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Before anyone can get offended, by redneck, I don't mean the stereotype some might have of the southern white male burning crosses and flying the confederate flag and wearing a t-shirt of Nathan Bedford Forest. (go ahead and google that.)

Redneck is farmhand engineering. Making do with what you have in ingenius ways. All the hacks, tricks, surprising things you can do on your own. Like when Jeff Foxworthy, the comedian, said, "If your salad bowls are washed out butter tubs, you might be a redneck."

Been there, done that, it was how I was raised, getting more than one use out of something. And that came from my grandparents, who grew up after the Great Depression.

Anyone can be a redneck, regardless of skin color, gender, background, ethnicity, religion, or lack thereof. Redneck is a lifestyle of innovation. Hints from Heloise, the long-running column in newspapers, that is redneck. Just wanted to start this off. Gotta stop, just now, for some fuhgittas. That's redneck for fajitas.
I love this kinda thing too =p. I think it was Graham from Recording Revolution who said something like stop trying to create pro recordings in your bedroom. You're recording in your bedroom... not a pro studio! Good enough is good enough. Doesn't need to sound like the next top 40 single to be a good mix.

Speaking of which... this is one of my favorite videos. A car is a car! (edit: thinking back I know that you like cars haha this isn't a dig at that. Just the general idea of rigging together something that works from scratch)



Haha that's amazing. I second that! A car is a car.
I love Graham Cochrane's stuff, including his $300 budget challenge. And I will talk about Reaper, my DAW of choice, for which I actually paid the license fee. It is literally the best $60 I have ever spent. I don't mind paying for quality and supporting the efforts of Justin Frankel, the founder and developer of Reaper.

REAPER stands for rapid environment audio, production, engineering, recording.

Justin Frankel was a computer geek in high school in college and enjoyed writing code. And a lifelong love of music, both listening to it and making it. Some of you might remember winamp, which started as an after market program for using Windows to listen to portable music files, such as mp3s. He wrote that. He then sold it to Google for a huge sum and then worked for them for a while before striking out on his own, again. Sound familiar? That is essentially the back story of "Walden," as played by Ashton Kutcher on "Two and a Half Men."

Justin had various DAWs before and one would do one thing nicely and another would have different strength. He thought, why can't there be one that does both? I know what - I will code one myself.

And that is exactly what he did. And not having a career in recording studios was actually a blessing. Because he was not moribund by how "they used to do it."

So, he thought, why not be able to add effects in playback and change the order of effects, also while in playback? In analog and even in Cubase, you have to stop, undo the chain, then re organize, then playback. With Reaper, you just drag your effect in the chain into the place that you want it. Went to compression then eq? Want to try it with eq first? Don't stop, just drag the compression past the eq, in real time in playback.

This is a case of where a computer geek is a better person to design a recording software than some old guy that started out sorting out cables and brewing coffee.
The name of the game is to record a sound and then play it back, when we want, having it sound like we want. And while the format of recording has changed over the years, the basic idea of a microphone has not really changed since the 1940s. Some kind of membrane that is sensitive to the air vibrations from sound turns it into an electrical signal and this signal gets amplifiied and then, in our case, changed into digital data, which is ones and zeros.

So, let me help you avoid the cork sniffing of interfaces. Here is how you turn an analog signal into a digital one. You have a transistor amplifier circuit that is biased (polarity of voltage specifically chosen) to either be off and not conducting or fully on, a state call saturation. Because you are transition back and forth between on and off, this is called a flip-flop. And it is the basis of all modern computers, including your smartphone. I won't go into the specific technological developements that brought on VLSI (very large scale integration) but to point out that change analog to digital and back again is actually very simple and there is no special magic circuit. The only thing where quality does matter is the clock in the interface. It needs to be stable. That means, if it is going to sample 44.1kHz, it needs to have a stable phase-locked loop circuit to adhere to that frequency. How does it do that?

