I usually only start recording in Cubase once I have a fair idea of at least the building blocks of a song, meaning the main melodies, the harmonic structure and the groove.
But once I’ve started a project in the DAW, I cannot imagine doing things by separating arrangement/recording/mixing/mastering. For me they are all part of one process…
Typically, I will start by drums/bass, finding the right kit and some base patterns that I will then mangle along the way… Keys, I lay out with Cubase Chord Track at first, then will play over it, and edit the midi until they sound tolerable.
Then I will record a scratch vocal (at this point I might not have final lyrics, doesn’t matter too much) and guitars.
And then I will work on the arrangement, first trying the find the best tempo, sometimes changing the key (if I do change one or the others, I will re-track guitars and vocals), using the arranger track I will try some variations of chorus/verse/pre-chorus/bridge/instrumental sections/interlude whatever, until I find a structure I’m fine with (more or less).
All that time, after each sessions, I will print a mix (that I always try to dial as close to a good mix as possible, meaning there are effects, delays, reverbs, etc. and 2-bus processing from the start for me, I find it helps me define the mood and sound of a tune) and each printed mix I listen to the day (or days) after, I listen intently trying to imagine in my head some new parts singing…
Quite often after a few listens I will start to hum some new parts and will try to integrate that one way or another. Or I will have some new ideas that I will try on the next session. Could be an idea for an effect, or a counterpoint melody, or some extra parts, like horns for example on that song I’m working on. Sometimes these ideas works, sometimes they don’t.
So it’s pretty much an iterative process for me from the moment I start working in Cubase.
Which means that I very often have between 70 and 100 “mixed” versions of the same song at various stages, until I’m happy with it and can’t hear anything I’d want to add (or retract). I could post some mixes of various stages of most of my songs. Some are pretty horrid/crazy, even if they end up fine.
Then I fine tune everything again (more mixes), then put on BTR and get my ass kicked (usually on vocals) and get back to it until I’m bored with it or no one has any more significant criticism…
That process can take me some time between one and two months… although I can only really work in the evenings and on week-ends when my daughter is not with me.
Still all in all I guess it takes me an awful lot of time to build a song, so much so that at one point, fatally, I WILL hate it.