Sure Audio Is Coming In 

Now right-click in the project and choose Add Audio Track. In most cases a simple stereo track will do, or mono if you’re recording a mono source like a microphone. Click on the track’s name in the Inspector column to see a summary of its controls. If you click on the input and output menus you will be able to check audio routing or reassign ins and outs. In this case we have a simple stereo in and stereo out, which is good. If you press the monitor button (the small speaker icon) for the audio track and then play a sound, you should see audio level coming in.

10. Quickly create a VST instrument to check MIDI input

MIDI routing is even simpler. Create a MIDI track or an Instrument track from the Project > Add Track menu or by right-clicking in a project. Play some notes on your MIDI keyboard and you should find the instrument triggers right away, with audio and MIDI signal appearing in Cubase. If this doesn’t happen, click on the MIDI channel selection menu in the inspector and try setting the MIDI channel to “Any”, which will listen to all available MIDI inputs.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this Cubase: Start to Finish tutorial series.

Want to fast track? Check out our Cubase video courses here.


Hollin Jones was classically trained as a piano player but found the lure of blues and jazz too much to resist. Graduating from bands to composition then production, he relishes the chance to play anything with keys. A sometime lecturer in videographics, music production and photography post production, Hollin has been a freelance w... Read More


Want to join the discussion?

Create an account or login to get started!