Well, the variances in the sound that you make are triggering flip-flops to be on or off. And the more bits or 1s and 0s you have, the more accurate representation of sound. And this needs to happen so many times a second. So, that means the actual components in the local frequency oscillator that is acting like a clock need to be good quality. Mostly, these days, an op amp (the old 555 was the work horse for decades can drive an LC "tank" circuit. L is inductance of a coil and C is capacitance of a capacitor. At a certain point called the resonant frequency, they are charging and discharging each other at the same right. This LC tank is telling the op amp to open and close, accepting the data stream or not. This really simplified and not the most accurate but it helps illustrate the picture.

You don't have to spend a lot of money on an interface. Like the russian guy says in the movie, "Armegeddon," "Russian parts...american parts... all made in Taiwan!" My 2007 Pontiac Vibe? It had a Toyota 1.8 L VVTi engine. My '96 Chevy half-ton? Metric sized oil pan drain plug and metric lug nuts on the wheels.

When do you need more than 2 inputs in an interface? When you are recording an acoustic drum set with more than two mics or are recording a live band with separate inputs. And there are ways around that.

But if it is only you recording, and even playing instruments, you are going to play one at a time, except in cases where you may play guitar and sing at the same time and then, you only need two mics at the most, if that. And the quality of these 2 channel interfaces that you can get for about 100 USD are very good and the most you will ever need and are just as capable as the expensive 26 channel interfaces with the "gaurantee" that the clocks are tight and the conversion is "the best." Remember flip-flops? They don't get better because you spend more money. They are in saturation or they are off. 1 and 0.

To expound on the wisdom of Graham. Quit trying to record like you were in a pro studio. What does that mean? Well, a pro studio costs about a million dollars because of the special construction of the special rooms to reflect sound in a certain way. But really, walls are just walls. And in most cases, you will be close-mic'd. That is, the microphone will be right next to the sound source with the express idea of deleting sound of the room. So, singing vocals? You will be close to the mic, trying to avoid room reflection. Electric guitar through an amp? You will have a dynamic mic with its grill right next to the speaker grill cloth on the amp.

If you are recording instruments directly jacked into the interface or programming MIDI, then the room doesn't matter. So, first thing you can do is quit worrying about the acoustics of your room. You can worry about that later. Conceivably, the only acoustic sound with a mic that you might be recording is vocals and a guitar or flute or something you like to play.

The only consideration then is how you have your computer desk set up and if you have a place to set up mic stand, whatever.

The interface I have is the m-audio m-track. It is 2 channel and does everything. Switch between guitar (high impedance) and instrument (low impedance), such as mic or even jacked in keyboards with a line level output. Channel 1 has the the switch for +48 volts for condenser mics.
jacks for instrument cables. jacks for xlr cbles. MIDI in and MIDI out. Headphone monitor. Line out to go to either active monitors (each speaker having its own built in amplifier) or to a discrete amp that will power monitors after that. Insert jacks. This for inserting outboard effects. Let us say that I have an outboard delay box I really like. Take the y-cable for insert return. One cable goes to the input of the effects box, the other goes to the output. And what this does is take your analog input and run it through the effect and then back in before converting to digital. You will lose a little going to digital. You will lose a little going back to analog. So, the best advice is to stay digital once you are in digital.

What mic to use? You have a limited budget. Do you plan to record a guitar amp with a mic? Then get a dynamic and do not spend more than 100 USD. Why? You can get Shure sm57 on EBAY for 50 dollars, used, a little more, new. I bought my Sennheiser on Ebay for 75 dollars, free shipping. Why the sm57 or something like it? Every great guitar track you have heard was recorded with one of those and I am not kidding or exaggerating. And they are rugged. The joke is you can unplug your 57, unscrew the capsule, go hammer a nail in the wall, go back, screw the capsule back on, plug in, keep recording. They have a limited response, mostly mid-range, which is exactly why they are loved because electric guitars are very mid-rangy. And you could get one just to have but it is not necessary.

