Category Archives: Reaper

SONGWRITING: Backing Track Preparation & Options

Been getting more and more into this, lately, as every band I’m in is a duo of some sort. And I’m beginning to play live with each project… especially in the next few months.

Boss RC-300
Boss RC-505
Roland SP-404SX
Roland SPD-SX
EHX 45000 with footpedal
laptop running Reaper 5, with footpedal or Launchpad
Akai MPC Live
Elektron Octatrack

Each of these options ranges from $400 (laptop+controller) all the way to $1200 for the Akai and Elektron. A bit overkill, many may say.

Leaning toward the RC-300. It can store 3 hours of WAV files internally, and you can easily export from your DAW, to the pedal. Has 100 presets. About 15-20 of them could each store a full song, spread across 3 WAV files (drums, bass, keyboard parts, or extra guitars). That’s about 120 to 150MB per song. I think the total storage is about 2GB, in the pedal. It can also read from SD memory, which is great. Plus, it’s just a killer looper in general. Lots of fun and many uses… not just for a foot-controlled backing track player.

Cons, that pulled me away from all the rest:
Boss RC-505 – no foot use… just hands. Awesome little pedal, but I play guitar a lot, and/or drums or keys live… this wouldn’t be ideal. Great for vocalists and beatboxers, though.
Roland SP-404SX – decent, and used by a lot of pros. I could live without those unbalanced RCA outputs, though (are you kidding, Roland? In 2017?) Can store 120 samples per SD card (and reads FAST– loads everything quickly upon startup)… each sample can be LONG, from what I understand)… but again… the outputs?!
Roland SPD-SX – can only be used with drumsticks, basically. Nice bit of gear… 4GB of ram. Can store a ton and has a lot of fun options. But… you’re stuck holding sticks. However, Jack Garratt kicks ass with his, while playing 100 other things (see below)
EHX 45000 with footpedal – read that it’s prone to errors and bugs. Nice design, though.
laptop running Reaper 5, with footpedal or Launchpad – everyone’s usually against the use of a laptop, live… but certainly, this is the cheapest option. The con is it takes a lot of configuring, to do what you want it to (such as with Reaper 5, and a MIDI footpedal).
Akai MPC Live – too expensive, and the hardware OS/software is still “in beta”… and a LOT of crashes/bugs. For $1200? No thanks. Fix your bugs entirely, and we’ll talk.
Elektron Octatrack – Same price as above…. much-loved. I don’t know much about it, but it is powerful as hell. Doesn’t seem to offer a lot of sample storage, though.

What I did in Beauty’s Confusion (please follow us on Spotify!) over 10 years ago is the basic way most people do it:
click-track panned hard left
music mixed in mono, hard right
(if you want, you can put music at a lower volume, along with the click, so you don’t just get bombarded with a click in your ear while you play).

I used to use a shock-proof CD player for our tracks (at first a Numark CDN88, I think)… and then I upgraded to a Pioneer CDJ-800. And then eventually, I just wound up using a Dell laptop for the tracks. The audio interface only had a cable from the RIGHT output, into a direct box, into the mains. My earbuds and/or headphones plugged into the headphone output of the interface, so I got the click in the left-ear only, and the music in both. I played drums mostly, or did keys/guitar, depending on the song. This is the standard way to do backing tracks, but… you’re stuck with exactly that track… so you better start when you need to, and not come in late with vocals, or early… the backing track is unforgiving (a way to combat this is to use something like Ableton Live… where you can have different “Scenes” to trigger variations of verses/choruses/jam parts, etc).

I did this same backing track setup, also in an indie/electronic trio I was in, in 2007. We made tracks in FL Studio, and used that same workhorse Dell laptop live, running Ableton. Singer played bass, guitarist played guitar, and I drummed, sang vocal harmony, and triggered the tracks.

It’s relatively easy to prepare tracks for live use, if you’re using a laptop, especially if you spread the tracks to more than one– drums, bass, keys, extra guitars… it’s easy to mix live after a rehearsal with a PA system… you can see what’s too loud, and what’s not loud enough, and take notes, or fix on the go using automation. However, if you’re making tracks for a foot pedal or hardware unit (one simple mono mix)… you’ll need a lot of trial and error, and you’ll need to get the mixes PERFECT… again, a PA system or a friend’s in addition to yours, would help nail the balance of the tracks, against the live instruments and vocals.

The crappy thing about preparing these tracks for the hardware stuff such as the Roland or Boss stuff is that the WAVs need to be completely “blank” and devoid of metadata. Otherwise you’ll run into errors such as “unsupported format!” when you try to import them into the SDP-SX, SP-404SX, or RC-300.

I hate all this tech shit… and there isn’t much information on google about it.. so I wanted to try and help anyone, if I could… it’s partially for me, to help remember what I need to buy and do, but mostly for you… to help aide you in your quest for live performance as a duo or solo artist. Not all of us are blessed with musician friends that have the time and talent to do what we need them to do, at moment’s notice… haha.

More to come! Hope this helps some of you so far…


RECORDING: the truly best VSTi plugins (virtual instruments)

And, the best CHEAP ones…..

I hate and have hated looking for VST plugins. When I first discovered them in the early 2000s, I was addicted to finding the best free ones. Occasionally I get addicted still today, searching for newer stuff I may have missed. Let me give you a list of the absolute best… and, in the interest of saving time, I’m not going to include a screenshot of each. Just trust me when I say, these are the best free ones, and the best cheap ones. If I didn’t include a link, just google it, you’ll easily find where to download them.


FREE Grand Piano

PianoOne (by Yichi Wang). Download from It needs a little tweaking of the “release” fader (bump it up from minimum, just a little beyond it) and enjoy the wonderful (and quite realistic) piano sounds you get from it.
mda Piano (by Maxim Digital Audio). Extremely lightweight. Very nice. Make sure you click the “VST Synths” link at the top (hard to read).


FREE Electric Piano (Rhodes and Wurlies)

Lazysnake (by Andreas Ersson). Destroys most others. Has wah, tremolo, overdrive, etc. Sick-sounding Rhodes and not-quite-Rhodes. They always sit in a mix perfectly. Extremely useful plugin.

Legacy Collection by GSi/ MrRay73 and MrRay73 version II are GREAT Rhodes emulators, as well as Mr Tramp, fur Wurlitzer 200 piano sounds. Also included in the collection is a great Hammond B3 emulator called Organized Trio. When you first insert the plugins, they nag you to donate, but there are no sound limitations. You just have to wait a few seconds to edit the parameters, but they work, and they work great. Download at


FREE Synths

Synth1 (by Ichiro Toda). This is one of the first, and the best. The presets and banks (made by users for over a decade) can be difficult to install/add, but this thing is so programmable and so damn good-sounding, it’s a shame to pass it up. Also has a step arpeggiator built-in. Sick. Gives Nord Leads a run for their money, no doubt.

ANYTHING and EVERYTHING from Togu Audio Line (TAL). Specifically the TAL UNO-62 (a perfect Juno-60), and Noizemaker, which is so insanely useful, I can’t even get into it. Plus, nearly all parameters are MIDI-learnable (if you have a nice midi controller with lots of knobs/faders). Download all their completely free plugins (for Mac AND PC!) here—-

Aethereal (by Psychic Modulation) – ambient/pad heaven. Gives Atmosphere a run for its money, and then some. The demo is limited to two notes polyphony, and one audio output, but it’s worth it, believe me. And the price is right for the full version. Lots of great presets.

Crystal (by Green Oak) – mentioned EVERYWHERE online. A must-download.


FREE Drums

This is a tough one. There aren’t many good ones at all. I’d recommend using a free sampler such as ShortCircuit. You can load your own wav samples of drum one-shots, and it’s pretty easy to get the hang of, once you do. There are tutorials on YouTube on how to use it. Stick with version 1.1.1, and stay away from ShortCircuit2, as it’s very unstable and crashes constantly.


FREE arpeggiators

Kirnu (by Arto Vaarala). This is one of the most easy-to-use, beautiful-looking, and powerful arpeggiators, PERIOD! Throw it before your favorite synth plugin in your DAW, and have tons of fun.


CHEAP, amazing stuff

For drums / sampling / hip-hop production

Poise ( Windows-only (but hopefully Mac, soon!) Who the hell needs an MPC anymore, or even Native Instruments’ Maschine? (I love Maschine, for the record)… but, if you’re on an insanely tight budget, all you need is Poise and an Akai MPD18. Poise is $49. The MPD18 is $99 new. Watch tutorial videos I made, on YouTube, to see how freakin’ awesome it is. I can never live without this amazing plugin.

Cheap arpeggiators

CTHULHU by Xfer Records. It’s like Kirnu, but 1000 times more powerful, fun, and intuitive. If you like arpeggiators…. you NEED this. Comes with a shit-ton of classical chord sequences, that you can arpeggiate, or create your own (playing songs essentially with one key at a time). INSANELY awesome. Only $39.

Also, when you subscribe to (or buy a physical copy of) Computer Music magazine, you get the “CM COLLECTION.” LOTS of great stuff, in there, too. That magazine introduced me to the absolute power of recording with a computer, when I first bought an issue in early 2000. The technology has moved so fast, though. So new issues can be intimidating… however, they always include a chapter (in EVERY ISSUE) called CM Basics or whatever, and they cover everything you need to know, if you’re new to this.

What are some of YOUR favorites?

RECORDING: Use templates ALWAYS.

If I didn’t make templates for my recording software, I would be wasting so much time, setting up the tracks before the recording even starts.

What’s a template?

It’s a track setup in your preferred recording program/DAW, that’s ready to go when you are.  Some people (UK/Europe) pronounce this word “tem-plate” (rhymes with “wait”). Americans usually say “tem-plit”. There’s no wrong or right way to say it. Just get in the habit of using them.


How do I make one?

Well, that depends on your recording software! Most of the time, your DAW allows you to save a song project as a song, or as a template. A template file can be utilized when you start a new project. It will usually give you the option, upon starting a new project, to use a blank slate, or a template.

Creating a Project Template in Reaper

Here’s the typical way I create a template, in Reaper:

1. I use the keyboard shortcut for “New Track” (CTRL+T) 9 times. The first 8 tracks will be 2 MIDI tracks, and 6 audio tracks. The final track will be a “reverb bus.”

2. I highlight all the tracks I created and right-click, select “Track Color”, and “Set Tracks To Random Colors” (this is essential, with Reaper… because otherwise, the tracks all have the same “silvery” color.)

3. While all tracks are highlighted, I right-click, select “Track Icon” and “Set Track Icon” (I pick a random icon, as I will change it later.)

4. I click the “FX” button on track 9, and insert “Reaverbate”, a stock Reaper reverb which sounds quite good. I set the dry mix to 0% (leaving wet at 100%), and set the decay/time way up to about 90.

5. I click the “I/O” button on track 9, and go to the “Receives” section, and click “Add receives from all tracks.”

5a. I click the “input monitoring” button and set it to on (turns into green arrow).

5b. I arm the track for recording, then right-click the record button and set it to “record: Disable– input monitoring only.”

My template is almost ready to be saved.

6. I name the first two tracks MIDI 1 and MIDI 2. I set the input of these tracks to “Input MIDI, all MIDI inputs, all MIDI channels”. I click the input monitoring button and set it to on (green arrow). I right-click the record buttons and set them to “automatically record arm when track selected.”

6a. I highlight all the other tracks (audio) except the ReverbBus track, and right-click the record buttons and choose “automatically record arm when track selected.”

7. I name tracks 3-8 as Guitar 1, Guitar 2, Bass, Vox 1, Vox 2, and Drums/Loop…. and “Reverb Bus” for track 9. I then set the icons accordingly.

8. I go up to “File”, “Project Templates”…. “Save Project as Template”…. and I name it “Default” – it saves to the ProjectTemplates folder in Reaper, so it’s always easy to find.

9. I go to “Preferences”, and the “Project” section, and up at the top, I set Reaper to start any new project with my “Default” template. Always ready to record when I click “new.”


