Use Reaper's groups, folders and matrices to organise your mix project.
Are ill-organised mix projects causing you headaches and confusion? We've all been there, wishing halfway through the project that we'd spent time arranging the countless tracks into a sensible order and producing submixes to establish a smoother mixing experience. Reaper's folders and groups are your most useful allies in the quest for calm, and this tutorial suggests some practical approaches for managing large projects using these functions. We also take a look at the Routing Matrix and the Track Grouping Matrix for keeping tabs on these aspects on a global level, plus the ever-useful Track Manager.
Before establishing folders and groups, the usual common-sense conventions apply for making the mix layout as clear as possible. This includes intuitive track naming — using abbreviations where required — and dragging tracks into a logical order in the track list: perhaps vocals, rhythm section, chord instruments, and so on. I find it useful to place instruments that are panned in opposition next to each other in the track list. I think it gives a feel for the overall left/right balance when mixing. For example, a string pad panned mid-left and a rhythm guitar positioned mid-right could be adjacent to each other on the virtual mixer.
The Track Manager is also helpful at this stage for swiftly hiding and muting tracks that are not required in the final mix. The panel is accessible from the View menu and, from v4.10 onwards, includes a valuable Freeze function for taking load off the CPU in a busy track. Further options are available here, including track locking and a bypass for plug-in delay compensation (PDC).
Submixing is used to control a collection of tracks with a single fader, and to apply additional processing to them. This is most neatly achieved in Reaper via a combination of signal routing and placing the selected tracks in a folder. In the following example, tracks corresponding to four individual drum-kit microphones will be placed into a submix:
Once you've assigned the tracks to the submix, the Drums Sub fader acts as a master level control for the drum kit, and processing, such as compression and EQ, can be applied to the entire kit using effects inserts. Some treatment may require the tracks to be routed to more than one submix at a time, which can easily be achieved in a few clicks via the Routing Matrix.
To make things tidier in the mixer view, we'll now place the drum kit tracks in a folder track that is 'governed' by the Drums Sub track:
Track groups can be used to further improve mix ergonomics. Useful applications include ganging together volume controls for an instrument that has two or more faders, and the grouping of mutes and solos to allow for fast A-B switching when working on a specific section of instruments. Like many Reaper functions, this is pretty easy to implement. In this example, we add the two drum-overhead tracks to a group and explore some of the available group parameters:
Once the Group Parameters box pops up, you can proceed to specify which controls are linked in the group (typically, these will include volume, mute and solo). This is achieved by ticking the appropriate tick boxes for both master and slave tracks. There's also the option to rename the group, using the button at the top of the box, should you wish to. Once you have started to select parameters, a coloured indicator will appear next to the relevant control to show that it is part of a group. You may temporarily override a linked control at any time by holding down the Shift key as you manipulate it.
The Track Grouping Matrix (from the View menu) can be used for creating further groups and gaining precise control over group parameters. The Matrix displays an overview of all groups, including an indication of the tracks in each group and the active linked controls. Group membership and parameters can be freely modified by clicking in the appropriate boxes, and groups enabled/disabled by clicking on the box next to the group name. Many possibilities are opened up by these facilities. For example, the drum overheads here are panned fairly hard left and right, and you might like to experiment with reducing or increasing their stereo width — perhaps to overcome the relatively common problem of a hole in the middle of the stereo field developing when spaced cardioids are panned too hard, or perhaps just to create a 'larger than life' stereo image for them. Linked reverse panning ensures that the controls remain proportional to the original values set while moving in opposite directions to each other:
This tutorial touches on the most basic possibilities afforded by the Track Manager, Routing Matrix and Track Group Matrix. Lots of creative possibilities are available if you're feeling adventurous. Examples include routing signals to multiple submixes for parallel dynamics processing, and the assignment of master and slave tracks when adding linked controls in the track groups. Why not have a go at experimenting with these features before your next large mix project?