If you record guitar through a modeler and plug that in, then you don't need a dynamic, you can use just an instrument cord or MIDI. The room and mic has nothing to do with it.

For singing, all you will ever need is a large diameter condenser (LDC) mic. How large? Averages 1 inch flexible metal plate. Can you sing with a dynamic? Yes. Bruce Dickinson made a career out of performing and recording with 57s and 58s. Half the time, Bono is recording with a 57. You can take your 57 and put it through your guitar modeler. If you have an impedance selector, choose high, for single coil. A dynamic mic is a single coil device. Medium will be for dual coil, such as guitars with humbucker pick-ups, like my Flying V.

What kind of modeler? I have a Roland GS-6 (professional rack mount) that I bought used in 1990 or 91. You can look for one of those for really cheap. You can get any brand. There are fans and critics of Line 6 Pods. If it works for you, then fine, use it. Here is the rule of recording you will encounter again and again. If it sounds good, it is good. As in, it really does not matter how you got the sound. If it sounds right, it is right.

Now, you can sniff the cork, and I sometimes sniff a little cork, myself, and insist that you need to go through a Marshall head driving at least one 4x12 cabinet with an sm57 invading its personal space and that is fine. That is how generations of people recorded to 2 inch analog tape. There is a lot of signal loss recording to tape. Losses that you will not have in digital. Digital is a lossless format for recording sound. it is not more harsh or brittle, it is more honest. But there is no need.

How do I sniff the cork? Well, I play my own guitar and when I wanted to do bass parts, I would either use the keyboard or play my guitar like a bass and use the Pitch changer in REAPER to drop it - 12 half-steps, which is one whole octave. But there is something about playing a real bass guitar with fat strings that just gives me a feel that is "natural." So, I went to a pawn shop and bought one, for 102 USD, including tax. A candy apple red Gremlin 22 fret. And it is perfect for recording, which is exactly what I want it for. Really good action for a precisely clean sound when I want it. Good intonation of the bridge saddles to the nut at the tuning pegs. Fairly light. Medium sized neck that fits my hand just right.

I jack right into the interface and play. In mixing, I can choose from Reaper plug-ins which include a mesa boogie emulator. Mesa Boogie is the must-have amp for literally any bass player. And cabs to choose from. Marshall stacks. Tweed. And you can find other free emulators elsewhere.

I could also play it through my Roland and record "printed" effects, as in effects going in before recording. My Fender 85 amp is a combo with impedance selector and a 15" main speaker, so, yeah, it could handle bass in my house and maybe better than a traditional bass amp that would try to move a lot of air that will not get clearly into a mic.

Anyway, so now you have a condenser mic, an interface with +48 volts, a computer. You need a DAW. I have used Audacity with some good results. But I wholly recommend Reaper for reasons I will get to. That is all you need. Next, I will go into the hardest and most challenging and most important part of recording. Conquer this, and you have done 98 percent of your recording duties.

A side note: while you are shopping on ebay or even craig's list, intentionally mis-spell the word. Type in sure sm57, for example, even though you know it is spelled shure. Why? I learned this from watching Scott Grove's vids (djgroovy on youtube.) This is how he buys awesome guitars and mixers so cheap. People who mis-spell the name of something often have no idea what it is really worth and are likely to ask a price that is obscenely low. Then, click on the "buy now" button. Don't bother bidding. For one thing, it might get the interest of those who know what it is worth and they may up the bid closer to market value and you have just reached around and screwed yourself.

What about the seller? Well, he already posted the price he wanted and expected. So, give to him, he will be happy and not regret it. Before you go there, look at Guitar Center and other places and see what they normally go for.

Also, remember that more money is not always better. You have two mics about the same price but one has pad switches, pick-up switchers, etcetera. One is just a straight-ahead condenser mic. Which one should you get? The one with all the bells and whistles, right?

Not always. It will seem counter-intuitive but follow me for a moment. Everything costs money. Every component. The one with all the special things, those are likely to be cheap components to still fit within a price structure that keeps them from going broke at that company.

