Beginner Guide for the Reaper DAW

06/28/2020
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Digital Audio Workstation or simply as known as “DAW” is a computer program which is used in music production that allows you to perform complex actions on your computer as supposed to advanced music studios. DAW can create, edit and combine multiple tracks together to produce high quality music in the comfort of your home. Using Reaper, all of the instruments can be recorded at the same time with a backing band. Another way to use Reaper is to record tracks one at a time and simultaneously recording new tracks while playing the previous ones. For the sake of simplicity, this article will cover the second option of using Reaper; also, the discussion will be on Reaper on Windows. However, most of the shortcuts on Mac are similar to PC shortcuts with replacing the control key on Windows with the command key on Mac. After this brief introduction, let’s start.

What can you do with the DAW?

DAWs has lots of built-in flexibility into it that allows you to present your creativity in music production. Reaper is no different from any other DAW, and it is able to record high quality audio tracks easily. It is also capable of editing midi recordings. Examples of this flexibility is the ability to edit or fix mistakes in tracks after recording is done. In addition, you can change the arrangements or re-record a specific section again. Another functionality is the metronome, which allows you to slow down or speed up the tempo to record or perform a difficult phrase but without affecting the speed of the existing recording whatsoever. The pitch can be changed to fix an error in the vocals or a mix can be compressed to be bound together. Reaper is equipped with some tools that enhance the overall sound quality such as adding a reverb or a delay, devising complex routing and a lot more.

What do I need to start using Reaper?

A Reaper by itself will be useless and there must be other tools to get started. In the following paragraphs, we will go through the essentials to get the full experience.

Computer

To be able to use the Reaper you will need a computer; it can be a Windows PC or a Mac. Currently they are experimenting Reaper on Linux operating system as well. The minimum computer specs required are an i3 processor and a 4 GB of RAM storage but the faster of a processor the better and the larger the RAM the better. If you go for the upgraded processor and ram, you will not face some problems such as audio shuttering and popping while listening to a processed instrument sound while recording a new one. It’s recommended to google any issue you face in order to make music production easier and more efficient.

The computer you have currently would be enough as a start. It will help to learn the basics of Reaper, get used to it, and produce some decent tracks especially if recording acoustic instruments. However, if you do not own a computer or looking to buy a new one anyway, I extremely recommend that you go for a custom-built PC, whether you do it yourself or through the help of anyone. I recommend ask an expert in building computers so as not to ruin expensive computer parts. You will notice the benefits of a custom-built computer once after you dot it especially for getting a high value computer for a reasonable amount of money. Moreover, you will get exactly what you want which is not usually the case it you went for a pre-built computer or a Mac computer. 

Audio Interface

Another essential item is the audio interface and it doesn’t have to be fancy at the beginning. With about $100, you can get a beginners’ audio interface with a single input through USB. You can record one track at a time whether a microphone or an instrument. Recommended audio interface brands in this price range are Focusrite or Presonus. This will be more than enough for a start in music production. For the same amount of money, you can get a used audio interface from eBay. It will work just fine with the privilege of getting more advanced interface with the same money. However, you have to be cautious while buying from eBay and check for the seller history and the return policy.

Headphones

One important aspect is that how you can evaluate the recorded pieces; that is why you should invest in speakers – known as monitors – or a pair of headphones. Some factors will guide you to go for speakers or headphones. If you are mainly aiming for mixing then you should get monitors over headphones. If the acoustics of your mixing room are not set right then the monitors will sound bad and get headphones instead. A point worth mentioning about the headphones is that low end is not represented clearly, and that will take some time to get used to and learn how to deal with the low end using the headphones. This problem can be resolved by always listening to the reference songs while mixing because that will help to get a feel of how your produced track should sound. If you finally settled for the headphones approach, then choosing closed back headphones is highly recommended because they can be used for recording as well. Closed back ones will not bleed noise through the microphone. Audio Technica is a good option for the high quality and the value of money as well. 

Turntables and Microphone

At the beginning, you will be satisfied with the built-in microphone in the headphones, or if you will be focusing on EDM music, you will not even need these. You can get a controller or a MIDI keyboard instead. Nevertheless, including a recorded piece in the composed track will add life to it such as an acoustic guitar or a vocal. In that case, you must prepare the room for that acoustically and pick a good microphone. You should start with the space you have right now until you learn the basics and become more than an amateur then spend some money on preparing a home studio in a spare room or in your basement.

