Workflow question: Creating a new song

Hi, I’ve been back and forth with Cantabile (v2 and now v3) and other similar programs (that one that starts with “F”) and sequencers, even Ableton. Yes, I’m a geek about computers and music theory.

What is the best work flow for creating a new song? My habit is to create rack, setup, patch changes, control changes, etc. as a template then create a song that encompasses them. I start the same place each time. I then to have every single rack and synth and effect I’ll ever use in one place, then route to only what I need for that song.I think Brad would call this the Huge model (or maybe Trump would say YYUUUUGGGE).

I think the preferred work flow for Cantabile v3 is start with a clean sheet every time. Only add the racks, effects, VSTs you need for the current song. Then, by asking Cantabile to pre-load everything on the song list, you avoid modules (e.g. Kontakt) taking 1 or 2 minutes to load big string samples and such.

Is there a “third way” that avoids some of the tedium of adding a bunch of routes and racks straight away each time?


Well you could always create a “template” song, that has some of the basic racks/routes/bindings already set up. Load that up, and save it as a new song. For example if many of your songs use a piano rack, add that to your template, along with any others. Then you can just delete it if you don’t need it for a given song.


I was trying to do a template song, but kept screwing up the template while trying to save the new song.

Maybe mark the song file as read-only?

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Would this planned feature help with this?

Template songs is my first thought. A slightly different UI might also help:

Songlist SongRoutes/Triggers Racks Objects…

Song 1 Route 1 XYZ VST1
Route 2 ABC VST2…
Trigger …etc.

I was looking at the way NI does patch selection with multiple columns defining attributes. HALion uses the same idea. I was trying to visualize Cantabile working the same way.

Not a very developed idea, just a thought.

Templates is a very good start, though. I was going to define a song with all the bells and whistles, then make the file read only. (I tried to make a template before, but accidentally deleted all my triggers >:(

Hi Richard,

I tend to work from the “Monster Song” approach: I have a template song that integrates all the racks I need (actually I have one template for my band and one for a separate project). In this song, I have all the routes (including filtered variants), bindings and triggers set up and connected - and all racks de-activated (red light). For me, this is pretty massive (although I believe @Neil_Durant and @dave_dore have similar if not even more complex setups).

Just a quick overview

  • Piano rack (Addictive Keys + Pianoteq)
  • Epiano rack (Lounge Lizard + Pianoteq)
  • Digi-Piano Rack (M1 + Dexed for FM Piano)
  • Main Synth Rack (M1 + Wavestation + Hive) - all-purpose synth sounds
  • StringLayerRack (M1 + Wavestation) - pads
  • MainKeysFX&Volume (some delay, reverb plugins, fader plugin) - shared effects for all above racks, plus ONE fader to control the overall mix created by the above
  • Sampler Rack (TX16 WX sampler + effects) - for all sound effects, loops, etc.
  • Lead Rack (M1 + Wavestation + Hive) - all lead sounds, controlled separately so that I can easily mix between lead and main sound (left hand / right hand)
  • Guitar Rack (S-Gear guitar amp + pedal effects) - I play my electric guitar (James Tyler Variax) through this
  • Acoustic Rack (EQ + effects) - this is for my acoustic guitar (Yamaha APX 900)
  • Master Rack (two input pairs - guitar & keys; contains master EQ, Compressor and MIDI-controlled volume for each)
  • VoiceLive Rack - this one contains no plugins at all but simply a state load trigger sending program changes to my VoiceLive. this way, I can easily select different sounds in my VoiceLive by selecting a different rack state

All these racks are fully routed, with all necessary route variants connected, all state load triggers for volume or modulation initialization set up and a default configuration enabled in state “Default”.

Now when I create a song, I simply create a copy of my template, then decide which of the racks I am going to use in this song and delete all others (don’t need the guitar rack in a song that I only play keys in…). This also gets rid of all connections to these racks.

Now simply activate racks, select the right rack states, blend the volumes to taste (sometimes fine-tune the routes for split setups) and start creating my song states.

By now, my template song is pretty stable; my editing is mostly within the individual racks: I need a new lead sound - start editing Hive in the Lead Rack, create a new rack state, use it for a new song. All other songs untouched…

Essentially, my template song is the equivalent of a full live setup of physical synths and FX and a submixer - all equipment set up, fully wired, ready to play. Songs are then just a specific configuration of all this equipment.

Hope this helps!




Excellent Information, Torsten!

This is pretty much what I was looking for. It seems that complex setups require use of a template or a starting place. Simple setups, i.e. Piano/Organ, one synth, and/or a few sounds could start with the “blank sheet of paper” idea. More complex setups (more than 3 or 4 VSTs) seem to require a template.

My setup seems to dictate the later. The workflow I’m used to also drives me to the later. My Phase I design for Cantabile is mostly a port of my Forte setup. Short comings in Forte drove me to using Bome MT as a foundation for handling MIDI. For now, I’ll continue to use MT, but I believe the better functionality of Cantabile doesn’t require it. Below is “One Geek’s Story” about equipment for live VST playing and making the whole thing overly complicated and TL;DR.