The simple mic can have better quality components.

So, yeah, your 90 dollar MXL V67G (what I paid for mine from B&H) is going to be as good as anything more expensive or with more stuff. And here is the thing, except for boutique manufacturers building by hand and charging thousands of dollars, all affordable mics, including Shure, are made with parts from Asia and are often made in Asia. So, if they are all relatively the same, why pay more, other than to have that special name (whatever it is) embossed on the barrel of the mic? Maybe not even an engraved logo, could just be a decal. What if that decal peels off?

Here is the secret of good recording and production. Get a good and non-distorted sound into the computer. Thanks and good night, I will be back next year.
If you record a sound that makes the meter in your DAW go red, it is digitally clipping which sounds like pops and crackles and is no good. The single most important thing you will do in recording, and this is more important than all the plug-ins in the world, more important than what brand of gear, more important than whether or not you have expensive studio monitors, is to set the levels to avoid clipping.

Take the loudest notes you plan to sing and sing them just a little bit louder and adjust the mic input level on your interface until the meter in your DAW, more important than the LED scale on your interface, is at the top of green. Do not go into yellow, avoid red like the plague.

What if some of the notes in the song are softer? Lean closer to the mic. That is it. Once your levels are set, do not touch them for the rest of the recording session. If you have the presence of mind, write down your settings in case you need to get back in and re-record. Or take a pic of it with your phone. Save the pic with a name that means something. Like "Wasted Years input." Or type it into a text document and save it in the folder of the song you are working on and title it the same thing.

It is so easy to raise the volume on a quiet track. There is no way to fix an overloaded track. You fix an overloaded track by deleting it, setting the levels better, and recording again.

The other important thing for a good recording is to NOT keep mistakes. If you do something wrong or weak, do it over. It's great if you can sing it live. And I always do well, live. But I screw things up in recording. So, we have all the time in the world. What is 10 more seconds recording again the part that is not right? Ten seconds. The singing part of any song is 3 minutes or less. Even the long songs. Lynrd Skynrd's song "Freebird" is over 9 minutes long. The singing part is less than 3 minutes. That is, 3 minutes that include vocal melody and 6 plus minutes of guitar solos. So, even if you sang the vocal all the way through and you have one mistake, it takes no time to fix that and it is easy.

In fact, I am going to link a video from Ryan Strain and how he recorded a cover of "Distance" by Soilwork and it is my favorite way to record a vocal, better than complete vocal takes that you chop up, which is also easy to do and we will get into that.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_8v2-ULsis
Some things I would like to clarify from Ryan's video. He was new to Reaper and did not know all of the capabilities. He liked it because he got the free trial download and it really is easy to record in it.

Also, you can have Reaper export to mp3. The Reaper download does not come with mp3 encoder. That is because the original programmers who made mp3 have a patent. So, another person came up with one that uses a similar algorithm and gave it away for free. The LAME mp3 encoder. You can find it at Audacity's website. Last time I looked, I was not sure if you could find it at the Reaper Stash.

Reaper does have a limiter plug-in and you can use it for mastering.

Notice how when Ryan is recording, he has no problem clearing his throat, humming parts in between, whatever. Because you can trim that. This is so much more relaxing than trying to remain absolutely still and quiet with a hot mic.

You can cut up sections of lyrics and each cut section is called an item. And you can do effects, including different volume, to separate items in one track. I did that on my cover of "Highway Star" for the opening scream. It starts in the left ear, next it starts in the middle, third it is in the right ear. I took one scream and duped it twice. First item panned left, second item panned center, third item, panned right. And these three items are one track, by themselves. And in Reaper, you can change it but it is default to have items play, even if they overlap. And that is how I have the next scream starting while the first one is fading.

