"Sing My Song" Produces With Cubase And Dorico

By Markus Hartmann and Sebastian Mönch

Since it began in 2014, "Sing meinen Song - Das Tauschkonzert" (Sing My Song – The Song Swap Concert) has been one of the most successful German TV music shows. To date, more than fifty internationally and nationally established artists have taken part in the show. The original concept is based on the Dutch show "De beste zangers van Nederland" and is broadcast in ten European countries. The main attraction of the show is that the artists swap songs among themselves then interpret them in their own way. The artists are accompanied by the excellent live band "Grosch's Eleven". This unique format makes for endless elements of surprise for the audience, and not least the artists themselves, which send shivers of excitement down the spine

The band leader and producer Mathias Grosch is responsible for the arrangements and musical interpretation. He is ably assisted by composer and arranger Konrad Hinsken, who does the arrangements for the live band using Dorico. Both have been working with the DAW Cubase and the notation software Dorico for many years.

How did your live band for "Sing My Song", Grosch's Eleven, come about?

Mathias: Since I still know a lot of people here in Mannheim from my student days, I was able to put together the eleven-piece band from a large pool of musicians. I also got Konrad on board as an arranger from the very start. Then we developed the musical concept of the arrangements tailored to the artists.

Who chooses the artists and the songs?

Mathias: The production company Talpa selects the artists together with the client Vox and in close cooperation with us. We make sure that they come from different genres so that we have as diverse a spectrum of musical influences as possible. Once that's done, we sit down with the participating artists to discuss who’s going to interpret which song by which other artist.

How do you start working with the artists and when does Cubase come into play?

Mathias: After the songs have been decided, each artist comes to me in the studio and we work on the songs. That's the most exciting and creative part of the work for me. I take on the role of producer and work with the artists on the arrangements, sometimes in completely different styles. Cubase Pro helps me create the arrangements. I start each song with my songwriting template, which I have saved as a project template. In it, I work with folders in the project window, where each instrument has a specific color, so that I can quickly find my way around in the creative phase and capture ideas spontaneously. With a wide range of sounds, various VSTis are loaded right away. Likewise, audio tracks for real instruments and vocals with the appropriate plug-ins are already set up and the arranger track is also already created, so that I can work flexibly with the various parts. In the current version, composing in the Key Editor has become even easier to navigate, since I can also display markers or the arranger track there. All of the tracks then feed into a bus system. In the mix console, I also use VCA faders among other things, so that I can influence the level, or panning of individual instruments or entire instrument groups quickly and easily. In the end, there are thirteen group tracks, six effects tracks and four tracks with parallel compression, which then go into the master.

After two days of intensive creative work in Cubase, six solid demos are ready, whose sound aesthetics have already been worked out. Then Konrad comes into play.

So, what's your job then, Konrad?

Konrad: When the pre-production is finished, I start doing the arrangements for the live band using Dorico. I also start off with a template where all the band's instruments are already laid out. In addition, I add a lead sheet and, if necessary, another guitar or piano from the artist. Here I load the exported MIDI files from Cubase into Dorico and then copy the notes into the template, which has got two bars of additional count-in. This way I have the same song structure and the same bar counts as in Cubase, which is obviously important for the rest of the production process. Then I correct the notes if necessary and arrange the song so that it’s ready to be translated into a performance with the live band.

What are the advantages of creating music with Dorico?

Konrad: For our production workflow, we need an absolutely clean and clear score. Many functions in Dorico help me in my work, such as the automatic layout, where there are no more collisions. This is great. You save a lot of time that you used to spend on layout! I just enter all the information, such as artist name, title, composer, season number, etc. into the project information. Thanks to the master pages, this information always appears in the right place and with the right font sizes, both in the score and in all the individual parts. Then I write the notes with phrasing, dynamics and everything else into the score, using only the computer keyboard with the appropriate popovers. This is really quick and easy to do, because the input and the layout in Dorico are separated from each other and you don't have to move things back and forth in between. It's also great that you only have to put chord symbols into the score once, for example, and they are then automatically written in the whole rhythm section straight away. Then I set a four-bar layout for the individual parts so that the song structure remains clear. The rest runs itself. It just always looks good straight away. So even when you’re working to tight deadlines, you can always rely on Dorico to automatically create a score that’s easy to read.

How do the musicians get the score?

Konrad: The entire band works with Dorico and has access to my arrangements. Each musician downloads the Dorico files from the server and then has the possibility to make any necessary changes to his score. This means we can keep everything totally flexible and each musician can arrange his part as he wants to read it.

Does the score get printed out or read from a tablet?

Konrad: The horn section has the PDFs on iPads and play from them. The rhythm section still prints the score out on paper.

How are the different soundscapes created?

Mathias: The engineer works with me during rehearsals to mix the tracks as closely as possible to how they will sound in the end, in order to get as close as possible to the respective sound aesthetics and the final result.

In the show, the song is only played once, meaning we have already pretty much fixed everything sound-wise by this time.

How are the final mixes created then?

Mathias: It's impossible for everything to be mixed by one person in the short time frame from live recording to release. The fifty or so tracks per season are mixed by three engineers. The engineering team knows my sonic ideas, so, when in doubt, I just specify which emotional direction the mix should go in. During this mixing process, my job is then to communicate with the artists about any changes they want and then implement them with the engineers.

What else would you like to see in the digital music production world?

Mathias: For my workflow, Cubase is already pretty much perfect.

However, there is one thing I would like to see: unfortunately, some third-party VST plug-ins are still only available in VST 2 format. They also use up processing power when there is no signal at all. I’d really like to see them all switching to the VST 3 format so you can get the maximum performance out of Cubase.

Konrad: With version 3.5, Dorico has all the essential functions that I need for my work. The development from version to version has been amazingly fast. I think we can expect a lot more in the near future. I can’t wait.

Mathias: What I think we both particularly like is the direct line to the developers at Steinberg, who are always willing to listen to any requests or suggestions we might have.