6 practical steps to compose a pop song using Cubase
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. Setting up Cubase
  2. Writing the song structure
  3. Arranging instruments and sounds
  4. Recording the song
  5. Mixing and editing the track
  6. Finalizing and exporting your song

Composing a pop song can be a fun and rewarding experience. One of the best tools to get you there is Cubase, a music software that offers great flexibility and functionality. Today, we're going to break down exactly how to compose a pop song using Cubase. So, let's dive right in and start making some fantastic music!

Setting up Cubase

Before we start composing, we need to set up Cubase correctly. A well-organized workspace can make your composing process more efficient and enjoyable.

Downloading and Installing Cubase

If you haven't already, the first thing you need to do is download and install Cubase. You can purchase and download it directly from the Steinberg website. After downloading, follow the instructions provided to install the software on your computer.

Setting up the Audio Interface

Next, let's set up your audio interface. This is where you'll connect your instruments and microphone to your computer. In Cubase, go to the "Devices" menu, then select "Device Setup." Here, you'll find a list of options. Choose your audio interface from the list and make sure it's set as your primary audio device.

Setting up MIDI Devices

If you're planning to use a MIDI keyboard or another MIDI device, you'll need to set it up next. Again, go to the "Devices" menu, but this time select "MIDI Device Manager." Just like with the audio interface, you can select your MIDI device from the list and set it up to work with Cubase.

Creating a New Project

Now that everything is set up, it's time to create a new project. Go to the "File" menu and select "New Project." You'll be prompted to choose a template — for our purposes, the "Empty" template will work just fine. Once you've made your selection, hit "OK" and your new project will be ready to go.

Now your Cubase is set up and ready to go! It's time to get creative and learn how to compose a pop song using Cubase.

Writing the song structure

Now that your workspace is set up, let's move onto the song structure. The structure is the backbone of your song, so let's lay a solid foundation.

Deciding on a Basic Structure

Most pop songs follow a similar structure: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, and final chorus. This structure works well because it keeps the listener engaged, and it's flexible enough to adapt to your creative ideas. Remember, there's always room for creativity in music, so don't feel obliged to stick strictly to this structure.

Setting up the Tempo Track

Now, you'll need to set up the tempo for your song. Go to the "Project" menu, select "Add Track", and then "Tempo Track." A new track will be added to your project where you can define and change the tempo of your song. A common tempo for pop songs is around 120 beats per minute (BPM), but feel free to experiment with what feels right for your song.

Writing the Chord Progression

Next, it's time to write your chord progression. This is the harmony that will underpin your song. The chord progression can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. A common progression in pop music is the I-V-vi-IV progression. In the key of C major, this would be C, G, Am, F. But again, feel free to experiment with different progressions until you find one that resonates with your song.

Creating the Melody

Last but not least, it's time to create the melody. This is the part of the song that people will likely remember and sing along to, so make it catchy! You can create the melody on any instrument, but it's often easiest on a keyboard or guitar. Play around with different notes and rhythms until you have a melody that complements your chord progression and feels right for your song.

Great job, you've just written the structure for your pop song! Next, we'll dive into arranging the instruments and sounds for your song in Cubase.

Arranging instruments and sounds

With your song structure laid out, it's time to add color and depth to your song with instruments and sounds. Thankfully, Cubase offers a plethora of options for you to explore.

Picking Your Instruments

First things first, let's decide on the instruments. A typical pop song might include drums, bass guitar, rhythm guitar, lead guitar, and vocals, but the instruments you choose should reflect the sound you're aiming for. Keep in mind; Cubase offers a range of virtual instruments such as HALion Sonic SE and Groove Agent SE, which can be handy if you don't have access to every instrument you'd like to include in your song.

Creating Instrument Tracks

Next, you'll need to create a track for each chosen instrument. To do so, go to the "Project" menu, select "Add Track", and then "Instrument". Each track will represent a different instrument in your song, allowing you to control the sound of each instrument individually.

Building Your Drum Beat

Let's start with the drums. Using Groove Agent SE, you can create a beat that fits with your song structure. Try not to overcomplicate things initially — a simple kick/snare pattern with some hi-hats can provide a sturdy rhythmic foundation for your song.

Layering Other Instruments

Now it's time to layer in the rest of your instruments. Follow your chord progression as a guide, and remember: less is often more. A simple, well-played part can be more effective than a complex, busy one. Don't forget to include the melody you created earlier!

