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How to Write Your Music in a Notation Program and Have It Played by a DAW - AT THE SAME TIME

I started writing this up for a Facebook group, but thought it would be worth sharing here...  Happy to answer any questions if folks are interested in setting up their own workflow like this...

John

The Best of Both Worlds
How to Write Your Music in a Notation Program and Have It Played by a DAW - AT THE SAME TIME

A couple people have asked me about my setup, so I decided to write it up in detail here. I may make a video at some point, though I thought it would be most helpful to write it up first.

WHY NOT JUST A DAW?
There is a gulf between those who write using notation and those who write in a DAW. I am one of those old school guys who just *thinks* in notation, not MIDI data. If I am working on a large score, I want to *see* everything that's going on, both while I'm writing and during playback.

WHY NOT JUST FINALE?
Finale has "human playback" which automates a lot of MIDI functions during playback. I dare say it pretty good and is rather customizable.

However, Finale is very poor at hosting VSTs (virtual instruments), especially any of the current generation (e.g., Spitfire). First, if you are running any version of Finale before the current one, you are using a 32-bit program that is just not able to handle the amount of processing that is needed.

Finale is also very limited when it comes to any sort of secondary audio processing (reverb/EQ/etc). Unless you do it within the VST itself, you are limited to one of the three slots and any tweaking outside of volume can only be applied to ALL the sound coming out of Finale.

Finally, Finale is bad at video. There is a sort of syncing/video hosting capability, but it is extremely buggy and will likely cause crashes. Similarly, I believe you can add a single line of audio to an existing file, but it is wonky and of course, you can't make any edits to it within Finale.

THE PRINCIPLE
So the idea is to combine the benefits of Finale (notation and decent automated human playback) with the benefits of a DAW (powerful VST hosting and the ability to adjust the audio to your heart's content).

In order to do this:

1) you need to have both programs
2) you need to run both programs at the same time
3) you need to have them talk to each other using virtual MIDI cables

I use LoopBe30, which provides you up to 30 virtual MIDI ports and is <$20. After installation and rebooting the system, it will run in the background and both Finale and Cubase will recognize its MIDI ports. You can tell Finale to send MIDI data to a specific LoopBe MIDI port and Cubase will be able to receive the data from the same port.

Now, important caveat: when Finale is running in MIDI mode (as opposed to VST mode), you are limited to only eight MIDI Out ports. As you probably know, each MIDI port has 16 available channels, so this makes for a grand total of 128 MIDI channels available to be sent from Finale to Cubase. This may seem a like a lot, but if you try to create an orchestral template with every single instrument having up to 20-30 articulations on different channels, you will very quickly run out. So to set up an orchestral template under this system, you will have to make heavy use of libraries that allow you to change articulations on the same channel using keyswitches or something like Spitfire's UACC system (more on why I love their system later).

Right now, my standard orchestral template has each of the eight MIDI ports designated for the following orchestral instrument families:

1 - ETC - ancillary instruments not commonly used
2 - Winds
3 - Brass
4 - Standard Percussion
5 - Keyboards / Harp
6 - Solo Voices & Chorus
7 - Strings (I use Spitfire Symphonic and Chamber for divisi)
8 - Solo Strings

So, say I want to write a piece for solo alto flute and I decide that the instrument is going to sit on MIDI port 1, channel 1.

I start Cubase and load up an alto flute VST instrument, telling the VST to receive MIDI data from MIDI port 1, channel 1. I then open up Finale, create a new staff called "Alto Flute" and tell it to send data on MIDI port 1, channel 1. I type some notes into Finale and when I hit play in Finale, Finale sends the MIDI data (realtime) via the LoopBe MIDI cables to Cubase which executes them as sound (realtime).

Do this a hundred times with all the different orchestral instruments and MIDI channels and you have an orchestral template where you can enter any note on a staff in Finale and it will play back through the DAW as the specific named instrument.

WHAT ELSE DO I NEED TO DO?
Since Finale is essentially translating written notes/etc into MIDI data for Cubase to execute, you will need to create special instructions in the form of "expressions" for any MIDI activities that go beyond pitch and duration.

One of the most important set of expressions is dynamics. If you are familiar with most modern VST libraries, you know that they often have more than one way to use MIDI data to control dynamics. Most commonly these are CC#1 and CC#11. Because CC#1 is the most common, I set Finale "Human Playback" to interpret all dynamics as CC#1 by default. However, since I also want to control CC#11, I have made a separate set of dynamics that only change CC#11. I use the same "pp" and "ff" graphics, but I make them somewhat smaller and "hidden" (so they will not print out on the score).

The other major category of expressions you will need to create are for articulation changes. Most libraries use keyswitches, but an extremely frustrating part of many keyswitch instruments is that they are all slightly different. This makes it very hard to create a simple set of text expressions to control all orchestral instruments.

