Making Your First Recording
Making Your First Recording
If you're saying to yourself “I just want to record a song already! How do I do it?” then this article is for you. We're going to take a rip through recording your first track. It is assumed that you have Reaper, OSARA and SWS installed. It is also assumed that you have installed the driver for your audio interface if required. OK! Let’s Reap!
Creating a Track
When you first open reaper, you'll likely need to hit Escape to close a splash screen if you're still just evaluating the software. Once done, you'll find yourself in the Track Control Panel of a new, blank Reaper project. You can confirm that's where you are by hitting Uparrow or DownArrow. If you hear your screen reader report “no tracks”, then you're in good shape. To record, you must first create a track to record onto.
Press Control+T (command+T on Mac) to create a track. You will be placed in an edit box where you can type a name for your new track, then press enter. You don't have to type in a track name if you don't want to (just hitting Enter without typing a name will also do the job), but naming is a good habit to get into. It makes everything easier to keep track of (excuse the pun). Bonus tip: you can name or rename any track after creation simply by pressing F2 with the track selected, typing a name and pressing Enter.
Assigning an Input for Recording
By Default, Reaper will record from Input 1 of your Audio Interface. If you'll be using a different input on the regular, that default can be changed in the Track/Send Defaults category of Preferences. For now, either plug something into input 1 of your interface and roll with that, or see below for how to choose a different input.
Choosing a Track Input on Windows
For now, we'll assume that your source is mono (the vast majority of microphones are, to take one widely used example). Select the new track you've just made by pressing either UpArrow or DownArrow. You should hear your screen reader report the track number and the track name (if you gave it one in the previous step). Now press your Applications key, and use your arrows to find “Input: mono" in the context menu.” Hit either Enter or RightArrow to expand the submenu, use your arrows to select whichever input of your interface coincides with the source you're going to record, then hit Enter. Once done, you'll land back in the Track Control Panel. Bonus tip: Track Control Panel often gets shortened to "TCP" or "track view" round these parts.
Choosing a Track Input on Mac
Follow the Windows instructions above, with one important difference. On Mac, hit Control+1 on the track to pop up the context menu, instead of hitting Applications key.
Arming and Monitoring a Track
So whether you're rolling with input 1 as suggested up top or whether you've been adventurous enough to choose a different input, hopefully now you've got a track created and Reaper knows which input you intend to use. Next, you need to arm your track. To arm a track is to tell reaper which track (or sometimes even tracks in the plural) you would like to record onto.
Pressing F7 arms and unarms the track. It's a toggle. Each time you press it, you'll hear your screen reader announce whether the track is armed or unarmed. If you find yourself confused about which tracks are armed at any point, you can have your screen reader report that information by pressing Control+Shift+F7 (command+shift+F7 on Mac). You can also unarm all tracks in one shot by hitting alt+F7 (option+F7 on Mac).
Next up, monitoring. Monitoring is important if you want to be able to hear what's being recorded. Pressing F8 on the relevant track cycles through the available monitoring settings, of which there are three. "Normal" (which means you will hear the audio coming into any armed track), "not when playing" (which is where you hear the audio coming into any armed tracks, unless the project is playing, in which case you will only hear the playback), and "record monitor off" (where you won't hear the sound of what's connected to the input of your interface assigned to a track, even if it's armed). FYI, Reaper 6 sets the record monitoring mode to Normal by default. Bonus tip: if you're going to be recording a microphone, take care to have your monitor speakers or headphones at a low-ish volume, at least to start with. This precaution will help to avoid feedback.
Checking and Setting Input Levels
The input level is how loud the source you're going to record is. It's measured in Decibels or DB for short. You never want to exceed 0DB, as anything louder than that will distort. In general, hovering somewhere around -10DB (10DB below 0) is a safe spot to record anything other than particularly dynamic sources.
The quick and dirty way to get a reading of your input level once a track is armed is to hit either the J or K key on the relevant track. Each time you do this while talking into the mic (or while getting whichever other source you're intending to record to make some noise), your screen reader will report what the volume level was at the exact moment that you hit the key. Hitting J reads the level of the left channel, and hitting K reads the level of the right channel. If your input source is mono (such as a microphone), then hitting either key will do.