You can create any amount of templates you want, for any type of recording situation. I have my “default”, which works great for singer/songwriter-type stuff. Then I have “hip-hop”, which gives me a shorter number of tracks, and 4 instances of the POISE VST (I’ve written about it here at my blog), acting as banks 1, 2, 3, 4 (1 is drums, 2-4 are MPC-style “chops”). Then I have a few other templates where I have my Toontrack Superior Drummer 2.0 set up so I can play it with my electronic kit… and record guitars and whatnot. There’s another template where I have my amp modeling software ready to go, in addition to the drum software….. there’s just no need to “create” the track setup…. anything I need, I click the mouse a couple times and it’s right there.

Templates are essential. Use them! I don’t know what recording software you use, but again, for me… Reaper is my preferred software. I think it is very easy to use once you get the hang of the basics, and if you use Project Templates, you’ll wonder how you ever got along this long without Reaper…. but if Reaper’s not your thing…. look into how to make Project Templates for your favorite recording software. There are a lot of tutorials on YouTube… I’ve found videos on how to make templates with Reaper, Cubase, FL Studio, Reason, Cakewalk Sonar X1/X2, StudioOne, etc.

Here’s what Reaper looks like, the first time you use it (a bit intimidating, right?)


Here’s what my Reaper looks like, every time I start the program, or every time I click “New Project”:


Looks a lot more inviting/easy/time-saving, right? Of course. That’s why templates are awesome.

Hope this helps!

RECORDING: Poise VST tutorials

Here are four tutorials I made about the Poise VST, which is the best MPC-style sampler out there, hands-down. It’s actually a million times easier to use than an MPC. Along with Native Instruments’ Maschine, Poise + Reaper is how I make a majority of my hip-hop tracks.

Check these videos out, and download the Poise demo. You’ll be extremely impressed.



RECORDING: Syncing Akai MPD Note Repeat to Reaper

Hey guys… in between naps as I am very ill today, I synced all three of my Akai MPD models (MPD18, MPD26, MPD32) to Reaper, perfectly… so Note Repeat works as it should.

Here’s how it’s done.

On the MPD26/32… go into Global settings… hit the right arrow a bunch of times until you reach MIDI CLOCK. Set it to EXTERNAL.

For the MPD18, you’ll need the MPD editing software, as that’s the only way to edit midi notes and the midi clock setting. Make sure it is set the same way.

Now go into Reaper’s Preferences.

Find the MIDI DEVICES tab, and enable MIDI output for your MPD by right-clicking the device name in the MIDI Output section (Windows XP users more than likely will see “USB Audio Device”, which is the generic name for the MPD series.) Now right-click the device name again, and select “Send clock/SPP to output”.

Note Repeat will not work unless Reaper is in Playback or Record mode (as in, the timeline/cursor is moving).

Assuming you set everything right, it works perfectly. I tested it on three different systems (Windows 7 x64, Windows XP SP3, and Windows 7 32-bit).

RECORDING: Reaper, Poise VST, and Akai MPD18 – the $200 MPC workflow

I’ve written about Poise several times in this blog. It still rules. Sadly, it’s still only available for Windows… but, luckily, a lot of Mac users can use Boot Camp, and have Windows on their Macs. Convenient for stuff like this…

I created a forum post at the Reaper Forum, showing exactly how I use Poise in my workflow, to produce hip-hop beats easily. I call it the “$200 MPC workflow”… because Reaper is a free download (though I highly recommend you buying a license if you use it regularly)… this is the absolute cheapest way to get an MPC-style workflow for hip-hop production:

Reaper (free, or $60)
an Akai MPD18 ($60-100, used to new)
Poise VST from ($49)

Read on…



if there’s an ad below, ignore it as it has NOTHING to do with my blog. Just another website justifying its operation with ad revenue.


RECORDING: Using Maschine as VST within Reaper (written and video tutorial)

I realized I never finished the video for the previous post (when I initially wrote this post in November 2012)…. as of February 2013, I finished a video. Here’s a walkthrough for the setup, as I posted on the Reaper forums months ago:

And here is the 17-minute long overview/tutorial…

RECORDING: Bought a license for Reaper, and damn glad I did.

Reaper is the best friggin’ DAW out there.

Period. Fuck Pro Tools, man!


I have been a Cakewalk Sonar Home Studio (now X1 Essential) user since I started getting serious about recording with computers. I still like Sonar, and I really love X1 Essential since I got a free upgrade to it when it was released.


