Don’t fear the Reaper

Sorry. What a terrible (and overused in this context) post title. Anyway, I realized I hadn’t posted in well over a month, so I thought I’d post about the (technology) thing that’s been eating a lot of my time: Reaper. I’ve posted about Reaper here in the past, but it is worth mentioning

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that they’ve recently released version 3 of this great DAW, and with that, brought tons of features that are huge, and better than I have seen in any other music software. You can read the Big Picture Changelog to see everything they’ve done in v3, but I wanted to highlight a few specific features that I personally use a LOT:

1. Multiple Tabbed Projects. This means you can have multiple projects open at the same time. There is a great amount of flexibility here, allowing you to either layer multiple projects playing simultaneously, or set “background” projects/media to “Offline” and use tabs as a “playlist”. The latter method is the one I use, loading up a show’s worth of projects in set-list order, and then stepping through them using a button on my Axiom49 controller. This means I can run an entire live show without having to touch the PC and without having to worry about songs playing before I am ready. Cool.

2. FX parameter controls on track and mixer control panels. In english, this means that you can make a button show up for any plugin parameter (like Filter Cutoff on a softsynth) right on the track panel, so you can tweak the things you tweak a lot on your plugins without having to have the plugin GUI open and taking up screen space. Especially on laptops, this can be a HUGE productivity boost. This also covers the fact that there is a “MIDI learn” button that shows up on any assignable envelope’s “lane” (more on lanes momentarily), so you can assign any plugin parameter to any hardware controller in 2 clicks now. Reaper is definitely not the only DAW to attempt to tackle the “why is MIDI learn a pain to use?” problem, but I think that Cockos’ implementation is quite nice, and feels very well integrated into the program.

3. Automation lanes. This addition alone would have warranted a new version release of the software, as it so radically altered how it is used. Automation lanes mean that each parameter you want to automate (like the aforementioned Filter Cutoff) has its own “row” on the track screen, so that you can easily create envelopes that span multiple clips and drag/rearrange/add/delete/alter envelope points right from the “main screen” of reaper. The behavior of automation lanes is quite intelligently constructed, and greatly extends the capabilities of the program. You can even (as of v3.01) click a button to control whether envelopes follow clips as you drag them around, or stay where they are (in case, for example, you want to swap in a different vocal take, but want to preserve the timing of your vocal effects on the track).

4. Track MIDI controls. While the majority of studio engineers (recording “traditional” instruments with microphones and line inputs) likely will not ever care about or use this feature, those of us who rely on MIDI for our synthesizer and effect hardware love what Cockos has done here. There is now a whole separate Track MIDI settings window that lets you define custom track lists for your synths, send FULL SYSEX to/from them, and define custom interface knobs to control parameters (effectively levelling the playing field between MIDI hardware and VST/VSTi plugins). This has made my life a lot simpler, and for that I am grateful.

While this is just a sampling (pun intended) of the new features, I hope this prompts someone out there to check out this software. The “demo” of the software is completely uncrippled unexpiring shareware. This means you can use it forever for free with full functionality, but that after 30 days they do expect/hope you will pay the $60 for a noncommercial license or $225 for a commercial (which they define as making more than $20,000/year) license. I paid for my license (a rarity for someone who loves Open Source software for its freedom) because I greatly respect the developers (only 3 of them AFAIK) at Cockos and the community of respectful and helpful users they encourage by such an open usage/licensing policy on their software.

Pretty soon I hope to have time to actually post some of the music I’m making in Reaper, but in the meantime, you can go to Kether’s page and see some music I did post (made in Ableton Live before I used/knew about Reaper).

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