Getting started with music production – Part 3

Confusion

Part 1
Part 2

You’re a DJ, and not just any DJ, but a DJ who’s been killing it in the local scene. You’re getting all the gigs you could ever want and have a burgeoning fanbase who follows you from club to club, but you want to break out of your town and move on to surrounding areas, maybe even surrounding states (or countries). Problem is, none of those venues have ever heard of you and think you’re just another guy with “DJ” scrawled in front of your name to make yourself look professional. How do you make yourself stand apart? The answer is music production.

However, it’s at this point that another problem presents itself. You have absolutely no idea where to start! There’s tons of different software options out there, not to mention the vast array of effects and instrument plugins, and even once you get all that, how do you even use it? That’s what this little guide is for.

Part 3: Getting Set Up

Remember all those fancy plugins and such we downloaded last week? Well now we’re going to get them all installed and extracted and ready to go for you to play with them.

However, before we do anything, you’ll want to have ASIO drivers. This makes recording live music much easier, as the ‘latency’ (the time between when a key is struck or the recording starts and when the program records it) will be much lower. This is really easy to do: just head on over to ASIO4ALL’s website and download their free drivers, then install it and use the default settings.

Anyway, the important part when it comes to installation is to have everything in one place. Personally, we store everything in cloud storage so that our plugins are available on any computer on which we want to work, along with our songs. This makes it easy to start something on a desktop with studio monitors and continue it while traveling with a laptop. If you don’t already have it yet, Dropbox is a fantastic cloud storage service which has more than enough space for some VST plugins and .rpp (Reaper project) files.

At this point, we want you to pick a location on your computer to store all your plugins. It could be something as simple as C:\VST, or something as complex as C:\Users\Foxhill\Dropbox\Hobbies\Music\Plugins\VST, or beyond. Once you have a location picked out, start extracting and/or installing your plugins, but make sure they all get extracted/installed to that location. This is paramount. It doesn’t matter what the structure is inside that folder, so long as everything is in there.

Once that’s all finished up, go ahead and start up Reaper. You’ll get a warning box saying that it’s not free and you need to purchase a license after 60 days, and to close out of it, simply make sure that warning box has focus so that the timer in the bottom right corner counts down until you can click “Close.”

SettingsNow that you have Reaper running, it’s time to go into the settings menu and get everything set up exactly how we want it to be. Go ahead and click “Options” in the top menu, then click “Preferences” at the bottom. A window like the image on the right should appear.

 

VSTFirst thing’s first. We want our plugins. In this case, scroll down all the way to the bottom in that little sidebar until you see a “Plug-ins” category, and within it, click “VST.” In the new page that shows up, simply copy and paste the location of your plugins folder into the space provided. Here’s an image which shows how I have it all set up.

The next step is to get our audio device selected. After all, you want to be able to hear what you’re working on, don’t you? Simply scroll up to the “Audio” category in the sidebar and click “Device” to bring up the new dialogue. The first important part we need to take care of is the “Audio system.” You should have several options available in that dropdown list, but the most useful ones for us are DirectSound, AudioASIO, and WASAPI. DirectSound is the most basic…it basically just means it’s piggybacking off your computer’s ordinary sound. However, it has very poor latency capabilities without glitching. ASIO is the next best, and if you have an older computer – say, one running Windows XP – its likely the best option you have available. WASAPI is the one I personally use, as it offers very low latency.

Once you’ve selected your Audio System, it’s time to move on down the list. “Mode” is next up, and you have two options: Shared and Exclusive. Shared means that other programs can use your audio device at the same time as Reaper (very useful for comparing your song to others, for example), while Exclusive means that Reaper basically owns your audio device until you close it. Shared is obviously best, but not all sound cards support it. After that, you have your “Input Device” which is really only important if you plan on recording live audio – and that is totally dependent on whatever hardware you have set up, so I can’t help you there. “Output Device” on the other hand is quite important, as you don’t want Reaper outputting your song to your headphones when you want it to come through your stereo system. One note here: if you selected ASIO as your audio system and you have ASIO4ALL installed, you’re going to have to configure your audio routing manually through it. Unfortunately that is something I cannot help you with.

The next important item there is “Block size.” Block size is how big Reaper’s audio buffer is. The larger it is, the less chance you have of encountering overruns (a glitching, popping sound), but the larger your latency is. The key here is, through trial and error, to come up with the smallest number you can without overruns. This is almost entirely dependent on your sound card and your system’s available RAM – though your processor speed also factors in somewhat. Luckily, having WASAPI selected enables you to keep your block size relatively low compared to DirectSound or ASIO.

Once you have all that taken care of, just hit “Apply” in the bottom-right corner of the Preferences dialogue, and close Reaper! Next week I’ll go over the very basics of how to use it so you can get started on writing your own productions. Isn’t this exciting?

Part 1
Part 2
Part 4