Reaper Basics and Use Cases

Now you are familiar with the different components you need to start recording some music, and once you download and install Reaper application, you will be ready to produce some work. But first, you should start with familiarizing yourself with the Reaper and get the basics.

Initially, you will set some settings once when you open Reaper at the first time. By checking these critical points, you will reduce the number of times you are stuck not knowing what you have done wrong. You can go to the preferences section through multiple ways; by pressing Ctrl button + Letter P, by pressing on options at the tool bar then press preferences at the very bottom. In the popup window that showed up, you will see the settings – listed on the left – of each category in the program starting with the General Tab at the top. Go to the Audio section then select Device; you should check for some options. Audio System should be set to ASIO, Audio Device should be set to the audio interface you bought as we mentioned earlier and finally Enable Outputs have to be checked. 

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After these basic settings, you can play around with all the customizable settings of Reaper but most importantly, you need to start with the Audio section. By getting the configuration right that will make the experience much better and easier.

Setting out the Audio Section

Afterwards, go to the ASIO configuration part and you will find yourself coming to this part a lot later until you set the appropriate buffer value to solve the latency problems. Simply the latency is the lag between the action you took and the result heard through the speaker monitors or the headphones from the computer. Thus, the buffer should be set to minimize the latency in order to make it unnoticeable. That will allow you to be focused more on the overall performance and not hindered by these technical issues. If the latency issue is not resolved by playing with the buffer size, then you will have to play around it by connecting a monitor to the audio interface directly to prevent the latency issue.  Yet, unfortunately connecting direct monitor to the audio interface will not allow you to hear any software effects from your instrument if you are using the headphones while you are recording. You can resolve that by using rack hardware or pedals, which will allow you to not depend on the computer. The traditional way to solve the effects issue is to enable only effects what do not cause performance problems and disable all those that cause problems. Typically, the pedals option is the ideal one.

Facing some problems at the beginning

For sure, you will face problems the first time you start recording, even if you think you have everything correct. The most important thing is that you should not panic at all; you will most probably find the solution to your problems online by googling them because you will find that it happened to someone else. If you could not directly find the answer by googling it then you find it beneficial to check Reaper support on their website or YouTube videos and tutorials or even user forums. If you adhere to the following steps, you will reduce the number of times you are stuck trying to solve a particular issue.

First, check the hardware signal paths and connections and make sure that all are powered. Second, check the preferences section on Reaper as mentioned before and play around with the settings. If the problems are not solved yet, then you can just try to restart the computer or the Reaper software, as simple as that. Reaper is generally a stable software but restarting will solve more issues than you could ever imagine. One of the good and helpful YouTube channels is a channel named “Reaper Mania” by Kenny Gioia. You will find many useful videos and about many topic related to Reaper.

Recording steps that will guide you through the first stage of learning how to use Reaper are simple and do not forget to try first the simple things. Make sure that the audio interface selection in the preferences is right. Press the red button to enable recording your track. Check if the input is correct or not by right clicking on the record button. Select “Input Audio or MIDI” checkbox on the track that is record enabled. It is optional to enable the record monitoring but recommended. If you face latency issues, then it is preferred to record with FX disabled. Once all these steps are done then you can start recording by pressing the record button on the transport window. If you want to include a drum, piece in your music then enable metronome option or you can create a separate track line for the drums.

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Track Creation

Now after you are done with all the settings and steps to do before recording, you have come to creating a track to start recording. This can be performed by opening an empty project on Reaper that have only a master channel. Then press Ctrl button + Letter T; that will create a new track. Next, you will decide what you want to record first. If you want to record an instrument, them it has to be directly connected to the audio interface. If you wish to record a microphone’d instrument, then connect a mic to the audio interface. If you want to play with a software instrument, you will need a controller if you want to be more accurate or you can just play it through using the computer mouse and play notes one after one.

Getting through these steps are straight forward; typically, the audio interface will have an instrument input and a mic input. The mic input is XLR and the instrument input is a quarter of an inch or a line level jack. In case of instrument recording, use the quarter of an inch line level jack while recording into the audio interface directly. On the other hand, in case of recording using a mic then just plug it into the XLR input in the audio interface. Finally, in case of recording a software instrument, then you do not need to plug any input to the interface and just use it for listening through the headphones or the speaker monitors. Do not forget to connect the MIDI or the controller though. 

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Recording using an Instrument, a Guitar or a Mic

Subsequently, you got the basic knowledge about the software, settings and the connections. Here we are going through what to do after connecting the inputs. After selecting the track you are recording into, click the red button to record taking into consideration that the recording source is properly set. By going to the record button and right clicking it, you will find the input section and the desired input connected to the audio interface; select “mono” for a mic input or a line instrument. You should know which input specifically to select, but it is ok not know the exact one. You can try until you get it right, and make sure to enable the monitoring for the input to be identified easily. In case you are recording using a mic, then you have to take care of the required power by the mic. If using a condenser mic then it will require a phantom power and you will need to switch that on in the audio interface. It is a button or a switch that has phantom or 48V written on it. In case of a regular ribbon mic, then you have to switch off the phantom power option.

 

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Alternatively, if you are recording using a virtual instrument, you will follow the next steps. You will do the same as if you are recording using a mic or a regular instrument, but select “MIDI” as the input method instead of “Mono”. You should easily find the connected Keyboard through USB or any other controller device. Make sure to select all the channels on the keyboard; if nothing worked just try again and again with manipulating the settings or search for the specific error that pop up.

 

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Some issue about the MIDI Device

If the MIDI device does not work with Reaper, then there might be one of the following problems. In the audio section in the preferences, go to the “MIDI Devices” part. You can have two cases, the first one is that your device is not shown and that maybe because the computer is not detecting the device. You can check if the connection is loose or the USB port is malfunctioning or the MIDI device itself is broken. The other case is that you can see the device but it is still not working. By clicking the mode of the device make sure that it is “Enabled + Control”. If not, you can easily turn it to that by pressing “Enable Input” by right clicking the device, and then click the “Enable for Control Messages” option. That just maybe the issues you have.

Other Miscellaneous points worth knowing

When you start playing around with the Reaper and start recording, you will find yourself coming across new features frequently. You will know some important features in the few following paragraphs.

Muting a specific track or how to solo a specific track or an instrument is a common situation in your recording work. You can do that simply by pressing “m” for muting and “s” for soloing from the buttons with each track.

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Another buttons worth mentioning are the Routing and FX buttons. FX will be the hub that you can put all the outcomes from the MIDI device in addition to any effects you have. When pressing on the FX button you will have a new window opens that shows all the plug ins installed and Reaper can access their location. At first, you will find the default plug ins of Reaper. In order to add third party plug ins to Reaper, you have to define their location where they were installed. This can be done in the plug ins part in the preferences. Be sure that the plug ins are separated with a semicolon (;).

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As for the Routing button, it will do the bussing using the sends and receives sections. You can save a lot of processing power and RAM memory by using the Master send checkbox. You can send as much as you want to a specific track and you can apply FX effects to many tracts at once as well.

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What do you get with the Reaper?

You will get with the default Reaper license all what you need to start such as EQ, reverb, delay, flanger, compression and limiting and so on. It is recommended to start with the plug ins that came in stock with the Reaper until you get things going and be more experienced and of course the stock ones are sufficient. Then you will know what is missing and know your specific needs in music production. I can recommend that you the thing you should invest in is the software synths and the sampled instruments. Another investment you should make is getting a controller if you do not own one already. Please do not to crack any of the licenses related to Reaper because that is illegal and you will not get the regular updates from Reaper.

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What Reaper is good at?

Briefly, the genre that you are going to choose will affect your decision of getting a Reaper or any of the other DAWs. Generally, if you are aiming towards genres that consist of using recorded instruments heavily then you will find that Reaper will be perfect for that. However, you can do any genre with Reaper no doubt but as mentioned, every genre has its master of DAWs. If you are not sure what you is the perfect DAW for your needs, you can find free trials for most of the available DAWs and you can try them first before buying the full version.

Final thoughts

Reaper can be looked at as very easy to learn and master and because of its high customizable features, it can be the perfect choice for the beginners in music production.

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