When I started out, the resounding advice that new producers got was to choose a DAW, stick with it and learn it inside out. It rings true today to some degree, it’s certainly better in my opinion to use that mindset when using mix plugins and synths still (I’ve even written about it here). However, in the last decade, there’s been a lot of changes to the software we use to make music. Ten years ago, you didn’t need a Mac to use Logic, software like Ableton was still coming through and wasn’t anywhere near as reliable (or popular) as it’s become and Reason with its wacky cables-round-the-back GUI didn’t work with VST’s. If like me, you stuck to your guns with your software of choice, it’s possible you missed out on a lot of cool ways to make music by adopting something else. In this post, I'm going to discuss how you can use a combination of editing software to get the most out of your productions.
Old habits die hard
I’ve always been a Cubase user and over the years I’ve dabbled with some of the other offerings available either through working with other artists or as a caveat of completing sections of my degree. Whether you landed on Reason, Logic, FL studio, Maschine, Pro Tools, Ableton etc., you’ve probably already noticed that each one has its own feel and approach. You’d likely be recommended Ableton if you’d just started making EDM for instance. My own personal opinions of the other DAW’s around combined with how comfortable I am with my choice have stopped me from switching completely in the past (although I have attempted to switch to Ableton twice over the years), so now I’m using a combination of three.
Just to clarify, I’m not trying to be a showy cunt doing this, I’m trying to maximise my own efforts in the studio by separating the songwriting process into three sections. The way that I go about this, is detailed below:
- Sound design – Maschine
- Beat making and arrangement – Ableton
- Mixdown and Mastering - Cubase
So why split it up? All three bits of software are capable of all three. One of the main reasons I’ve separated the process isn’t through choice. Over the last couple of years, I’ve found that the periods of time I get to produce are slightly more fragmented. I’ve also got a terrible attention span so I struggle to sit and produce for more than a couple of hours without needing a break. I also use a laptop to do a lot of work and find that Maschine and Ableton are much easier to use on one screen than Cubase (even with the update). I also don’t need a USB dongle, freeing up space for something far more useful. I’ve kept Cubase in my setup because I still prefer the mixing engine and console to Ableton.
I really like NI’s Maschine, the hardware is great and intuitive so it’s really easy to use. The sequencer isn’t really geared to my needs and I’m not really a fan of mixing or arrangement in it after years of using Cubase. I do however, spend a lot of time using both sampling techniques and NI’s synths when I make my own sounds which Maschine is perfect for.
It's been quite time consuming switching over I will admit (and expensive). I did mention earlier that I’d already attempted to switch to Ableton previously (I wrote the track ‘Aftermath’ on it and a large chunk of the tracks that featured on my ‘Archived’ free release a couple of years back, linked below) and it has resulted in a lot of valuable time that’s been wasted relearning how to do things that I could already do in Cubase.
Fortunately, this time is being made up now by the time I’m saving by not having to navigate through Cubase’s masse of windows and clicking. This isn’t the only benefit, I’ve recently mapped Ableton to my Maschine controller and array of Akai midi controllers so I’m spending less time using the mouse and keyboard and more time ‘jamming’. I’ve adopted the mindset that this is a long term investment so I’ve been happy to concede the ‘hit’ on finishing tunes for a short while.
A happy side effect from this whole thing is that I’m beginning to associate Ableton purely with producing and have reduced the amount of time I spend trying to ‘mix as I go along’ considerably. The same goes for using Cubase, I’m not swamped in windows trying to tweak and find sounds, I just drop stems into it and go from there. You’ve probably already gathered from my previous posts that I’m into workflow ‘hacks’ and shortcuts.
So, is it worth it?
Would I recommend this? It’s hard to say. I definitely don’t think this way of working is for everyone. There’s also a bit of an overlap of tasks when switching over through programs, particularly having to export stems. It’s also taken a lot of time that I could have spent finishing tracks, learning the ins and outs of my new tools. With all that said, it’s also encouraged me to do things I wouldn’t have ever tried with Cubase and has revived that ‘what does this thing do’ that often leads to inspiration.
Honestly, I wish I’d done it sooner. If you’ve been thinking about giving it a try and you aren’t in the middle of a big project, it might be worth taking the plunge. Youtube is rife with tutorials for every bit of software out there which arguably makes it much easier to switch these days. I’m off to make some more sounds, I just discovered .ALC files so I might be a while.
Is there a killer combo of software I've not mentioned here? Drop a line in the comments below, and if you liked this post, please give it a little share. :)
If you liked the sound of getting some of my old tunes for free, check the window below: