A little preparation in Reason should see you ready for anything.
Last month we considered how you can personalise your Reason experience, creating favourite patch collections and storing useful file system locations in the Patch Browser. There are further things you can do to get Reason working as you want it to, and such personalisation can dramatically speed up the way you work, as we'll discover this month.
When you create a new Song, Reason looks at your settings in the General page of its Preferences. There are two main choices: to start with an Empty rack, or open a factory Template. The template called 'Empty + FX.fsndemo' seems to be a default. Either way, your starting point can all too easily be a bare bones rack that needs many devices created, and decisions to be made, before you can get any MIDI or audio down.
How different might it be if your new songs had all your favourite gear in place and organised in the rack, mixer send effects configured, sounds loaded, and sequencer tracks named and just waiting to be filled? Achieving this is really easy. Make a new, empty song as usual, and set it up exactly as you like. Save it, with a descriptive name, to a folder in your file system that's not likely to get chucked away, like Windows' My Documents or OS X's Documents. Then in Preferences, in the General tab, under Default Song, select Template and click the folder button to the right. In the file dialogue box that appears, navigate to and choose your new 'starting point' song you just saved. And that's it!
If you like the idea of this, but need a choice of starting points — perhaps one for MIDI work, one for audio recording, one for tracking a band setup, for example — you can store your prototype songs in the 'official' template location. Go to File menu / New from Template and choose Show Template Folder. That opens the location where Reason's factory templates are stored (and feel free to move or chuck these if you never use them). Then you can move your own templates in, and they'll be conveniently accessible from the File menu from that moment on.
While Reason can open where it stores its new song templates for you, as we've seen, it's good practice to know how to get there manually too. In OS X it's [your username]/Library/Application Support/Propellerhead Software/Reason/Template Songs. In Windows 7 and 8 it's C:\Users\[your username]\AppData\Roaming\Propellerhead Software\Reason\Template Songs. Trouble is, recent versions of OS X hide the user Library folder, and similarly the AppData folder may also be hidden in Windows. On OS X you can get at that pesky hidden Library folder by clicking the Finder's Go menu while holding down the Alt key, and choosing it. And on Windows try Control Panel / Folder Options / View tab and choose to show hidden files, folders and drives.
Unlike some other DAWs, Reason has no specific facility for saving and recalling mixer channel strip presets. That's a shame, as it can be really handy to call up carefully crafted EQ, insert effects and dynamics setups, and especially so if you're trying to get good consistency across a number of separate songs that have a similar musician and instrumentation line-up.
However, there is a roundabout way to achieve exactly this. You copy entire channel/track setups into a separate song that exists purely to store them. From there you can then copy their settings back into any other song when you need to. Here's the way it might work:
1. In the mixer, find the channel whose settings you want to save, right-click it anywhere outside of any knobs or buttons, and choose Copy Channels and Tracks.
2. Create a new empty song, make sure nothing is selected, and in an empty area of the rack or mixer right-click and choose Paste Channels and Tracks.
3. Rename the new track/channel with what is, essentially, a preset name — you might choose to call it 'channel strip settings store' or similar, so it's really clear what its role is — then save and close the song.
4. When you're working in another song and want to recall a channel strip, open your special 'store' project, locate the mixer channel that carries the settings you want, right-click it and choose Copy Channel Settings. That lets you copy just individual sections — Dynamics, Filters and EQ, Insert FX or FX Sends — or all of them.
5. Back in the song you're working on, right-click the channel to which you want to transfer the copied settings, and choose Paste Channel Settings.
I've often commented on the challenge of keeping Reason's rack manageable, which gets harder and harder the more devices you have. Something that does help though — and lets you to some extent put your personal mark in the Reason rack — are the little 'spacer' rack extensions available from shop.propellerheads.se. They don't generate or process audio or CV, but they aren't half useful!
Completely free to download is Selig Audio's ReMark. When created in the rack it's a normal Reason 'scribble strip' that can be renamed, but there's also a text field on the front panel. Just double-click it to add notes, reminders or descriptions. Use the rear-panel pop-up menu (or vertically drag it into the left or right of the front panel) to introduce some coloured panels, adding in even more visual cues.
Relabeler is a variation on the same theme, and for €7.50 gives you three coloured text areas on the front panel when it's open, another one when it's closed, and two on the rear. There are accompanying knobs too, that display different colours when turned. Those knobs seem pretty random, and this RE is hardly a thing of beauty, but who knows, for some users it may fit the bill exactly.
The plainest rack divider RE is Peff's €7.50 Spacre; it's just a grey panel. The extra depth really helps with the visual separation though, and in fact there are five hidden text areas front and rear, revealed with a double-click, that allow a meaningful amount of space for notes. .
The release of yet another two oscillator subtractive soft synths risks receiving a giant 'meh...' from the more world-weary amongst us. Or worse, the tumbleweed treatment. But Kilohearts' kHs One is arguably something a little bit special. It comes with a nice complement of patches, unashamedly shiny and electro in style but not obsessed with vintage roots. It's also got a really cool, purposeful UI. The onboard Chorus, Delay and EQ are simple and effective. But most of all, it just sounds superb, with all the weight, immediacy and sparkle you could ever want. It's €79$99 from shop.propellerheads.se.
If you prefer your synths a bit dirtier and more unstable, FXpansion's €39$49 Tres monosynth is going to fit the bill. Another familiar subtractive design, this uses FXpansion's DCAM circuit-modelling and has some unusual features, like a high-frequency emphasis section before the filter section. Then there are three multimode filter types available, including two based on Japanese analogue hardware synths. Surprisingly, Tres has no on-board effects, and just a mono output, but with a complex onboard modulation system (and some superb Combinator patches provided) it sounds nothing if not complex, with a kind of exciting volatility you don't often associate with virtual synths.
Another notable new rack extension is Kuassa's Amplifikation Vermillion guitar amp, and it's a very welcome alternative to Reason's bundled Line 6 amps. There are three amp types, clean and overdriven inputs, and five different cabinets. In fact you can have two different cabinets at once, each equipped with flexible virtual miking options. I also like the fact that the amp, cabinets and onboard effects (tremolo and spring reverb) can be switched in and out independently of one another. That makes this a useful thing not just for guitarists. The price is right too, at just €32$39.