My hardware setup looks like this:

Goal: Use any keyboard for a master keyboard as long as it transmits on MIDI channel 1 and has MIDI out and sustain pedal implemented as a MIDI control. I don’t want to carry my really heavy (aging) 88-key Kurzweil 2500x anymore! Also, the sounds are now dated and I’d like more flexibility.

Functionality: I want to define a framework of sounds by song and have Piano, E-Piano, Accordion, Strings, Orchestra, Organs, Pads, and synth available as layers and splits at any time. I want to be able to adjust (fine-tune) mix, split point, send controls/PC at any time during a live gig. Later, I’d like to be able to use B4 drawbars and adjust audio effects on the fly.

Computer: I built a 1u rack mount with 2 SSDs, and a PCI slot specifically for live gigs. I had one of the earlier Receptors, but it’s just too inflexible and picky. My 4u rack has the computer, a power filter, and a PreSonus 1818VSL. The PreSonus is new. I had a Focustite with FireWire that was much better. Unfortunately, Focusrite has driver problems with Windows 10 and the AMD chip set my computer uses. If you go custom build, stick with Intel! Three years ago when I built the computer, laptops with more than 4GB were prohibitory expensive and inflexible. That is probably no longer the case. Also, with USB rather than Firewire, ports are easier to come by.

Controller: Novation SL Zero. Keyboard plugs into MIDI IN of SL. Sliders of SL send MIDI controls to Bome MT and are routed to instruments.The SL has lots of buttons and knobs for other things.

Sound Architecture: Splits and layers within a sound framework defined by song. VSTs are implemented as below:

1: Kontakt Ch 1 Piano
2: Kontakt Ch 2 E-Piano (Rhodes, Wurli, or DX-7 type)
3: Kontakt Ch 3 Accordion, lower B4 manual, or other pad from SampleTank
4: Kontakt Ch 4 Solo strings, or sax section (layered with HALion and Aria w/Garritan Personal Orchestra)
5: Kontakt Ch 5 Large strings, orchestra, or Horns/Woodwinds (layered with HALion/Aria/SampleTank)
-------------------optional split---------------------
6: Organ: Either Kontakt or B4
7: Synth Pads, usually FM8 (or Pro-5, CS80, etc)
8: Solo synth, usually Massive (or Synth1, etc.)

So, there are always 8 layers available. If the channel is off (SL fader is 0) MT does not send MIDI on. MIDI off is always sent. Pressing a button on the SL (or sending a MIDI control Trigger) implements a KB split using MT. Five layers go to the left hand and three to the right.

Typical sound complexes for the church gig are Piano+Rhodes layer/B4 split, Piano+Wurli+Accordion layer, L/R B4, Piano+Rhodes+Strings+Pipe organ, etc. The church gig music is Americana roots, a little traditional. Other sound complexes are for R&B (lots of horn parts) and 80s bands (i.e. The Cars) lots of recreate synth parts for cover-band gigs.

The Racks I have within Cantabile (Phase I) are:

  • Kontakt with (1) Piano as a single instrument, (2) bank of E-Pianos, (3) Accordions and pads, (4) Solo strings and instruments and saxes for R&B horns, (5) Orchestra sounds and R&B horns, (6) Pipe organs, (7) Synth pads.
  • Aria with Personal Orchestra as various orchestral instruments that never change.
  • HALion with a lot of individual instrument sounds that never change.
  • SampleTank with a lot of individual sounds that never change, but they may in the future. Particularly ethnic sounds that ST seems to be really good at. ST does a better job of handling patch changes of individual sounds. (Not as good a Kontkt, but acceptable).
  • B4 with patches exported for Cantabile
  • Synths including FM8, Massive, CS80, Pro-5, some Moog/Arp clones, etc.

Later Phases are guitar racks, mic for sax/flute. Consider replacing MT with Cantabile routing. And I need to work on using lead sheets or page presentation programs. Forte actually does a pretty good job here.

I’ve considered using Ableton Live, Reaper, and some other products for playing live. BTW, I really like the process architecture of Reaper. VSTs are implemented in their own process instead of a thread of the main process. It is more reliable than most since the main program can monitor and restart a process independently. A crashing thread can take out the whole running program. Ableton, on the other hand, does not have a good implementation for support large, multi-tumbrel VSTs. It encourages you to use their own sounds and loops. There’s no concept of a “rack” for isolating and grouping such large VSTs.

I’ve organized my instruments in racks but hadn’t considered the monster song “subtractive approach” to creating new songs. Good ideas!

Maybe I’m weird, but I quite enjoy starting from a blank song, throwing my racks in and wiring it all up!

Admittedly some aspects of it are tedious though. One thing I’d like is for racks to optionally have a default output route (or routes) that wire themselves up whenever you add the rack to the song. I suspect a very common situation is where you always wire your rack to the audio output (or certain racks to certain audio outputs etc). Particularly in Cantabile 3, when it always feels like the best thing to do is put any effects plugins inside racks, so you can drop a rack in for a particular sound in a very modular way, and so rack outputs are often likely to route to the same place.


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Just for illustration: here is my default song template:

This is my default routing table

Definitely a bit tedious to create from scratch every time I build a new song :relaxed: