5 Ways To Turbo-Power Your Drum Tracks In Propellerhead Reason/Record
Who has time to read a 1,000-page manual? Not me. Propellerhead has worked hard to keep the user interface of its Reason/Record software combo as clear and easy to use as possible, but even so, there’s a lot to learn. In this article I’ll show you a few of the many sound-design techniques you can use in Reason/Record to edit or spice up your recorded drum tracks. Along the way you’ll meet some techniques that you may want to explore further, either by grabbing things with the mouse or by dipping into the manual.
Reason and Record are available separately. Reason supplies a powerful set of MIDI-based synthesizers, while Record does the multitrack audio recording. If you own both programs, they work seamlessly together. Several of the tips in this article use Reason devices for processing Record tracks. From here out, I’ll just call the combo Reason, but be aware that by itself Reason won’t let you record your own drums, guitar, or vocals. For that, you need Record.
Fig 1 Sound design power is a specialty of the Reason/Record duo. Hit the Tab key to flip the rack modules around, and you’ll see dozens of ways to make connections using patch cords. Patch connections can be made by dragging with the mouse. The power cords on the modules are fake, however, which may give you an idea of Propellerhead’s attention to detail.
Before we get started, open up Reason and hit the computer’s Tab key. This key flips the rack of Reason modules around, allowing you to get at the patch points on the rear panel, as shown in Fig. 1. To get the most out of Reason, you need to learn your way around the rear panel.
The jacks are used for making both audio connections and control connections. Reason uses the term “CV,” which stands for control voltage, but this is simply a convenient hold-over from the day of analog synthesis. The signals used aren’t actually voltages.
The rear panel turns Reason into a single, integrated modular instrument. CV outputs on one module can feed CV inputs on another module. Audio signals can be split, processed, and then remixed to produce complex signal processing chains.
When you create a module (by right-clicking in an empty part of the rack), Reason will make some basic audio connections for you automatically. If you create a new Thor synthesizer, for instance, it will be patched to the main mixer. If you don’t want these automatic connections because you’re planning to do some fancy patching of your own, hold down Shift while choosing the module from the menu.
Fig 2 The Vocoder is being used as an insert effect in the drum track (upper area), but not in the conventional way. It’s strictly an envelope follower tracking the kick drum. In the lower area is a pad track (being played by the Subtractor synth at the bottom). The level of the pad is being controlled by the CV output of the Vocoder. The rear panel of this setup is shown in Fig. 1.
Reason gives you several different ways to control the loudness of one signal from another signal. For instance, you might want to duck the level of the bass track slightly each time your kick drum hits, so that the kick doesn’t get buried or so you can raise the level of the whole mix slightly without worrying about the peaks where the kick and the bass land on the same beat.
The usual way of doing this is to route the audio signal that you want to use as the dynamics control into the sidechain input of a compressor, and route the signal that you want to be controlled (the bass, a pad, or whatever) into the compressor’s main audio input. The compressor will then duck the main audio signal each time it sees a loud signal at the sidechain input.
In Reason/Record, you can set this up either with the compressor section of the main mixer, or using an MClass Compressor module.
But let’s say you’ve recorded your whole kit in stereo. Isolating the kick hits so as to send them to the compressor’s sidechain input would be a bit tricky. Instead, we’re going to solve the problem using Reason’s rear-panel CV connections. We’re going to do some sidechaining without sidechaining.
First, find the Audio Track module in the rack that corresponds to the mixer channel strip for the drums. In Fig. 2, this module is cleverly named “drums.” Click its Show Insert FX button. In the insert FX area, create a Spider Audio Merger & Splitter and a Vocoder. (The Vocoder module is available only when you own Reason.) Flip around to the rear panel and patch the To Device output from the Audio Track module to the Spider’s splitter section. Route one pair of the Spider’s outputs straight back to the From Device inputs: This way, you’ll hear the drums exactly as you did before.
Patch one of the splitter outputs into the Modulation Input of the Vocoder. The Vocoder has a separate CV output for each of 16 frequency bands. If you watch its front panel while the drums play, you should see a peak in the left bar graph each time the kick hits.
Open up the Mix or Audio Track rack module for the channel that you want to be ducked. In its Insert FX area, create a Spider CV Merger & Splitter. We’re going to use this Spider to invert the CV signal coming from the Vocoder. Patch output 1 from the Individual Band Level jacks of the Vocoder into the Spider CV’s Split A input, and route the Inv (inverted) output from the Split A section to the Level CV In on the Mix or Audio Track module. Turn the Level knob here up or down to taste (probably down). At this point, the audio signal in this channel will duck each time the kick drum is played.
