Cubase has evolved into an awesome environment for creating dance music and many electronic producers are adopting it as their main production environment. Although you can pull off a convincing dance production in just about any DAW, Cubase has all the tools you’ll need right out of the box.
Here we’ll take a look at five key tips for getting started with Cubase in the world of EDM production. We’ll stick to the stock processors and instruments and delve into getting the best out of these impressive bits of virtual kit.
Tip 1 - Roll Your Own Patches
First up this is one for the newcomer... Cubase 7 comes with a great collection of instruments and these obviously give you access to a huge number of presets that come bundled with the system. If you are just starting out then presets are a great way to get you up and running, but to produce something that stands out from the crowd you need to be thinking about creating your own sounds.
Ultimately, this means getting to know the synths inside out. If you want to produce dance music and you aren’t quite sure how to operate a subtractive synth at the very least, you need to learn and quickly. It really is that important and you’ll find that moving away from Cubase’s presets and into your own custom patches will give your tracks a huge boost.
Retrologue is great instrument to start programming your own sounds.
Tip 2 - Go Hot Or Go Home
There is a lot of controversy over the lack of dynamic range in some electronic music, I myself have whined about over limited masters in my time. In reality the loudness war is over and the winner was... Loud!
There really is no getting round it, the majority of artists end up choosing a higher RMS over better dynamic range every time. Cubase has plenty of tools to get your volume up that you can use during mixdown and mastering.
Combine the excellent compressors and limiters in Cubase with some heavy saturation and you can produce that up front, aggressive dance sound that works so well on a big system. Most EDM isn’t about being tame and Cubase allows you to take things to extreme, even with the stock plug-ins.
Try limiting specific elements in your mix, especially parts that have unpredictable transients. By reducing the dynamic range of these more unruly parts, you not only get your dynamics in check but also increase perceived loudness allowing you to sit the elements lower in the mix. A neat trick and one that can give you a more focused, controlled overall mix.
Pump up the volume with Cubase's outstanding compressors, limiters and saturators.
Tip 3 - Get Your Filters On
Filtering and electronic music go together like bacon and cheese... or peanuts and beer. You get the idea, they work well together. Cubase supplies a number of filters for you to twist your beats, synths and vocals with. In fact there are no less than five different flavors for you to choose from.
From the pretty standard dual filter to the more interesting step filter effects, there is something in here for everyone. To keep your audio interesting, try a combo of these effects. The MorphFilter is especially useful for creating convincing builds and drops. Sliding between filter modes is totally fluid, as the name might suggest!
Filters shouldn't just be looked upon as creative effects though, they can also be used as functional production tools. It’s often easier to reach for a filter to remove unwanted low end than it is to get into a fully fledged EQ. The beauty of using filter plug-ins in this way is that the frequencies are cut in a really extreme manner and the option of adding resonance is always there if needed.
Don't forget to use the MorphFilter to build tension in your breaks.
Tip 4 - Keep Moving With Automation
Most successful electronic tracks are extremely dynamic in nature. Energy tends to build and drop, creating an interesting listening experience and something that works well in a club environment. The only real way to create these builds and drops is with the extensive use of automation.
With this in mind, it’s really essential that you get to know your DAW’s automation system inside out. You need to know how to record, edit and manipulate automation data and also how this information interacts with your favorite virtual instruments and devices.
The fact that we can record movements of just about any parameter in our mix really is a beautiful thing, with this in mind you really should be taking advantage of the fact. If you haven’t already started to automate your filters, synth parameters, reverb sends and mix levels, now is the time to start. Be dynamic!
Go crazy with automation.
Tip 5 - Get Into Space
Most of you will already know that using reverb can add space and depth to your sounds, but getting the most out of spatial effects means more than just strapping a single reverb unit across your whole mix.
The trick is to build up contrasting layers of space. This essentially means using several different reverbs to place specific sounds at specific distances from the listener. This will mean utilizing everyone from short ambiences on percussion sounds to larger room reverb on vocals. You can even push things further and use hall and outdoor impulse responses for one shots and burst effects.
As you may of guess, the best way to achieve this sort of collage is to use a number of different kinds of reverb, as opposed to the same plug-in with varying times. Try mixing up ambience, gates, springs, plates, impulse responses and algorithmic halls. The contrast between these different flavors should give you an more interesting result and avoid the mix becoming too uniform.
Use different reverbs to add depth to your mix.