Archive for the ‘Beginners Guides’ Category

Step 3: What do you need?

As a beginner, you will want to have a good basic suite of instruments and effects.

  1. you need bread and butter sounds, such as drums, bass, guitar, brass, strings, etc. In Cubase these are provided by the horrid Halion player. The source for these sounds can be synthesised but it is normal today to find these provided by sample libraries (such as Halion). The good thing about samples is that they can sound very good. The bad thing about them is that they are (or should be) very large. A decent sample library will be many GB in size. I suggest getting a sample library player for your rig at home and a little synthesised one for your USB key.
  2. you need some synthesisers. These are usually quite small as they do not require sample data.
  3. you need some good effects. Reaper already has nice effects, but you could always do with more. You will want a set of the ‘standard’ effects: reverb, delay, chorus, compressor, filter, etc. Effects are usually very small.
  4. you will also want some more sophisticated effects: transient modeller, spatial enhancer, exciter, side chain compressor, etc. Don’t worry if you don’t know what these are yet. You will want them once you know.
  5. you might need a sampler. Reaper ships with the badly titled but perfectly capable ReaSampleOmatic5000. This is a neat little sampler for everyday use, featuring the (excellent) ability to easily grab selected audio from a track and use it as sample instrument data. For more complex sampling duties, you will need something more.

The following posts will suggest likely downloads to fulfil these needs.


Step 2: How to install VSTs

Before we get going, how do you actually get them in there and working?

For your information, a VST usually means an effect (like a reverb or compressor) and a VSTi usually means an instrument (like a synthesiser).

  1. VSTs are usually downloadable in zip files. After downloading you need to right click on them and extract them somewhere.
  2. Create a VST Plugins folder somewhere on your computer. To keep things organised, you might like to create two folders within that, one for instruments and one for effects. Mine has a variety of folders. It looks like this:

    vst folder

  3. Most VSTs are just a small program with the extension .dll. If so, take that dll and put it in one of your VST Plugins folders. If it has extracted to a folder containing the dll and some other things, just copy the whole folder in there.
  4. Some VSTs need to be properly installed. Install them like a normal program, following the instructions on screen. The program will probably be installed in your normal Program Files folder, but at some point you will be asked where you want to install the VST. Choose one of your VST Plugins folders.
  5. Some VSTs offer you the chance to intall RTAS (for ProTools) or DXi (Cakewalk / Sonar) versions. Unless you are running these programs, you can safely say no thanks to these options.
  6. In Reaper, open up your Preferences (Control-P) and go to the Plug-ins/VST tab.
  7. Hit the Add button and navigate to your VST Plugins folder. Select it.
  8. Hit the Rescan button to add all the effects in that folder. From now on, you’ll only need to Rescan after you add another effect.

    reaper prefs

  9. You’re done. When you next choose Insert->Virtual Instrument on new track or click on the green fx button on a track, you’ll see your new VSTs listed.

Step 1: Why Reaper Rocks

A modern Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) needs to have a hefty number of features, but essentially you should view it as a shell in which to house your instruments and effects. The idea that the DAW should do everything from playing bass to making the tea is a common pitfall. Let the DAW do what it’s good at, and hand pick your instruments elsewhere.

With this in mind I have tried to assemble a “perfect’ DAW setup based around Reaper.

Reaper is a fantastic DAW these days. I have Logic and Samplitude and access to Cubase and ProTools but I use Reaper all the time.

It is very fast, stable, very light on CPU usage, nicely designed and incredibly small. The download is around 4MB. You can install it on a USB key and use it on any computer, anywhere. It is supported by a friendly and useful community and is constantly being updated. It has so many neat features and yet it has an elegant, unfussy interface. At the time of writing it costs £38.

It works very well indeed and I find it faster than any of the others, which now seem overweight and out of date.

Two potential pitfalls:

  1. Although Reaper comes with great processing effects, they are minimal in appearance and don’t excite new users who want sexy graphics. Sexy graphics are important to software.
  2. Reaper does not come with any real instruments, so you can’t start sequencing right away.

This all helps to keep Reaper portable and focused – I wouldn’t have it any other way. You can easily download sexy looking high quality free instruments and effects to complement Reaper: problem solved.

Download a free version of Reaper here (uncrippled for 30 days) and try it out. Then look at the other posts and get some quality free VSTs to run with it.