There are various ways to refine this patch. You can try playing with the Decay knob on the front of the Vocoder. Or route the CV from your kick drum to other parameters, such as the pitch input of a synth.
Fig. 3. A front view of the dub snare insert effects setup.
Fig. 4. This block diagram shows how to connect the devices in Fig. 3. Note: All of these connections are stereo.
Fig. 5. Automation data for turning up the Aux Send knob in the channel 1 of the upper 6:2 mixer in Fig. 3. The snare hit visible in the waveform will enter the dub delay.
2. DUB SNARE
The syncopated echo of a snare hit has been a staple of dub music practically forever, and there are still times when it’s the right touch. Getting this effect in Reason takes a bit of extra patching, because Reason’s DDL-1 Delay Line module has no filter in its feedback loop. Instead of using the DDL’s built-in feedback, we have to route its output through a filter (the ECF-42 module is ideal for this) and then back into its input.
The danger with this patch is that if you’re not careful, you can generate runaway feedback, thus possibly damaging your speakers or even your ears! Please set up the patch carefully, with all the knobs turned down, and then raise the knobs slowly until you hear the echoes.
Again, we’re going to assume you’ve recorded your drums to a stereo mix. So the first step is to isolate the snare hit that you want to have an echo. One way to do this is to slice the audio track and copy the short segment containing the snare hit to a different track. But to explore Reason’s extremely useful track automation capabilities, let’s do the whole effect within a single stereo drum channel.
Open up the Insert FX slot for the Audio Track module. As shown in Fig. 3, create two 6:2 Line Mixers, a DDL-1, an ECF-42 filter, and a Spider Audio Merger & Splitter. You should create all of these while holding the Shift key, so that Reason won’t patch any of them for you automatically.
Name the first line mixer “Result” and the second “Delay In.” Name the Spider “Filter Output.” After turning down all the mixer knobs and also turning down the DDL’s Feedback knob, use Tab to go to the rear panel and patch as follows:
1) The Audio Track To Device output should go (in stereo – all these connections are stereo) to the first input of the Result mixer.
2) The Master Out of Result should go to From Device on the Audio Track. Now you’ll hear your drum track, just as before.
3) Patch the output of the ECF-42 to the splitter inputs of the Spider.
4) Patch the first outputs of the Spider splitter to channel 2 of Result, and the second outputs of the Spider splitter to the channel 1 inputs of the Delay In mixer.
5) Patch the outputs of the DDL to the inputs of the ECF.
6) Patch the Master Outs of the Delay In mixer to, obviously, the inputs of the DDL.
7) Finally, patch the Aux Send jacks of the Result mixer to input 2 of the Delay In mixer. The Aux Send will provide the input for the entire delay effect.
Your patching should correspond to the block diagram in Fig. 4.
So far, nothing will be happening, because we’re not sending anything to the delay circuit. Right-click on the Result mixer and choose “Create Track for Result” from the menu. This will create a new sequencer track into which you can record automation data. Put Reason’s transport in Record, grab the Aux Send knob for channel 1 of the Result mixer, and move the knob up at the point where the snare hit happens. If you want to echo several snare hits, you can do the recordings all in one pass, or you can create a single automation clip, edit it in the sequencer track so that the automation happens exactly where and how you want it (as shown in Fig. 5), and then copy the automation clip forward or backward in the track as needed.
To get the delay circuit working, raise the filter output (from the Spider) and Result knobs in the Delay In mixer, and then raise the Master output knob of this mixer. The filter output knob on this mixer is the circuit’s feedback control. You may also want to tinker with the frequency, envelope amount, and resonance controls on the ECF. But again, be careful! Resonance is a feedback-type effect, so raising the resonance can cause the circuit to go into painful self-oscillation.
Fig. 6. Screaming drums. The compressor is patched before the input of the Scream. The Spider splits the dry sound from the track, feeding it to both the compressor and the EQ. The 6:2 mixer returns the blend of distorted and EQed drums to the channel strip.
3. AS RUDE AS YOU WANNA BE
Reason’s Scream 4 distortion module is a very versatile audio mangler, capable of turning a crisply recorded acoustic drum track into an aggressive wall of noise that would terrify a death metal guitar player. Scream also adds background hiss to the output signal, so scroll up to the top of the Record Mixer and turn on the Gate section.
Scream has no wet/dry control, so if you want to mix dry drums with the distorted signal, you’ll need to add a 6:2 Line Mixer and a Spider Audio Splitter to the insert rack. By putting a PEQ equalizer in line with the dry drum signal, you can boost the thud of the kick, which will add low-end body to the maniacally distorted drums. This setup is shown in Fig. 6. I tend to want to leave the Scream’s Auto (envelope follower) knob all the way down with drum tracks, as it can make the distortion sound squishy. But all the other controls are good fodder for experimentation.
Fig. 7. Creating a mini-sampler in Kong so as to grab a single hit from a recorded drum track.
Fig. 8. After sampling the hit into Kong, it can be trimmed in this edit window.
4. SAMPLE YOURSELF
One of the new features in Reason 5 is the ability to resample the internal audio stream into any of the sample-based instruments. One reason you might want to do this would be if you suddenly have an inspiration for a fill you wish you had played ... but your kit isn’t set up, or you gave back those borrowed mikes. Reason makes it easy to grab single drum hits from an already recorded track, assign them to the pads in a Kong Drum Designer module, and then sequence them using a MIDI track. Let’s take a look at how to do this.
First, go to the sequencer and set the left locator just before the beginning of the hit that you want to sample. You may want to zoom in so you can set the locator precisely, and shut off Snap To Grid so that the locators can be positioned freely. It isn’t necessary to be too precise, though, as long as the left locator is before the start of the hit, because we’re going to truncate the sample later.
Create a Kong in the rack. Click on the first pad, click the down arrow in the lower left corner to Show Drum And FX, and click on the gray arrow in the drum module to choose an NN-Nano sample playback instrument, as shown in Fig. 7.
In the upper left corner of the Record rack, open up the Hardware Interface so the Sampling Input module is visible. Hit the Tab key to turn the rack around. By default, the first pair of audio inputs (from your hardware interface) are routed to the Sampling Input jacks. We don’t want to use the hardware audio inputs, because your drums have already been recorded to a Record track. The easy way to route the output of that track to the Sampling Input is by patching the Ctrl Room Out in the Master Section module to the Sampling Input. If you’re using some processing on the drum track, you may want to bypass it before continuing, so as to sample the drum sound dry. Also, solo the drum track in the main mixer.
Locate the start of playback to the left locator by clicking the L button in the Transport bar. Then click and hold the waveform button in the NN-Nano (not the one in the main Kong panel). Hit your spacebar to start playback. After the drum hit you want to use has played, hit the spacebar again. Your new sample will automatically be assigned to the Kong pad, ready to play.
While the new sample (if it’s the first sample in this song, it will be named Sample 1) is still highlighted in the NN-Nano, click the Edit Sample button just above it. This will open the Edit Sample window (Fig. 8). After using the zoom bar if necessary, adjust the start and end markers to the beginning and end of your hit, and then click the Crop button. Click the Save button, and that’s it. Your drum hit is assigned to a Kong pad, ready to play and process.
Fig. 9. After the hit in the center is dragged to the right to correct its timing, a gap is left in the recorded track. The low-level ambient sound just before the gap has been sliced apart, forming a separate clip. Ctrl-drag its right handle to the right to time-stretch it and fill the gap.
Let’s suppose you’ve played a keeper track, except for that one spot where you got a little excited and hit the kick drum just a tad too early. No need to do a punch-in. You can fix it easily with Reason’s track editing. Here’s how:
First, drag the razor blade tool across the offending kick hit to separate it into its own audio clip. After making sure Snap To Grid is not checked (hit the S key so the check mark disappears from the box), drag the kick slightly to the right, so that it starts a bit later.
At this point, if you solo the track, you may notice that there’s an audible gap. The background noise in the recording, most likely the residual ring from snares or cymbals, will stop for a moment. We’re going to fix that. Grab the razor blade tool again and click in the audio slightly ahead of the gap, creating a short clip that’s mostly just the background sound, as shown in Fig. 9. Then, while holding the Ctrl (Mac: Cmd) key, click on the black arrow at the right end of this short clip and drag it further to the right. This will time-stretch the clip so it will wallpaper over the gap, making your edit seamless.
If you’re already using the Reason/Record duo, I hope this article has given you some fresh ideas on how to use its deeper features. If you’re not currently a Reason/Record owner, you may want to drop by the Web site (propellerheads.se) and download the demo versions. Once you master the essential steps, you can unleash your creativity. I’m consistently amazed by the power of these programs, and I think you will be too.