In the first of this two-part series on drum editing in Reaper, we look at getting your transients to land perfectly on the grid.
In the first of this two-part series, we're going to go through the steps of editing a multi-miked drum kit so that the drums conform to the grid. Basically, we're quantising a live drum performance to be in perfect time. There are many reasons for wanting to do this. You might have a sloppy drummer who doesn't play very tightly or in time; you might be adding the drums to pre-recorded parts that were played to a click; or you might be locking the performance to other electronic elements like loops, samples or programming that you need to stay in sync.
To begin, determine which tracks you'll want to detect transients from. In other words, what hits are going to land right on the grid and be timing references? Will it be simply kick and snare, or will you also include hi-hats and ride? Using hi-hats (or rides) may be more accurate but may also create a more robotic feel, and I usually find I can get away with just using the kick and snare, allowing the hi-hats to roam freely in the spaces. There may also be tom hits or fills that you're going to want on the grid.
Once you have a good idea of what you'll be placing on the grid, it's time to adjust preferences and options. One of the best things about Reaper is how customisable it is, but that also means that each Reaper system can behave quite differently. It's important that you're using the right preferences and options so that your system responds correctly to the technique we'll be using here.
Go to Preferences, and under Project/Media Item Defaults, un-tick 'Create automatic fade-in/fade-out for new items' and 'Overlap and crossfade items when splitting'. Under the Options menu, un-tick 'Auto-crossfade media items when editing' and 'Trim content behind media items when editing'. The 'Trim content' option makes it impossible to put multiple items on top of one another without replacing (or trimming) the first one. I normally leave this option on, but you'll see in the following steps why it's beneficial to turn it off for now.
Next create a new track or 'dummy' track. You'll only be using this track to copy the items you want to detect the transient information from. It won't actually be heard or used past the editing stage. The purpose of doing this is to make it easier to see the transients from multiple tracks all in the same place. You could do it directly on the individual tracks that you have already, but then you'd have to deal with multiple stages of splitting (one for kick, one for snare, and so on) and work on items that have already been split. So it gets messy very quickly!
If you're going to use just the kick and snare track to detect transients, you can copy-drag your kick and snare items to this dummy track. (On the PC, hold down Control and drag. On the Mac, hold down Command and drag.) You can do the same with the hi-hat or ride if necessary. For tom hits that are used in fills (and used as a timing reference), separate them into items just in the areas where they play and drag them to the dummy track as well. If the drum part is complex, I encourage you to work on small sections at a time: intro, verse, chorus, for example. This way you can see and fix problems more effectively. If the process is going smoothly, you can begin to work on bigger sections at a time.
When you have multiple items on the same track, it may be hard to see them all at the same time. To fix this:
You now need to group all of the drum items on all of the tracks, including the dummy item. This is important, because when you quantise a multi-miked drum kit, you don't want to be moving items separately from track to track, as the spill will conflict between drums. In other words, if you move the kick item separately from the snare item (ungrouped), the kick spill from the snare item would no longer line up with the actual kick item, causing phase issues and other weird anomalies. It's thus imperative to quantise all of the drum items together, using Reaper's item grouping.
Just select all of the drum items, right-click and choose Group/Group items. Then right-click the Item Grouping icon in the toolbar and make sure that the 'Selecting one item selects group' option is turned off. This allows you to select just the dummy item while keeping it grouped with all of the other drum items for editing purposes.
Finally, it's time to quantise the items so that the transients that have been detected land on the grid:
Listen back to the drum recording. It should sound tight, but you may well notice spaces in the performance where Reaper moved items but didn't fill the gaps. Next month, we'll be looking at how to smoothly fill those gaps. See you then!