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 4: Using Reaper
Often the hardest part of writing music is learning how to use the software. Digital audio workstations tend to be rather complicated and look like a mess of dials and sliders and buttons, something completely overwhelming for the new user. But that’s where we come in.
This is what Reaper looks like when you first start it. It has a nice, clean interface that is, compared to most other DAWs (digital audio workstations), rather easy to figure out. On the bottom, you have the Dock, and upon first start, the Mixer is pinned to it. I generally prefer to un-dock the Mixer so that I can have more screen real-estate for the actual song part. You can always bring the Mixer back by pressing Ctrl + M (on a Windows computer, and most likely Cmnd + M on a Mac) or by clicking View at the top of the menu, then clicking Mixer. The grey area of the screen is where all the audio and MIDI information goes, while the sidebar there is where all the audio channels insert.
Creating a new channel is very easy to do in Reaper. Simply right-click on the sidebar and select “Insert new track” if you want a pure audio track (like if you’re using it exclusively for samples or recorded audio) or “Insert virtual instrument on new track…” if you want an easy shortcut for creating a track which can use MIDI information and all those nifty plugins you downloaded in Part 2. Now, we would like you to do just that, insert a virtual instrument on a new track.
Once you do that, Reaper will do a quick scan of your plugins, and then a window will appear with a list of them. However, the window will default to only listing your instruments. For now, select “VSTi: TyrellN6 (u-he)” and click “OK” at the bottom of the window. Another window should appear with the TyrellN6 synthesizer in it, looking like the image on the right. You’ll notice a new sidebar with “Add” and “Remove” buttons on the bottom. Those are if you would like to add or remove other plugins, such as the delay or reverb effect plugins we downloaded before. Go ahead and click the “Add” button, then in the Add FX window’s sidebar select “All Plugins” and type “reverb” into the entry field next to “Filter list:”, then click “VST: TAL Reverb II Plugin (TAL-Togu Audio Line)” and hit OK. Now you have an instrument with a reverb effect that you can play with!
Go ahead and close the plugin window now unless you’d like to play around with the synth sounds and the reverb effects, because now it’s time to show you how to create MIDI information. You’ll see you now have a channel in the sidebar selected with its record armed. To create a MIDI clip where you can input notes, simply hold down Ctrl (for Windows), then click and drag in the grey area to create a clip.
Once you’ve done that, just double-click on the new clip, and the Piano Roll window will appear, where you can create MIDI information. To do that, all you have to do is click and drag on whatever notes you want, and you can test out your sounds by clicking on the keys of the piano. One of the great features of Reaper is its so-called “Lasso” feature, in which you can hold down the right mouse button and drag over multiple MIDI clips, audio files, or MIDI notes. To the right is a screenshot of the Lasso, along with some MIDI notes I threw down.
That concludes the basics of how to use Reaper, as well as this tutorial series! Best of luck with your music productions, and don’t forget to have fun!