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Making Your Own Reason Refill

Reason Tips & Techniques
By Derek Johnson

If you've never made a Refill from your Reason creations, now may be the time to give it a go. It's an easy process that can offer various benefits.

One of the best things about Reason — and this is a program that offers many best things — is the plentiful extra content supplied commercially by professional programmers or for free by other users. This extra content invariably comes in the form of Refills — self-contained packages of Reason device patches, samples, REX-format loops, songs and other material. Right from the beginning of Reason, Propellerheads have promoted the creation of Refills by users. In parallel with the initial release of the software and its subsequent updates, compatible versions of Refill Packer were made available. This no-frills application is free to registered users and puts the making of Refills within anybody's reach.Making Your Own Reason Refill

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And why would you want to create your own Refill? Surely all your patches, songs and samples are perfectly safe and accessible on your computer's hard drive? Well, perhaps you'd like to give something back after hoovering up every free Refill you can find on-line. Or, having explored other users' approach to programming, you might like to show off what you're capable of. If you collaborate with other Reason users, sharing Refills ensures that you have access to the same patches and samples. Finally, any samples in a Refill are compressed to about half their original size via a lossless compression algorithm, the samples uncompressing on playback in the same way as samples within factory Refills. Collections of synth patches are are also smaller in the Refill package than on your hard drive. Another reason to pack!

Your motivation might alternatively be similar to mine: I wanted an easy way to move all my current Reason-related material from Mac to PC and welcomed an opportunity to clean up and archive the samples I use in Reason. I've also found that with Reason 3 's change of file-browsing system it's been easier to tell the program where samples are when it loses track of them!

Before We Begin

Using Refill Packer is very straightforward, but it is a rigidly logical program. It pays to be organised when planning your Refill, but you'll find it helpful to organise your Reason material logically even if you don't plan to immediately turn it into a Refill.Any problems encountered by Refill Packer produce this alert.Any problems encountered by Refill Packer produce this alert.

First of all, you need to know what can go in a Refill — an alien file in a folder of data you'd like to pack will cause an error. Reason songs can be included (with the file extender .rsn), as can 'published songs' (.rps — see 'Do you need to Refill?' box). Standard MIDI Files can also be included. Any patches for patch-capable devices can obviously be included — the Combinator (.cmb) meta device, Subtractor and Malström synths (.zyp and .xwv), the RV7000 reverb (.rv7), Scream 4 distortion (.sm4) and the sample-based devices. Patches for NN19 (.smp), NNXT (.sxt) and Redrum (.drp) not only save front-panel parameter settings but also tags to the samples necessary to complete the patch.

Speaking of samples, they may be packed into a Refill in AIFF or WAV format. The Dr:Rex device loads and plays back loops processed by Propellerhead's Recycle package, so current and legacy files from this package (file extenders .rx2, .rcy and .rex) can be stuffed into the Refill too. Surprisingly, Soundfont files can also come to the party, though only samples and presets from a Soundfont bank — not the whole Soundfont. This is handy, since data within Soundfonts can be easily accessed by Reason 's sample-based devices. Finally, the Refill can also contain a text and JPEG-format 'splash' image, which lets you add your own descriptive text and copyright info, plus one graphic piece of 'flair', if desired.

An example of a fairly tidily arranged folder from which to produce a Refill. Note the info.txt and splash.jpg files that must be in any folder that you'd like to pack.An example of a fairly tidily arranged folder from which to produce a Refill. Note the info.txt and splash.jpg files that must be in any folder that you'd like to pack.

A word now about file extenders. In Mac versions of Reason, it's possible to save patches and songs without them. Windows always saves with extenders, although they may or may not be visible. The Reason manual gives the impression that if you'd like to share data created on a Mac with a PC version of Reason, your patches and Songs should have the file extenders included. In my experience, though, Mac Reason files that have been packed into a Refill without file extenders (and this includes samples) show up in the browser and load just fine on a PC. There may be situations where this is not the case, though, and it may be worth using extenders if you plan to swap files from Mac to PC, just to be on the safe side. That said, a backlog of 'extenderless' files could be a pain to amend. Try packing the Refill first to see if there are problems; if not, great. If there are, it might be time to delve into Mac OS X's scripting to add the necessary file extenders en masse.

On a similar topic, the way in which samples in WAV format are generally associated with the PC and AIFFs with the Mac is not an issue for Reason: the software on either platform can load either format. So if your sample collection is exclusively in one format, or even if it's in a variety of formats, bit rates and sampling frequencies, don't worry: Reason will probably cope. If you feel like tidying up the collection before packing, look out for batch processing in your audio editor. On the Mac, I use i3's DSP-Quattro for all my editing, and a recent update added a brilliant batch processor. With it, I can set format, sample rate, bit depth, and even stereo or mono playback, for as many samples as I like at once.

Do you need to Refill?

If you're planning to distribute or share your work in some way, have a think about the best way to do it. Certainly, a collection of Subtractor patches will be best bunged into a Refill. But if you're sharing a song or two with a collaborator, you may prefer to create 'self-contained' songs rather than saving the songs and samples in a Refill. This type of song grabs all the samples used by the song and saves them in the one file (again, in compressed format). The recipient of the file will be able to extract your patches and samples, work with them and return their efforts to you.

The 'published' song format is similar in that it saves all patches and samples into a single file. It differs from the self-contained format in that it's 'read-only': another user can't extract data from it or save changes made to it. Thus this format is used for demo material and distribution on the Internet.