Also notice that he sometimes moves tracks. That is because, even with zero latency monitor on an interface, there is still the slightest lag going through a USB port. Don't change your latency settings in Reaper. In fact, put it over 1000. This will help later in mixing during playback. It is way easier to zoom in and just scooch back or forward a smidge than to go back and forth adjusting latency.

A problem I used to have in Audacity is that the second track would play back slower than I know I recorded it. So, I would do tempo adjust and choose .01 percent positive. (Blame it on Einstein.) You may sometimes do that in Reaper if you have the track lined up but it is still lagging a little. Tempo adjust will not raise pitch. You are dealing with 1s and 0s and not tape.

And if you are simply doing a cover over a karaoke track or, like Ryan, covering over the actual recording of the song, this is about all you are going to need to do. You don't really have to start a click track unless you really want to because the song was recorded with a click track, so it is already spot on with timing.
Reaper is a great DAW and as far as I am concerned, the only one that you need. There are pros who use it. Glen Fricker (spectremediagroup on youtube) is a recording engineer for Spectre Sound Studios, part of Spectre Media Group. He uses Reaper and wholeheartedly recommends the plug-ins you get with the Reaper download. He primarily records and mixes metal, but he has recorded artists from other genres. The biggest name he has recorded and mixed for? Queensryche.

Reaper does everything. And these days, you can also do video editing in it. And that can make editing a video synchronized with music that much easier. There are a number of virtual instruments, VSTs that are available to you and other good third party softwares for free or for low price. Reaper has a MIDI editor (piano roll style). Here is a fun thing. Let's say that you create a MIDI track for drums and you load in some drum VST. You can label the keys in the piano roll what drum sound it is. I have a drum VST and I think C2 is the kick drum. You can label that key. And then, you can save That label set. You can also save the whole thing as a track template and give it a complicated name like, MIDI drum template. Next time you start or work on a project and want to work on some drums, you just start a new track and load that template and it will already have the labels on.

After you have made a MIDI track for drums, let's say, you have choices. You can choose quantize and it will align all the beats to the nearest value. You could choose eighth beats or sixteenth beats, for example. And you can get a robotic sound, which is sometimes desired in some music. You can also loose that up because you can adjust the percentage of quantization. Because real human drummers do not play like a metronome. The speed, often when going into a chorus. You can also use a plug in called humanize that will help do that thing.

You can have Reaper play a click track and this helps when lining all the tracks up. A pro sound is achieved by good timing.

Reaper also has a sequencer plug-in that will play in a loop while you build a beat pattern, note by note, and you can save that pattern with a name. Then you make another pattern, like a drum fill and give it an expansive name like "drum fill 1." Then you can start a MIDI track and choose a drum VST and copy and paste these patterns in and create an entire drum track. And it will sound good. The better drum samples were created by someone playing a real drum kit. I understand these things by reading about them and trying them but I am a smidge more organic when it comes to drums. I have a Kat KTMP-1 percussion pad and some drum sticks. And I have a Casio LK-165 with drum voices in it. And I am most likely to play the latter and so, it sounds like a real drummer, an amateur, in fact. So, very human, indeed. You can use MIDI to play keyboard and synth, bass, guitar.

I play guitar. And I would play bass with my guitar and drop the pitch in Reaper an octave. Now, I have a real bass guitar, which gives me an even better feel because I can physically feel the groove I am going for. Like I said before, nothing like a guitar with fat strings to get your hands around. Finger pick, guitar pick, slap the strings, whatever. Though I giggled at what an engineer said about how to mix a slap bass track - click on "mute."

Granted, these ideas are for those of us who want to write originals or at least create our own arrangement of instruments and stuff for covers, as well. Probably the only other instrument I will buy is the Alesis Nytro electronic drum kit. It is a rack with percussion pads that you can set up like a drum kit and it has a kick pedal and brain that you can either USB, MIDI, or instrument jack into an interface and it has like 300 drum sets in it. As long as it has cowbell, I am happy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ufj5P3W7Jw

I like playing instruments more than programming them. Maybe it is because I have always played guitar, which is physical, it is next to and with your body and you have to feel the rhythm
Not everyone has to play an instrument. You can program everything in MIDI. Or enlist the help of friends who do play instruments. Something to be careful on the business side, however, and I will get into that, maybe in a different thread. I have tried the sequencer a few times and it is pretty cool but I am not totally efficient on it to really teach it, yet. However, there are all kinds of videos on youtube. check out kennymania and the reaper channel.

Another thing about programming drums. Remember, human drummers only have 4 limbs. So, it helps believability if you write parts that could be played by a human. when I play drums on the keyboard, I limit myself to playing with 3 to 4 fingers.

And think simple when playing drums. I mean, think of the solid stripped down patterns of Rick Allen from Def Leppard. And I would especially advocate the less is more approach for rock music. Now, if you want to write stuff like what was written by RUSH and make it complex as Neil Peart could deal with, go right ahead but really listen to and watch what he did to make it believable. Same if programming parts for guitar or piano. Remember the limits of our hand. Watch and listen to real players to get used to seeing and hearing what is physically possible. What you can get away with in a live show only makes mud on a recording. One engineer would advise musicians to play more elementally for recordings. "Play it like a moron."

In addition, when writing your own stuff and you fall in love with it and make a lush recording that lasts 6 minutes. Then, you play it live and realize that it drags on and on and is repetitive and so you go back, shorten, simplify, accentuate the juicy parts. Make the song better. In fact, I get into later the wisdom of how to write songs and get market appeal. You will both like it and not like it. I find that to be delicious.

Things to think about. When programming for bass guitar, here are some things to keep in mind. The bass guitar fulfills both rhythm and harmony. Most often, the bass guitar plays on the down beats or the kick drum. In a 4/4 time sig of boom-snap, the bass is playing on the boom or the 1 and 3 beats. By the way, in the biz of performing and recording, the kick drum is technically a bass drum but avoid confusion when speaking about bass guitar, the bass drum is always called the kick. The singer sings with the bass. Because it is harmony and melody over rhythm. The guitars compete with the voice, the bass accentuates the voice.

The value of MIDI files is that they take almost no storage. They are text files similar to csv files. However, it does use up CPU time to convert to sound through the VST. So one of the bits of advice is when you are doing programming an instrument, use the Reaper function that lets you "record" that MIDI track to an audio track.

Well, what if I want to change my mind? Let me introduce you to an ancient secret about professional and successful recording. Make up your damn mind and commit to a sound and move on. In fact, record with effects on instruments. I do, all the time. Especially for a guitar player, a certain sound can inspire certain songs. The sound of AC/DC comes from Angus finding a sound that does what he wants. if he had to play clean into a DI and choose later what effects, it would totally ruin the feel. You have to feel and hear the fuzz to get the right feeling and intonation in the hands.

You can keep what you did as a MIDI file or track and keep it muted so that the CPU is not dealing with. You can save that MIDI data as a file and then delete the track after you have recorded it to another track as audio. If you just absolutely had to change your mind later, you can back to the other file and do some stuff and then re-apply the process.

"What if I don't get it perfect?" You never will. No one does, and no, you will not be the first and only one to make the only perfect song with all the right sounds, so get over yourself and take that arrogance down just a notch or two.

All that being said, do take the time to follow rule number one, getting a good track recorded, or programmed if doing MIDI. You can take the time to do what is called mix prep. Get your tracks aligned where you need them. Work with a click track as the reference by which everything else aligns. Punch in parts that need replacing.

Punch in?
Punching in. This works for guitars and you would be surprised how many iconic guitar solos were assembled from pieces and patches and it did not actually play through one time for one track.

And more especially, vocals.

For vocals, you can do what Ryan Strain did on "The Distance," by Soilwork. You can also sing complete takes. Some like to sing six full takes of a song. Graham Cochrane, being a business man and fairly in tune with the endurance abilities of a human voice, limits a singer to three full takes on a song. This helps both the singer and the engineer.

