I want to organise how I create tracks, so I can spend less time creating the same track types again and again; and get in control of Cubase’s Media Bay. Here’s how I do it right now.
Taming Media Bay
I’ve been using Media Bay simply for a while, and I thought that maybe I could learn to use it for Track Presets too. But when you open Cubase’s Media Bay it can look flipping complicated.
- On the left of the window is a files-and-folders panel showing locations where I might look for… stuff, and in that panel the section I use most is Favourites. At the top of the window, though, is a different panel, also devoted to Favourites… which seem to be the same as the ones in the left panel. So… now there’s scope for different populations of neurons in my brain to compete for my arm muscles – what’s the best way to access my Favourites?
- The Filters panel baffles me. What is Logical filtering? I mean… I guess I don’t want to filter search results stupidly on purpose, but… Also, how do the Attributes apply to my music? DO they apply to my music? Can I extend the list of Attributes so they apply to my music? Why would I want to spend time doing that? Why would I want to spend time even finding out if that’s possible, if I don’t need to do it?
- What is the Attribute Inspector panel? There are attributes in the list of Results, so why would I need this? What’s the difference between a Dynamic Attribute and a Defined Attribute? I hate Attributes!
- WTF are those four small coloured squares at the bottom right-hand corner?
- All I want is to quickly find the sound I recorded, of me dragging a effing dustbin across our back yard. There’s so many panels here that I’m stressing about what combination of panels I need to pay attention to, in the time it should’ve taken me to just find the sound of me dragging the dustbin, put it in my tune, add a ton of reverb to it to make it sound cosmic, and get on.
- WTF are those grey controls in the bottom left-hand corner?
Interestingly, the first of those grey controls in the bottom left-hand corner lets you set up Media Bay’s window layout. And by hiding some of the panels, I can make Media Bay more habitable:
Now I can make a positive choice between the Favourites panel, and the file/folder tree on the left-hand side… rather than being tortured by panels with overlapping features. I can see matching items in a list, I can search within them by keyword, and I can preview them.
Also, the relationship between the panels becomes clearer: Left-hand panel = bird’s eye view; main panel = list of items; bottom panel = item detail.
I can totally set up a Favourite for Track Presets, and add tracks by dragging track presets from Media Bay onto my project timeline. In which case, I could grow into using Media Bay as a hub for organising favourite track types and finding samples. But for me, there’s a problem with that – and it’s the Previewer panel.
Media Bay’s Previewer panel is hugely useful for audio files: I can see the waveform, get an idea for the shape and length of a sample, and click to play it. BUT with track presets, the Previewer panel automatically spins up a copy of the track so I can play notes on a virtual keyboard, and audition it. And if the track involves a slow-to-load instrument, for instance Kontakt with 100s of orchestral samples, generating that preview could take several seconds. And… I don’t want to waste time with Cubase gummed up loading previews, and I don’t want the irritation of remembering to hide/show the Previewer depending on what I’m looking for.
So I’ve streamlined Media Bay, but I need a different, leaner way to create tracks and manage Track Presets.
Add Track … Using Track Preset
The simple way to add a track happens back in the main Project Window… where you right-click in Cubase’s Track List to open the context menu that lets you add a track:
And look – you can add a track using a Track Preset.
So I’ve set up a key command for that. Handily for me (on my Macbook anyway) the § key – right in the corner of the keyboard – was free, so I used that. Now I can muscle-memory that single key press, rather than mouse-clicking, scanning a list of menu options and clicking again.
Again, by default the window for adding a track using a preset looks busy and complicated. But again, there’s a control that lets you hide some of the panels. Having done that, hitting the § key shows me the following:
This is great, but… the unfiltered list seems choked with Cubase factory content and VST instrument presets. There’s a reason the VSTi presets appear there: I can drag one to create an Instrument track for the relevant instrument, with that preset loaded. But I don’t want to wade through a ton of synthesizer presets when I want an empty Kontakt with an EQ and an automatable Gain plugin inserted, or a drum machine with separate MIDI tracks for each drum.
To get round this, I give all my Track Presets 5 star ratings, and filter the list to only show 5-star items. Cubase remembers that configuration between sessions; so now, by default, when I add a track using a preset, here’s what I see:
Aaaahhhh. Now, I’m just a click away from typing to filter the list by keyword. Also, I’m only choosing from MY TRACK PRESETS.
They sort by Name, and numbers/asterisks appear in the list above letters. Meaning that… I can start a name with a number or an asterisk if it’s the kind of track I use every session; and otherwise, if I start the preset with EG a plugin name, it’ll sort by plugin. I can type “K5” for “Kontakt 5” to filter down to Kontakt instrument tracks – remember, these will have a Kontakt instrument and likely an FX chain too.
I’m coming round to prefer numbers over asterisks because that way I have fine control over the order in which presets appear – I can 100% force a preset to the top of the list by prefixing it 000 and making sure my other presets are prefixed 001 or above.
Out of the box, Media Bay can do lots of things – including creating tracks. BUT, because it’s general-puropse, it hits you in the brain with a load of factory content and instrument presets that may not be relevant to you. So it took some taming to simplify it to something that feels quick and simple.
It’s about your personal preferences, but I tend to use Media Bay itself to look for samples. Rather than add tracks from Media Bay, I have a keyboard shortcut so I can muscle-memory the move “Add Track Using Track Preset…”; I’ve simplified the popup window to hide Filters and Previewer panels; and I’ve done a couple of mini-life-hacks by 5-star filtering my own track presets, and naming my absolute favourites prefixed with a low number (EG 000 or 001) so they float to the top of the list.
The aim is to remove attention-sapping option-noise, prioritise my own content over the million factory presets that aren’t relevant to my musical style, and set a Key Command to streamline the process.
This makes me feel slightly better. I’m annoyed about the hacky 5-star naming convention, and the over-keen Media Bay previewer trying to open Kontakt + a whole string orchestra just because I highlight a preset. But I feel like track presets are livable now, and that maybe I can get to work making new track presets, to simplify life even more, and leave my future self some gifts in a place where I might actually be able to find them.
More Key Commands
I can key-command adding common specific track types: Audio Track, Group Track and FX Track are my priorities. I did this using CTRL §, ALT § and CMD §. The popup I see for Audio tracks has a Browse button. If I engage the Browse option, it shows me Track Presets just for the relevant track type, and with a naming convention hack, I can make my personal default track types appear at the top of the list:
Here… well, almost all of my audio tracks have a Pro-Q EQ insert; many stereo tracks start with an A1StereoControl, and many end with a Gain control that I can automate separately to the track’s level fader.
So now, I can quickly tell Cubase “Create 8 Audio tracks based on my STEREO A1-ProQ-Gain preset”. UNRESOLVED ANNOYANCE: I’ve lost the option to choose the routing for all the tracks in one move.