The Organisation

If you're lucky, you've been quite organised with your Reason files from the start, but even if you haven't, organisation doesn't have to be too fussy. Simply creating device-specific folders for patches will make navigating a Refill created from your collection a lot easier. I personally have a patch folder located in my Reason folder, and inside this there are folders for each device. You might find it helpful, especially if you're programming a lot of patches, to create themed sub-folders. I admit that this has not been my approach, and when I hunt for patches in Subtractor, especially, I end up scrolling through a list of hundreds. You may not like to be tied down conceptually, but some of your patches are going to be mainly suitable as basses, analogue kick drums and so on. If so, stick them in their own folder.Refill Packer in action: it looks even more plain when you've just booted it up! The info.txt file is responsible for much of the text that you see, although the program itself counts all the files that will appear in the resulting Refill before processing begins. No external Refills are referenced in this example.Refill Packer in action: it looks even more plain when you've just booted it up! The info.txt file is responsible for much of the text that you see, although the program itself counts all the files that will appear in the resulting Refill before processing begins. No external Refills are referenced in this example.

Samples and REX loops are another issue entirely. You may keep your samples in a central folder, which is fine, but collecting drum samples in a dedicated folder that's stored inside the Redrum patch folder may make for a more easily navigable Refill. Likewise, samples that are used by NN19 and NNXT could be similarly arranged, and REX loops stowed in their own folder entirely (perhaps organised in stylistic or tempo-related folders). This level of organisation assumes that you've finished editing your samples and tweaking your REX loops, and are happy with your current patch collection. Any material, especially songs, that you consider works in progress are probably best left out of a Refill at this stage.

If you start creating a hierarchical organisation of your patches, samples and songs after months or years of relative chaos there will be a further step or two to deal with. Sample-based patches and songs may not know where their samples are located, which leaves you having to recreate the link. There's no quick way: you'll have to load the patch or song, have Reason relocate the missing files, then re-save the reconstructed data. You may get the urge to re-name sample files during this spring-cleaning process, but don't! It's easy enough to replace missing samples with your choice of samples from your hard drive, but if you're recreating existing patches it can be hard to remember the name of the re-titled sample and its relationship to the original file name.Once completed, your Refill will be recognised by Reason. Here, a dedicated REX-loop Refill is being browsed via Reason's 'Create device from patch' option.Once completed, your Refill will be recognised by Reason. Here, a dedicated REX-loop Refill is being browsed via Reason's 'Create device from patch' option.

Let's Do It

Let's now assume that you have a nicely organised collection of patches and samples, and maybe even songs. If you want to test the water, start with a folder full of Subtractor patches: there's little that can go wrong with these. When you download and install Refill Packer you'll be provided with a little sample folder that also offers an easy test of the packing procedure.

  • When you start the process for real, the first thing you should do is make sure all your Reason data is backed up. The packing process does not change, damage or in any way mess with your data, but it's best to be safe.
  • Now locate the Template Folder that was also part of the Refill Packer installation. The info.txt file and a splash.jpg image you'll find in here are used by the software to customise how your Refill will appear in the Reason browser. Copy the Template Folder and then edit the info.txt doc with a text editor. The basic shape of this file shouldn't be changed, but by putting the right bits in the right place you'll give your Refill its name and provide a copyright date, your URL and whatever comments you'd like to share with the recipient of the Refill.
  • You can also replace the splash image with the JPEG of your choice, though it has to be 64x64 pixels in size and called 'splash.jpg'. Whatever you do, you'll need both these files: Refill Packer will present an error report if they're missing.
  • At this point, drop all the files to be included in the Refill into the copy of the Template Folder. Alternatively, drag the text file and JPEG to your Reason data folder. Now open Refill Packer.
  • Choose your Input Folder, from the menu or by clicking on the folder next to the 'Input Folder' entry in the window. Navigate to the location of the Template Folder copy you've just created (or the folder that you've just added the text and splash image to). This will cause the text and image to fill up most of the rest of the window.
  • Now choose the Output File. Specify the location on your hard drive where you'd like the Refill to be saved and a name pops up in the window. It'll be the name you added to the info.txt file, with a '.rfl' extender (rather than the name of the folder where your original data is stored).
  • Click the 'Create Refill' button.

If anything goes wrong, Refill Packer gives you the opportunity to save a text file that lists the problem — in this case, missing sample files.If anything goes wrong, Refill Packer gives you the opportunity to save a text file that lists the problem — in this case, missing sample files.With any luck, a progress bar will chug away, files in the putative Refill will be counted, then the Refill will be created. It could take some time if there are lots of samples and REX files involved or just a few seconds or minutes with a set of Subtractor patches. If there are any problems, this is when you'll discover them. I found that my main problems were bad links between Songs or patches and samples — not all the samples I used were in my Reason folder! (A secondary problem related to incompatible sample formats left over from editing sessions.) Luckily, RP generates a report file that describes the problems encountered (see the screen below). Move the samples to the folder being packed and the next run will be fine.

Another issue might arise if the Refill you're trying to create makes reference to material found in other Refills. Refill Packer has an option to warn you of references to such material, and can also add a list of external Refills to the new Refill's descriptive text. If the reference is to one of the factory Refills, there's no problem, since anyone accessing your Refill will have the same set. There will also be no problem if the new Refill is just for your use or aimed at a collaborator who has the same collection of third-party Reason material as you. But if the new Refill is to be distributed more widely, you can't count on every user having all your Refills, so it's probably best to winnow out any patches or devices that refer to these external Refills.

There is one potential problem that won't be flagged: REX loops that have too many slices for Dr:Rex to load. The device only handles loops of up to 92 slices, so it's a waste of time and space including such loops in your Refill. Even if you've been organised, your REX folder might have the odd file meant for a different application, or stragglers and working versions. Part of your preparation, then, might be a quick scrolling audition session via the Reason browser: files with too many slices pop up an error message. You can log them and fix or delete them before creating your Refill.

Published September 2005