THIS is why I love Spitfire's UACC (their effort to standardize the data standard for articulation changes so that is the same, at least across instrument families). Using UACC means that I can create a single text expression ("legato") and if I put it on the flute staff or the bassoon staff (or even the cello staff!), Cubase will switch the VST to the legato articulation. As I do for the CC#11 dynamics, I do make these articulation-switching expressions smaller and "hidden".

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Sounds good John. How do you deal with automating Spitfires release, speed, time machine length and tightness parameters?

http://mikehewer.com

I don't!  :D  But if they can be controlled by CC values, then one could easily create text expressions in the score.

Mike Hewer said:

Sounds good John. How do you deal with automating Spitfires release, speed, time machine length and tightness parameters?

http://mikehewer.com

I see. Yes they are controlled with cc. Are you limited in terms of amount of text expressions you can create in Finale? I'm thinking of other sample sets that have a lot of parameters one can manipulate, like sample modelling and Vsl.

I'm not aware of any limit to the number of expressions and there's a lot of flexibility with how they appear (could be text or symbols, say) and you can organize them by categories, so they are grouped by relevant library.

I don't know Sample Modeling or VSL, but I believe many of the newer VSTs allow parameters to be mapped onto CCs (at least the most important ones)

If you don’t know all the developers currently providing virtual instruments then, you better do a hell of a lot more research.

I would wager none of them match actual dynamic output relative to other instruments in their own libraries never mind to other developers libraries. I believe you’re on a fools errand. 

But, it’s your time and effort not mine so by all means keep dabbling.

That's a great question.  Finale does let you manually alter MIDI data (not sure about recording directly from a fader) for individual sustained notes/passages.  However, their system is much more limited and certainly less user-friendly than doing it in a DAW.

Personally I rely on Finale's playback automation to handle all fader-type tweaking (Finale will slightly swell CC1 on sustained notes, for example) and just go by ear. I do not program in MIDI data, other than using the expressions.  If a passage crescendos from pp to ff, I will put in each individual dynamic at key points.  I've thought about creating interim dynamics (pp, pp+, p, p+, etc.), but haven't done that yet.

Of course this approach results in a final Finale score that will always need to be redone for real players, but still I find the benefits of working in notation far preferable to MIDI (or doing it as a two-step process).

Yes all can be mapped. One thought just struck me. Some parameters are controlled with fader movement and not a specific value (thinking about the SFA parameters above and plenty of others. How do you deal with defining and implementing real time fader movement that may change from moment to moment? or am I reading you right in that only a specific value can be defined in the text equivalents, hence no motion?

Genuinely interested BTW, hence the ?s - I would love to have complete integration with everything available...

Helpful as usual, Ray.  I am familiar with VSL and Sample Modeling, but I do not own every software library in the world and it is not my job to write their user manuals.  Spitfire certainly does match up its dynamic output across libraries (with the exception of the legato articulations, which always require a boost to CC11).

You can listen to my mockup and tell me if I'm "dabbling": https://soundcloud.com/driscollmusick/spitfire 



Ray Kemp said:

If you don’t know all the developers currently providing virtual instruments then, you better do a hell of a lot more research.

I would wager none of them match actual dynamic output relative to other instruments in their own libraries never mind to other developers libraries. I believe you’re on a fools errand. 

But, it’s your time and effort not mine so by all means keep dabbling.

Sorry John, I edited and we are out of sync!!! Please read above again...:-)

So to continue, can Finales fader automation be defined to any of the 127cc's  and how many faders can you automate in Finale in total at any given time?

Further, you will always have to adjust this by ear anyway.  I am not suggesting anyone would stop doing that.  But I would still prefer to be working with Spitfire samples at the same time I am looking at a full visual score.  There is not another way to do that.

Ray Kemp said:

If you don’t know all the developers currently providing virtual instruments then, you better do a hell of a lot more research.

I would wager none of them match actual dynamic output relative to other instruments in their own libraries never mind to other developers libraries. I believe you’re on a fools errand. 

But, it’s your time and effort not mine so by all means keep dabbling.

You can alter the underlying MIDI data for any of the 127 CCs, I don't think Finale will record values from a fader (nor are you allowed to apply automation rules).  It's not that sophisticated.

Mike Hewer said:

Sorry John, I edited and we are out of sync!!! Please read above again...:-)

So to continue, can Finales fader automation be defined to any of the 127cc's  and how many faders can you automate in Finale in total at any given time?

This is what the Finale MIDI editor looks like.  You can see for each of the notes on the stave, you can select any of the 128 CCs to alter (right now they are 64 by default).  If you make changes, you can set the system to "incorporate" manual MIDI changes, so it will continue doing Human Playback, but also make any specific MIDI edits you've made to the underlying notes.

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