For a more flexible approach to monitoring input levels, try pressing alt+W (option+W on Mac) to open the Peak Watcher dialog. This handy OSARA feature enables you to specify two tracks to “watch” for levels. One widely used configuration is to have the first track option watching “current track” (the most recent track that you selected) and the second track option watching “master”. The rest of the dialogue contains other advanced settings which will be covered in another article. You don't necessarily have to choose two tracks, you can just select "current track" if you'd prefer to keep things simple at this point.
When you've decided which tracks you want to watch, Tab or Shift+Tab to the ok button, press enter and you’ll land back in the track view. Once Peak Watcher has been configured, you can press Alt+F11 (option+F11 on mac) to report the highest peak that the meter on the left channel reached in DB. Pressing Alt+F12 (Option F12) will report the highest peak of the right channel of that same track. As above, if you are recording a mono source such as a mono microphone, then these levels should be the same on both channels so you won't need to check them both, either will do. If you decided to also watch a second track, just add Shift to the previous two keystrokes to report levels for that. You can reset the peak watcher at any point by pressing Alt+F10 (option+F10 on Mac) so that you can re-check the level.
To gauge your input level, the trick is to check it while you're playing your instrument or speaking/singing in to your microphone. For best results, try to play, speak or sing at roughly the same level and with the same intensity that you're going to when you start recording. Common practice is to have one hand on the gain control of your interface and the other hand on your computer keyboard checking the level every so often. Of course, that becomes deceptively tricky if you're attempting to gauge the input level of an instrument that requires both hands to play. That's where the automatic notification feature of Peak Watcher will come in handy. Remember: you'll want to make sure that you're not going over 0DB, because that will leave you with distorted audio and spoil your recording. If in doubt, recording a little quiet is the safest option. Most things can be turned up after the fact fairly cleanly nowadays, but distortion is still nigh on impossible to remove.
Setting the Metronome
If you're recording music, then you may wish to set your metronome before recording the first note. This will allow you to move through the song accurately by measures and beats, also it will allow you to edit your recording later with more precision. If you already know an exact tempo, this can be specified using the Project bPM edit field that you'll find on the first tab of the Project Settings dialog (Alt+Enter (option+Enter on mac) will get you in there).
Alternatively, if you're new to thinking in terms of BPM (beats per minute), there's another way. Turn the metronome on by pressing Control+Shift+M (command+shift+M on Mac). As with many things in Reaper, that's a toggle. Take a moment to fix the tempo of the song you're going to record in your mind, then place your finger on the H key and tap out the tempo. Now if you press Space to start playing, you'll hear the metronome running at the speed that you just tapped. Play along with the click for a while to make sure it’s at the right tempo. Pressing Space again will stop the transport. Press W or Control+Home to make sure that you’re at the beginning of the timeline, and guess what? You're ready to record!
If you've been following along step by step, then by now you'll have made a new track, got it listening to the correct input, armed it, and you should be able to hear your source through your headphones or monitor speakers.
When you’re ready, press the R key. You will hear the click start, and Reaper is immediately recording. Count in an appropriate amount of measures, and start doing your thing. When you’ve finished, press Space to stop the recording. Reaper will prompt you about the saving of files. For simplicity at this stage, hit Enter to choose save all, and you’ll land back in the TCP.
Now if you hit either UpArrow or DownArrow, you should hear your screen reader report the track number, the track name if you gave it one, appended by a new and important phrase: "one item". This means that you’ve recorded an item onto the track you made. By jingo, you did it!
Press W or Control+Home (command+Home on Mac) to get to the beginning of the project, then hit Space to listen back. If this is your first time recording, you may experience a powerful feeling of "OMG", and rightly so.
Reaper is rich with features and insanely configurable. There are often several means to the same ends. Each of the processes described in this article have alternatives and options which are further explored in other articles. Over time, you'll identify the methods and settings that best suit your work flow, but for now, we hope this article got you up and running. Happy Reaping!