In this series, I describe the 8 major benefits that REAPER brought to my music production workflow, and how they pushed me toward a full switch from Pro Tools.
- A different workflow
- Stock plug-ins
- Open architecture & development cycle
This article reflects my own personal opinions, which are related to how I use a DAW. It’s not meant to judge any of these software. As a matter of fact, I still own and like both Logic and Pro Tools, for their own peculiarities. This is not a tutorial.
From Cubase to Logic to Pro Tools
After starting out with Cubase in 1995 and using it until v4, I moved to eMagic’s Logic in 2002. Transitioned to Apple’s Logic Pro X a bit late, I stayed there until last year. All in all, it’s been 18 years with Logic.
I used plenty of other audio software over time, especially during my years as a game sound designer, and had always known how Logic was never the best choice for post-production.
Indeed, after a problematic job last year, I finally jumped ship and paid Avid for 12 months of Pro Tools subscription. Despite being already familiar with the program, it substantially changed my workflow for the better.
I see it as a near-perfect computer metaphor for someone who learned the craft in the analog world. The management of the I/O, the way it handles sends and returns, and above all, the powerful and fast audio editing.
Yet, there’s something about it that always felt awkward to me. I didn’t enjoy its distinct lack of personalization, the difficult compatibility, and the unpredictability software-wise. Too many random crashes and obscure error messages that never quite stood up to its price.
Now, with my subscription about to expire, and irritated by the idea of another hefty payment during a harsh pandemic, I decided to jump ship, again.
Over the past ten years, I’ve been following several professionals who switched to REAPER by Cockos. Moreover, during my recent rekindling with game audio, I’ve discovered that REAPER has become a de facto standard in that industry.
After the Wwise certification, learning REAPER was next in my pipeline. I thought: let’s try it now, and see if it can successfully replace Pro Tools and save me some money too.
Benefit 1: Cost
Initially, I was seriously attracted by two factors. In order of importance:
- The open architecture, which leads to endless customization possibilities and translates to efficiency.
- Cockos’ business model.
REAPER is not free. The trial lasts for two months, after which the software keeps working anyway, fully functional. As Cockos says: it’s up to your conscience. No iLok, no authentication required. If you use the software, pay for it. They trust you to do the good thing.
As a matter of fact, I tried it for about a week: that’s how long it took me to decide. There are two tiers available: discounted and commercial, depending on how you use it — a very sensible distinction.
|Discounted||You are an individual, and REAPER is only for your personal use, or you are an individual or business using REAPER commercially, and yearly gross revenue does not exceed USD $20,000, or you are an educational or non-profit organization.||$60|
|Commercial||Every other case.||$225|
Each license includes two major releases. For instance, I bought it now, at v6.x, which gives me free updates until v7.99 included.
To put things in perspective, Logic Pro X costs €199, no exceptions. If you’re in REAPER’s discounted tier, it takes 8 major releases to reach the amount of money Apple charges. That could translate to many years.
I won’t go down the rabbit hole of Avid’s pricing policy. As a frame of reference, Pro Tools regular is €340 per year (including VAT). Avid also offers a “perpetual” license at €682: it doesn’t include all the goodies reserved to subscribers, it only comes with one year of updates and it’s so well hidden in the website, I suspect they’ll remove it sooner or later.
Just consider this: over the next ten years — the average it takes REAPER to release two full major updates — I would have spent up to €3400 on Pro Tools alone. Pandemic or not, I seriously struggle to see why would I want to pay that much money if I can do the same things with another software.
Money-wise, the value of REAPER was a no-brainer to me.
Benefit 2: Multi-platform
I know, Apple isn’t charging for Logic updates (so far), likely because they make their money off the hardware they sell. Instead, I can install my copy of REAPER on Mac, Windows or Linux. If I need to, I can have it on all three at the same time, using the same serial I already bought.
Since the video game industry is understandably bent towards Windows, it’s clear to me why a multi-platform capability is one of many reasons why REAPER became a standard.
Given how easy is to export and re-import all the settings and customizations, I can keep my REAPER versions on macOS and Windows 10 in perfect sync.
Benefit 3: A different workflow
This was a biggie for me. I was stunned to discover that REAPER doesn’t have track types. In other words: it’s track agnostic. Despite my initial WTF moment, I’m now absolutely in love with the concept.
In all the other DAWs I know, when I create new tracks I must at least select a type, along with some other information. Usually, I have to choose if the tracks is:
- External MIDI?
- Virtual MIDI instrument?
- Auxiliary bus?
Imagine having to double click in the track area and not worry about any of the above. That’s REAPER. I double click and I have a track. Here, a track is just a track: I can decide later on its routing, based on what I need.
Of course, I can add multiple tracks at once and more if I want, but the basic action is built for speed.
Drag an audio file, whether mono, stereo or multichannel, and the track accepts it; do the same by dropping a MIDI file. Without going in too deep: it also doesn’t care if the audio files are at different sample rates.
Later, you can decide if it has to be mono or stereo, assign outputs and/or sends and whatnot. Also, and this is utterly cool: I can have a mono audio, a stereo (or surround) audio and a MIDI sequence all in one track:
It’s a different metaphor, and it leads to a whole new workflow. It’s become an unbelievably efficient timesaver to me. Reproducing all my Logic or Pro Tools templates, including creating groups of track presets first, took me less than thirty minutes.
There are several ways to manipulate the signal flow in REAPER. Each one serves a purpose depending on the situation. For instance, clicking the route icon in a track the following appears:
For sends and returns, I can either use the basic routing window pictured above, or drag the route icon from one track onto another: the cursor changes into a patch cable, symbolizing the connection.
I can also select multiple tracks at once, hold SHIFT and drag from the same icon to re-route them all. Technically, all these actions create a bus/aux, but again, I don’t have to worry about it. I usually assign a custom color to my busses so that they’re easily recognizable to me, and work it out later.
The fastest way to create a bus is to create a folder. It’s as easy as clicking the folder icon in the track: the ones below will indent and be instantly re-routed.
Once a folder is created, a “shadow region” is generated at the top level, so that when the folder is collapsed its content is still visible.
The routing matrix window can be used to apply elaborated signal flows to the whole song. As an example, I always send my mix to four groups (see: Brauerizing) depending on the material; these A to D groups feed a mix bus where I apply my top-level processing. Finally, it goes to the master output, where there are only meter readings. In addition, I have my external DAC for headphones, routed to output 7-8 of my interface.
I can do all this in seconds, as demonstrated by Kenny Gioia in the following video:
Similarly to Pro Tools, I can group tracks together, for mixing or editing. However, REAPER supports temporary groups too, as Logic does. Select multiple tracks, quickly manipulate them — volume, pan, solo, mute, etc — and unselect to go back to normal. It works in the track panel as well as in the mixer, and it’s awesome.
Same as for the routing, there is a grouping matrix window, where more complex connections can be applied quickly to the entire project.
In part 2, I’ll be discussing:
- Stock plug-ins