In Reaper, the default mode, which you can change to something else, if you want, is record takes in track. if the track is armed and ready to record, you can record a full track.

Then click the button to go back to the beginning. Click record and go again. And again. So, now, you have three full takes. And you will discover something that not a lot of singing teachers will tell you but any recording engineer who has worked professionally can tell you. You and your voice never sing the same song the same way, twice in a row.

Once that is done, use the shift S to snip between lyrical passages. These separated pieces are called "items" in reaper.

By the way, in Reaper, pretty much any function can be achieved by a right click of the mouse with the cursor on the track header.

So, now, select "show tracks in lanes." Presto chango, there are your three vocal takes, all neatly chopped into items. So, you find you were a hair flat on the first chorus on the first take but you made it nice and warm on the third take. And so on. All you have to do to create a composite or "comp" track of your takes is select the items you want played and they will be highlighted a different color and Reaper will only play the highlighted items.

Now you are happy with the assembled hodge podge of items from each take. One more step to make it easy on the CPU, choose "render takes as new track." This creates a track of all the items you want kept and this is important for taking a load off the CPU. And here is why and this works for every thing.

When you have different items, each item is blocks of data stored at different locations in memory. And the CPU has to find those. But a singe track or single item is quick to find. By making a single track, you are making a single, albeit, large data block but it is in just one location and shortens the time the CPU needs to find and process it.

Reaper is non-destructive editing. The data is still there, your three original takes are still there. If you wanted to do it all over again, just undo. (Reaper is default undo and undo history and I think it is like an astronomically high number of undo capability.)

Later, you can chop up again this new whole track and do what engineers call multing. That is having parts from a single track duped and shared across other tracks. Why would you do this?

High and loud choruses can often get different values of compressor, eq, more delay, or less delay or whatever goosenfrabe you want to do. My brother does this with choruses. He will have those on a different track. Sometimes, he has even recorded the choruses separately, using a different mic. The man is a genius. And worked with older stuff than what I have now. Of course, he is a pro, with a firewire 26 for recording full bands. He would use one computer to record and another to mix because one had the advantage of having a joystick port that fit some of his other cables.


Mix prep, which can be done along with recording, is grouping tracks together. For example, drums. And there are a few reasons for this.

First, they are in a location where you can find them all at once. Reaper lets you label the track header. Do that. You can choose an icon, such as types of drums. You can choose track color. Make your drum tracks yellow or magenta or whatever suits you.

Second, you will often want to apply an effect to all the tracks of drums at once. Such as compression, How do you do that? By leading outputs of each channel to a central output called a buss. In the days of analog boards and cables, a buss was just that, a connector strip just like riders would ride on a bus to one destination. Then you do things to that buss and you could raise or lower the volume of that whole section of tracks with just one fader move.

There are two ways to do this in Reaper. Each track created is defaulted out to channels 1 and 2 of the master fader. You can click on the routing or i/o button of each track and take the output off the master and choose a track you have labeled drum buss. This takes a while. Reaper has a faster and easier way to do buss of several tracks. It is the "folder" function.
So, create a new track called drum buss. Lower right hand of the header is a tab. click on that and choose folder. Now, drag around all your drum tracks so that they come right after this buss folder. Go to the last drum track and click its folder tab and choose end of folder.

With the folder function, the first track chosen as folder is a "parent" track. All the tracks after it, ending with the one selected last track in folder are children tracks and their outputs go to the parent folder, not the mains. So much easier and less eye strain. Now, on the parent folder, you can do compression, magic, put on some ketchup, lower and raise volume en masse.

And you could take all tracks and make them children to one more buss before going to master and here is why this is a good thing.

Raising and lower volume on a track with an effect also lowers and raises the presence of that effect. By bussing all tracks for effects, and then going to master fader, you can have the level of effect you want and simply use the master to lower and raise volume of the whole thing.

