REAPER Introduction

This time I wanna reference my double-episode about Reaper. It’s really just a quick introduction because it’s not possible to cover any DAW in under 16 minutes, but I wanted to show how to approach some basic tasks in REAPER. Both videos were made with version 2.5x and it was just a few days before Reaper 3 was released. However all covered topics are still valid. In the first video I talk about multi-track recording, how to arm the track, select input… and similar things that are a bit different from Audacity that was covered in first two episodes. I demonstrate how you can record multiple audio tracks and midi tracks at once – something you can’t do with Audacity. Then I quickly go through MIDI editor (which is overhauled in version 3) and I show how to quantize recorded MIDI events:

Episode 3 – REAPER introduction, device setup, recording multiple tracks

Second video (sounds more sleepy as the night was closing in :-)) continues with applying VST effects on a track, than I show how to use VSTi (instrument) to synthesize MIDI tracks and then I move on to envelopes. First I edit volume envelope to achieve fade-out on the track and I explain how to edit envelope with mouse during the process. There are other ways how to edit envelope, you can even record the envelope using MIDI CC (continuous controller). Last example shows how to change a tempo of the song. This is very useful if you want for instance slow song with faster intro or the other way around. When you do things like this, you should plan your song before you record audio tracks, because while MIDI tracks respect the tempo, audio tracks are based on real time. This means that when you change the tempo of the song audio tracks go out of sync.

Episode 4 – REAPER and VST, VSTi and some playing with envelopes

I mentioned (in the video) that I use free VST(i)s. That’s obviously because I’m tight on budget – I can buy things, but music is only my hobby, results are still not convincing 🙂 and there is no point in spending hundreds of bucks on great VSTs. Would they pay off in my case? Certainly not! I mentioned Kore Player in the previous blog post about this topic. This time I’ll mention few of my other favourite VSTs. If you have a hint, or a link to something better – don’t hesitate and post a comment! Blue Cat’s Freeware plugin pack is a nice pack of effects like chorus, flanger or phaser, but there is also spectrum analyzer added in. Another pack of VST effects is provided by mda here – and mda also offers VST instruments – synths and pianos. Not that bad for no money! Finally there are ndc plugs – site with some interesting multi-purpose VST plugins. From them I want to recommend ndcMIDI that can be used to split midi keyboards for instance. With MIDI filter you can allow only some parts of the keyboard to be passed to VSTi synthesizer and when you do so with multiple MIDI tracks you can split your keyboard between various instruments ad lib!

I’ll talk more about interesting free VST(i) plugins also in the following parts, it’s impossible to cover it all – today I named only a few packs with wide range of usage.


Multi-track home recording for free

I’d like to interconnect my YouTube creations with this blog – so this time we’ll be talking about home recording with Audacity. It’s by no means Audacity tutorial – I just want to introduce Audacity and also demonstrate its limitations when you wanna enter the realm where acronyms like VST, MIDI and ASIO rule it all. I have also found out that it’s easier to talk English above beer than to produce the video in English language (don’t forget – I’m a Slovak :-)). I grew fond of short cuts (or cross-fading cuts of my longer speech that wasn’t that good) and it is generally a lot of trying for me. And I expect the viewer to be a bit tolerant to my faults. I came to the conclusion that I should rather write a script before but I’m just way too lazy to do so. However… back to the Audacity.

WTF is multi-track recording? How to plug the microphone into the computer? Newbie warning! (If you know it all watch it only at your own risk or for fun. :-))

First video is just the introduction to a very, very raw way how to get your sound into the computer via soundcard with 1/8″ jack (I meant 3.5 mm, but you know… imperial units are still often used in this world) – that is via typical microphone input available virtually on every computer. When you have a better microphone with XLR connector, you might end up with XLR on the other side of the cable or with 6.3 mm jack (1/4″). In any case you need a converter, jack-jack (in both size directions) are pretty common, XLR-jack is also possible but it’s another complication. Now imagine we have a (semi) serious microphone plugged into the computer (without preamp! It’s a Sin!) just to use my few bucks “Skype” microphone for the rest of the show and to introduce the Audacity.

With this setup I made my first songs – and of course the quality was poor. I’m still not too close to optimal home recording quality, but Audacity with microphone via soundcard is really rather just an emergency solution. However – it works, you can experiment and it does not cost you anything. Except the microphone and the computer of course. And whatever instrument you want to play. Later you find out that it’s not easy to record multiple tracks in sync (unless you’re really very lucky). That’s caused by so called latency. And latency is the core of the second video with Audacity as our main hero:

Audacity, latencies and ASIO. And when we’re talking about Steinberg also some VST is mentioned. In theory.

This time I added intro – it was made in REAPER. “Lead guitar” is actually played on MIDI keyboard and heavily edited later (read: corrected :-)) and I also played a bit with the pan envelope (don’t worry, we might talk about it next time). The rest is mostly about latencies with some conclusion about Audacity in context of ASIO and VST usage. I don’t like the heavy sound of my computer you can hear all the time in the background, but you have to live with that until I buy some other microphone (probably some Koss headphones with microphone on it). I don’t wanna use dynamic microphone shown in the first episode because it’s not that handy. Maybe next time I’ll come up with better setup. Currently I’m not able to get playback from software into the captured video but maybe I’ll overcome it somehow later.