Well done! You've just arranged the instruments and sounds for your song. Up next, we'll delve into recording your song using Cubase.

Recording the song

Now that we have our instruments and song structure in place, it's time to hit the record button. But wait! Before we dive into recording, let's prep our workspace in Cubase.

Setting Up Your Tracks

Got your microphone or instrument plugged in? Great! Now, let's ensure Cubase is ready to capture your performance. Go to the "Devices" menu and choose "VST Connections." Here, you can set up your input and output channels. Once done, select the track you want to record, and hit the small record-enable button—looks like a little red dot, doesn't it?

Recording Your First Take

Alright, it's showtime! Click on the main record button at the bottom of your screen. As you perform, you'll see your performance appearing on the selected track. Remember, perfection isn't the goal here. We're laying down the framework, and it's okay to make mistakes.

Working With Multiple Takes

Did your first take not go as planned? No worries! Cubase has a handy feature called 'Cycle Recording.' This allows you to record multiple takes and choose the best one later. To use this, set your left and right locators around the section you want to record, then activate the cycle button—it's the one that looks like a circular arrow.

Comping Together Your Best Performance

After multiple takes, it's time to choose the best parts and create the perfect take. This process is known as 'comping.' In Cubase, you can use the 'Comp Tool' to cut and move parts of various takes around until you're happy with the result.

Congratulations, you've recorded your song! Next up, we're going to polish it up by mixing and editing the track.

Mixing and editing the track

Recording is done—fantastic! Now, we move onto the next important step: mixing and editing your track. This is where we make sure all the parts of our pop song blend together harmoniously.

Understanding the MixConsole

First off, let's get familiar with Cubase's MixConsole. This is your main tool for mixing. You'll see faders for each track, and above those, slots for inserting effects. There's a lot to explore here, but don't be intimidated, you'll get the hang of it quickly.

Adjusting Levels and Panning

Begin by adjusting the levels of your tracks. The goal here is to ensure that no instrument is overpowering the others. After that, try panning some tracks to the left or right. This can give your mix a sense of space and depth. Remember, subtle changes can make a big difference!

Adding Effects

Next, let's add some effects. Reverb can make your tracks sound like they're in a larger space, while EQ can help balance the frequencies of your mix. To add an effect, simply drag it from the right-hand panel onto the track you want to apply it to. Then, tweak the settings until you're happy with the sound.

Automation for Dynamic Mixing

One of the beauties of working in Cubase is automation. It allows you to change levels, effects, and other parameters over time. This can add a dynamic element to your mix. To use it, select the "R" (read) and "W" (write) buttons on the track you want to automate, then make your changes while the song is playing.

There you have it, you've mixed and edited your pop song! Don't worry if it's not perfect at first—it's about learning and having fun. Now, let's move onto the final step: exporting your masterpiece.

Finalizing and exporting your song

So, we've come to the final stretch of how to compose a pop song using Cubase. You've poured your heart into creating this song and it's almost ready to be shared with the world. Let's go through the process of finalizing and exporting your song.

Double-Check Your Mix

Before we proceed to the export stage, it's good practice to double-check your mix. Listen to the entire song once more. Is there anything that stands out or feels out of place? If so, go back to the MixConsole and make the necessary adjustments. This is your last chance to tweak things before the song is finalized.

Mastering Your Song

Mastering is the process of making your song sound the best it can across all playback devices. This involves adjusting the overall EQ, compressing the track, and maximizing the loudness. Cubase has a suite of mastering plugins you can use. Remember, the goal is to enhance, not to overhaul.

Exporting Your Song

Finally, it's time to export your song. Go to the "File" menu and choose "Export" then "Audio Mixdown". Select the format you want (MP3, WAV, etc.), the sample rate, and bit depth. Click "Export" and Cubase will render your song into a single audio file.

Sharing Your Creation

Once you have your song exported, it's ready to be shared. You can upload it to a music sharing platform, share it with friends, or even submit it to a music contest. The world is your stage and you are ready to shine.

And there you have it—you've just learned how to compose a pop song using Cubase! It's been a journey, but the process is all part of the fun. Now, go make some music!

If you enjoyed learning about composing a pop song using Cubase, you might also be interested in the workshop 'Turn Your Ideas Into A Finished Song in Ableton Live' by Tom Glendinning. Although this workshop focuses on using Ableton Live, the skills and techniques taught can be applied to other Digital Audio Workstations, like Cubase. Expand your knowledge and take your music production skills to the next level with this informative workshop.