And when it comes to mastering, you can do it in Reaper and totally cheat. You can now do mastering stuff on the master fader, such as limiter, which Reaper has. More Eq (eq should go before limiter.) If you do this, you are breaking a rule and actually making more work for yourself and I will explain that next.

When you send your mixed tracks to a mastering engineer, you will most likely be sending as a two-channel wav file. I saw an interview with the main engineer at Liquid Mastering and 98 percent of submissions are two-channel wav. Not even a pro tools project or reaper project. A wav file. So, that means you can record with anything because they all can render to wav files.

Anyway, he does not have access to or time to record over your tracks. He is limited by a two channel wav. And that is a good thing. Now, he can do mastering. Why does it cost what it does? He has thousands of dollars of equipment, a treated room, and a skill that has to be grown, just like a surfer an learn to surf by "feel", so the mastering engineer has learned how to listen to sounds, regardless of the music. And he turns it into something that will sound pretty good on all formats.

Someone hearing your song is not hearing it on an SSL mixing board playing through 15 inch mains that cost as much as a car. They are listening in ear buds on their android phone. Or, best next thing, bluetooth link into a car stereo, not the ideal listening environment.

And if you want to play on your car stereo from a memory stick, it needs to be mp3.

So, if you want to master like a pro, the first thing you have to do is render all of your tracks as a two channel wav and save that. Then start a new reaper session and import that file that you have named as "goosenfrabe pre-master."

Now, you have the same limits as a mastering engineer and this will help you. You have to commit, make decisions, make compromises. Just like the pros who have been doing it since before you or i were born. The Beatles started out with 2 four track machines and a genious named George Martin, later given an OBE and now, Sir George Martin.

So, I didn't talk much about mixing, yet. That is because mixing starts when you writing the song and choosing instruments and arranging what thing plays what. All the time, I play my Flying V through the GS-6. The sound inspires me, I do not choose it later. Now, later, in the track, I might make some eq adjustments. And that is okay. I might change pan position. But the initial sound of the guitar is what I wanted. Make decisions now and move on.

Back in the good old days of tape, and even currently with the latest Foo Fighters' album being mixed live and recorded direct to 2 inch tape, you had to commit and live with what you have. Modernly, with all digital recording and DAWs like Reaper, where can change things around forever, it can take you forever to finish something. And wind up with over-polished crap that has lost the fire. So, learn to simplify. You start with a song idea and think you are supposed to come up with this full sounding thing with all kinds of parts and non-repeating lyrics. Maybe, the song is meant to be a simple as what you started. So, when you start something and think, I cannot finish that, stop it, just stop it. Treat it like the finish that it is.

Or assemble a few pieces together and finish something. Stop trying to be Shakespeare and Mozart all at the same time.

And the danger of reading books on recording and mixing is to think that you have to do all the things you have read about to be good or pro. Stop it. I could have made this thread with one sentence. If it sounds good, it is good.

I think that is why I like the spirit of Tristan. When someone says "that's what the pros do," immediately suspect that, even if I tell you. Just like I said that pros master from a finished two channel file. I want you to totally ignore that and master stuff on the master fader of your single Reaper session. Why? Because it may really sound good that way and that is the hidden value of the mind of Justin Frankel, not knowing how the "pros do it" but how he wanted to do it and make it fast and easy and totally intuitive. Brilliant.

In an analog system, if you wanted to change the order of effects, you would have to stop, unplug, move around, plug in again. In Reaper, you can drag effects up and down and change the order, in real time, in playback. And copy effects and settings from one track to another, in real time, in playback. "But that is not how the old pros do it!" I know. Isn't it great?

But do take the limits imposed and work with that to get done.

I have fairly good ears. And I read all the time how mp3s are not as good as CD tracks. Well, you would have to have infinitely finer hearing to tell the difference. And in my view, mp3s are no more limited than phonographs and cassette tapes of yesteryear. They had limitations too and people complained about that. So, get used to mp3s. That is how things are being played and heard.
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