For me, REAPER is superior to any DAW I have used, and although I use others too (Ableton, Harrison) I do all my editing and the majority of mixing in it. Frequently, I speak to a lot of busy engineer/mixer friends who have it on their radar but either consider the initial learning curve to be too daunting, or that it would be too time consuming to set up.
I remember I took a week out of my schedule in 2014 to learn it, having put it off for months. I scoured the internet for videos and blogs and went through forum posts for quick answers to make the transition as painless as possible. It’s worth noting that there is a manual you can download, but I found forums offer newer advice as I believe the manual is only updated through major versions (or when the author has time).
Over the years I have compiled information and links in a document which I send to people looking to get into REAPER. Not that I am an expert by any means, but I thought it would be good to offer some general advice to anyone thinking about delving into REAPER.
The points below make the assumption that anyone approaching REAPER have the same questions as I did when I decided to make the switch. This is by no means an extensive, or definitive list, but will hopefully answer some of the important questions and provide a foundation to build upon.
You’ll find once you get into it, that the user-base for REAPS is very supportive too, and I would suggest creating a profile on the forums as well as joining a few FB groups and the like. This should provide you with all the answers you need.
The two main sites I recommend for REAPER videos are;
The REAPER blog – loads of great content, including Q and A, Podcast and point version upgrade walk throughs.
and Kennymania – which has a video series which will make you a Jedi-master in no time.
Lastly, If you like it, pay for it. They operate on a trust-based licensing system and for a non-commercial license it costs $60, which takes you through two full point versions before you have to buy another one. Given what they offer, they could charge more and point-version upgrades sometimes come on a bi-monthly basis with some huge additions.
This is very easy and the entire software package installer is only 15mb. It also comes with an optional smaller app call ReaMote, which allows you to run plugin processing on another computer on a local area network. Although, I’ve never tried this, as my studio computer is more than capable.
First time you open REAPER you may get prompted to go to your Audio Device settings and select your soundcard. It should guide you there from the prompt, but if not, preferences is under the options drop down menu.
So, on we go…
#1 Right-clicking is your best friend.
If you get stuck, or don’t know what something is, right-clicking on anything will give you options/preferences for the element you are right clicking on. If you get stuck, it’s good to look in the right-click drop down menu. See? Easy beginnings.
# 2 Use the preferences search box.
Under the Options drop-down on the main menu you will find REAPER Preferences – last in the list. There is a lot going on in here but the search box in the bottom left will help you find the most important settings (such as, Audio Device settings) so you can get to work as soon as possible. Did I say work? I meant FUN.
You’ll also see VST in Preferences which you will need to navigate to to scan your plugins. Once there hit ‘Auto Detect’ populate the plugin-path box, as well as scan those folders. You can store plugins anywhere, but you would need to tell REAPER the plugin-path here.
# 3 REAPER only has one type of track.
Sort of, but not exactly. REAPER tracks are what you make them, and it doesn’t have individual mono, stereo or MIDI tracks. In fact, tracks in REAPER are ALL of these things and more. You can drag MIDI onto an audio track, and vice versa. REAPER even has basic video editing capabilities and can import images such as JPEG and PNG.
*When you finally figure out where the Media Explorer is, you may have trouble with images showing up here, in which case you can drag them from their respective folders straight onto the timeline. Hopefully this will be sorted in a future update.
# 4 You can group items and tracks independently.
Selecting tracks and hitting Shift + G will bring up the “Grouping” dialog, where you can group functionality such as panning, volume, mute and solo etc, and set up VCA faders. You can also select items on the timeline and group them together, enabling things like multi-item editing, which is especially good for multi-miked instruments such as drums.
Shift + option/alt + G will toggle all grouping on and off.
*Note; audio clips in the arrangement window are known as ‘items’ in REAP-world.
# 5 Busses are good, but folders are usually better (and quicker).
All tracks in REAPER have a small greyed-out folder on them which can be used to group together multiple tracks in a Parent/Child hierarchy. For example, if you have some multi-miked drums and want to add EQ or compression; create a new track above the drum tracks, then select them all and hit the folder icon on the newly created track, now they are in a folder and can be processed together.
Put selected track(s) in folder which you can assign to a key (you’ll probably be doing it a lot). Instructions in the .txt file. You’ll also need to install SWS extensions before action works (I cover this in # 10).
# 6 Comping no longer has to be “comp-li-cated”.
REAPER records multiple takes into lanes, similar to Logic, and Command+L on a mac toggles between opening up the lanes so you can view all of your takes and comp between them. The way to use different sections of takes is to cut the audio, using the split function (this is the S key by default) and select from the lane you want.
And on we go…
# 7 The legend of Keystroke(s).
Setting up keystrokes (or keymap as it’s formally known) in REAPER is easy. Pressing Shift + ? will present you with an actions list of all the available commands. You are even able to assign ‘Custom Actions’ (string together multiple actions – as I mentioned earlier with folders), which is really good for speeding up workflow. The actions dialog has a search function too, labelled ‘Filter’ and right next to it is a ‘Find Shortcut’ button which allows you to find out easily which action is assigned to which key.
The one take-away from Pro Tools for me was that I thought that some of the key commands were laid out intuitively, so I have my keyboard set-up similarly. And I would advise that you set up your keyboard close to what you are used to for starters, but only for the most-used functions. As you get more into REAPER more you’ll adapt this to suit your workflow better.
In Preferences you’ll see a section for ‘Mouse Modifiers’ which allows you change the behaviour of the mouse in combination with keystrokes. It can get very advanced, so it’s worth looking into over time, especially if you need to be up and running as quickly as possible.
# 8 Configurations and celebrations (because your life just became easier).
In Preferences > General you’ll see two buttons for configuration, export and import. This allows you to export your current settings and save a back-up all neatly bundled into a configuration file. Very handy. I have mine on a USB key so I can use REAPER wherever I am, with my settings, and so I can get to FUN immediately.
# 9 MP3(PO).
By default REAPER doesn’t export MP3’s but you can use a third party extension to do this, which is available here. Once you have REAPER Installed you need to go to User>Library>Application Support>REAPER and there you will find a folder call ’User Plugins’. Paste the .dylib file in there and you will have MP3 as an export option.
# 10 SWS Extensions.
As if REAPER doesn’t have enough functionality you can add something called SWS extensions which opens up the features of REAPER and are a must-have, its a simple DL and and install. Get them here. Installation instructions are in the download.
As you will soon discover, this is not even the tip of the iceberg as to what REAPER is capable of. At this stage Luke is still trying to bullseye womp rats in his T-16.
But hopefully it’s a good foundation.
I do think that people like a lot of VI’s and samples ‘out of the box’, and although there are some great stock plugins here, there are no loops or samples. However, if you have been doing this for a long time, like me, you’ll have more Virtual Instruments and samples than you can shake a very big stick at.