I have also next two videos uploaded already – they are just a short introduction into REAPER and I’ll cover them in some future post. I don’t want to continue in Reaper tutorial, but I wanted to introduce the DAW before I move on to hardware I use. The goal is to cover home recording on extremely tight budget (understand 500-1500 EUR or USD, choice is yours) so don’t expect miracles. But the time is right and it’s really easy now to have a reasonable home recording solution for the price of your choice. To add one more link, there is really awesome and extensive Guide to the Home and Project Studio by Tweak. Funny that I found it after I knew some of those answers (but far from even half of them). Sometimes it’s hard to find a guide when you actually don’t know what to search for. Isn’t it Ironic?

My new home recording… studio?

Whatever… it’s cheap, but it’s my studio anyway! It’s been some time since I’ve composed my latest song. I’m a man of more hobbies than I can handle, I know. Gamer, programmer and wannabe musician too. (Not to mention I’m a father and husband too. :-)) I can’t play well any instrument, but I compose my songs with acoustic guitar, ideas, chords and my weak voice. The desire to have my own recording studio – even the modest one – is pretty old. Nowadays you can acquire the needed stuff for literally a few bucks. My whole recording chain with both guitars with notebook included (but not bought for that reason) is around 1300€ – I’m sure you can do the same or better under 1000€ (or maybe even under $1000, as prices here in Slovakia are rather higher). I’ve got two guitars, I’ve got Midi keyboard, some microphone too… the last piece of the puzzle I really wanted was a mixing console.

My extremely modest home recording studio… no special room obviously

Of course, you can probably live without it with overdubbing yourself in the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation software) – but there are few good reasons to have a real mixer. I have one microphone input on my old Audigy sound card. I’ve bought converter from big jack (6.3mm) to small one, mono (not common in every shop, I assure you :-)). First, the jack connector on my sound card was stressed more and I had to crawl under my desk every time I wanted to change microphone for guitar. Should I go for extension cable? Hell no! Buy a mixer and manage all your inputs there. Now I can also record voice from dynamic microphone and guitar from condenser microphone at once too! (No, stop telling me I could hack stereo line-in for that! :-)) Real mixer has also better pre-amps for sure. I went for really affordable Behringer XENYX 1202FX and I’m more than happy, believe me.

Mixing console Behringer XENYX 1202FX

While mixer (and a bunch of cables) was the last piece of the hardware puzzle, there was one more thing to decide. The software. So called “Digital Audio Workstation”. While I used Audacity before, it has few disadvantages (and even more pops out when you learn what the real DAW is). I’ll name two for all – it can’t mix audio and MIDI tracks and it doesn’t come with ASIO support – although it is ASIO-capable and you can build it with it. Even as skilled Linux user I refused to do that when there is one better alternative – REAPER! I tried Reason first, I liked the sound (don’t beat me, it was the first proper synth I used after Audigy built-in wavetable :-))… but I wanted to try more, not to mention I wasn’t sure I can afford it. So I tried FL Studio demo version too. I nearly even bought it – and if you like it don’t hesitate because it has great live-time upgrade policy (LOVE that!). But I’ve found it difficult to use with MIDI – pitch or modulation wheel did not work right out of the box for instance. I also didn’t like the overall interface to be honest, but that’s probably rather personal. Reason – on the other hand – reportedly isn’t good if you want to record voices too. I could import WAV, but I didn’t find the way how to record it directly into the Reason.

Boring Reaper screen-shot with lame project

I wanted ONE software solution to manage my project and then Reaper got onto my radar. Software that reminded me Audacity in terms of multi-track recording, with ASIO support for low latencies, awesome with treating audio and MIDI tracks the same way when possible – but with built-in MIDI editor (piano roll), good built-in plugins, VST support, you name it! With installer not bigger than 4 MB. Yes, mega, not giga. I really was skeptical at the start, but Reaper simply convinced me. And if you want to record normal true audio/vocal/acoustic (metal/rock/whatever) music, you should give Reaper a try. Yeah, and it’s cheap – only $50 for personal use, $225 for commercial use, but you can try it for 30 days officially and even more unofficially if you’re not convinced. I’m not sure I’ll pay right away after 30 days, but… I guess so. Somehow I like it and I can’t see any reason why not to support it.

Try this for 10 random Reaper screen-shots

Now you know why (aside from other reasons) I’ve been a bit inactive recently on my blog. Real life stuff, that’s it. I’ll definitely get back to this topic in future posts. Do I do anything else as well? Yes, I even played PWI on Saturday. 🙂 However, I have a lot of stuff to learn now because once you record yourself, you’ll probably find out a lot of things to improve. Even if you don’t take yourself seriously.