However, these days… I’ve found myself using Reaper more and more and more. It’s SO friggin’ fast, SO configurable, and it can do ANYTHING you want… with keyboard shortcuts, mouse modifiers… you name it. It’s ridiculous.



It’s just hype! It’s slow as hell, it crashes all the time or gives DAE errors, and everyone is a lemming for using it. Now granted, to be fair, I got some of my students into Pro Tools MP9, because it’s a decent deal when it (and an ilok) comes bundled with the Mobile Pre interface from M-Audio. It’s a good value, yes. And Pro Tools still has the prettiest interface of them all. But that doesn’t mean shit to me. Workflow is everything.


That said…. Reaper’s workflow is ridiculous! It’s so fast, so easy to use, and it NEVER…. and I mean NEVER… crashes. EVER. I wish I could say the same about Sonar Home Studio or Sonar X1 Essential. Every time I use it, it crashes… no matter what I do.


I have used Sonar extensively for the past few years, and I still do enjoy its interface and functionality. But then…


A few weeks ago, I was making some midi loops, and then bouncing them down so they would become wav loops, basically for students of mine and for a songwriting camp I run (especially for the kids who don’t know how to play piano but want to write songs on it). I spent a few hours making simple piano pattern loops and simple 8th-note chord patterns in various guitar-friendly keys, and built a small library of cool piano loops.


During this creative time, Sonar crashed like ten times in a row, when I was messing around with a midi transpose plug-in, so I wouldn’t have to perform the same pattern in each key / scale degree. It crashed TEN TIMES IN A ROW.


I was so pissed!


Let’s backtrack a bit. I have used Reaper on and off since summer 2008 (when version 3 was out), and although it wasn’t great, it had a lot of potential. So I would suggest it to students looking for a near-free recording program (especially the kids who didn’t have macs)… but it was so confusing to use (for me, and especially for them). So I put it on the back burner for a bit.


Then Reaper 4 came out, and I downloaded version 4.21. I found myself using it a LOT, especially for lessons when I had to transpose a rock song in Eb tuning (Green Day, Jimmy Eat World, etc), so I, and my student didn’t have to detune our guitars. It was so easy to do this in Reaper, and I found myself exploring the program more and more in my free time. The more I explored, the more I loved it.


So, after the crash-happy adventure with Sonar, I exported the midi stuff I did in Sonar as basic midi files, and brought them into Reaper to do the same process (transpose, bounce, etc). Reaper didn’t crash once. It happily did everything I requested of it, and it was FAST as hell, too.


So after that, I said… “ya know, I’ve been using this program on off for four years… always waiting for the nag screen that says I need to buy Reaper.. (by the way, Reaper will NEVER expire… it is a fully-functioning program that will never “time-out” or whatever… it’s not really a demo. It’s a fully-functioning recording program that nags you to buy it every 5 or so times you open it or start a new project. Not a big deal. But hell, it’s ONLY $60 for a personal/non-commercial license (non-commercial meaning, if you make less than $20,000 a year through selling music or providing recording services, you can get the cheaper license… it’s like an honor-system thing, which I think is great). Anyway. Sixty bucks? I said fuck it man… I’m buyin’ this shit finally.


I paid Cockos Software, and within seconds, I received my license key, which I happily imported into the program, and no more nag screen.


I don’t really have much else to say as I want to get back to working on some music using Reaper, but seriously, people… download the program. Try it out. Watch tutorial videos on YouTube. And you should buy the “Reaper 4 Explained” tutorial videos from (they’re cheap, and they show you basically everything you’d want to know, and then some).


This is the best DAW (digital audio workstation) out there. It’s no joke. It is insanely freakin’ powerful/configurable, relatively easy to use, and it is the SMALLEST program, and loads in seconds.


As I said in a previous post, don’t believe the Pro Tools hype. Reaper has only been around for about 7 years, but damn, has it come a LONG way. Exceptional and functional are the two words I can best use to describe the program. Wait, here’s another: FAST. And another: STABLE. And another: CHEAP. And another: POWERFUL…..


You get the point. GET IT! You won’t regret it.