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The HarderFaster guide to Production: Reason - Part One

Reported by Voodoobass / Submitted 19-08-09 12:50

The world of production is a diverse and initially confusing one, with many acronyms, lots of jargon and a host of starting places for you to choose first before you’ve even laid down a single beat. As part of a major new series of articles, HarderFaster has invited a host of producers to run you through the benefits of various production platforms and how to make some simple beats with your chosen programme. We’ll also be investigating various ways of learning to produce. First out of the hat though is correspondent Voodoobass with his in depth guide to Propellerhead’s studio in a box - Reason

What is Reason?

In November 2000, Propellerhead, creators of the revolutionary TB303 simulator Rebirth once again shook up the world of audio production by releasing Reason; a fully self-contained production environment designed to run on even a modest home PC or Mac.

In the same way that Rebirth was a perfect simulation of the original hardware, right down to the individual knobs and buttons, Reason successfully recreated a small project studio by creating synthesisers, drum machines, mixers and effects units in a graphical context that would be familiar to those working with physical hardware rather than the programming-based environment which many conventional musicians found alien, intimidating and counter-intuitive.

The result surpassed merely a studio-in-a-box, becoming a powerful tool which could be used as either a massive modular synthesiser or a complete studio workstation with infinite permutations and combinations of devices, limited only by the user's imagination and their computer's processing power.


Why use Reason?

Now nearly a decade later, Reason is one of tens of competing 'soft studios', each with differing strengths and weaknesses, however its unique approach means it still stands apart from the pack. Its detractors like to call it a toy, citing weaknesses in its audio processing algorithms, the inability to use external VST or DX plugins and Propellerhead's refusal to introduce audio recording as found in Reason's main competitors.

The fact of the matter remains, however, that in the right hands and with the application of a bit of lateral thinking, Reason produces results to rival and even surpass its competitors and even has a few tricks up its sleeve that are difficult, if not impossible to recreate easily elsewhere. Shunning the VST and DX standards means the program is extremely stable and uses far less CPU power than other workstations, and the use of the ReWire protocol means if you absolutely must use external FX or synths, Reason's output can be routed into an external host for further processing or to be used alongside other VSTis.

Audio can be recorded in a variety of other programs and be imported into Reason fairly painlessly and furthermore, Propellerhead recently launched the public beta of Record, a new audio application that integrates perfectly with Reason, which should satisfy those requiring full DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) functionality. Record also works as a stand-alone product and I will be looking into it in a future article.

Further proof that Reason is emphatically not a 'toy' can be found in the testimonials of the legion of established producers that use Reason for part or all of their music-making process. Claude VonStroke, Brian Transeau aka BT, Mixmaster Mike (Beastie Boys), Dave Spoon, A Guy Called Gerald and Luke Vibert have all gone on record as die-hard users, and the Prodigy's Liam Howlett has revealed that Reason was responsible for the majority of the production on their recent 'Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned' album.

Working with Reason

The immediate appeal of Reason lies in its apparent simplicity. The software comes with two Soundbank CDs, one containing patches for the various devices and a whole host of studio-quality drum hits, stabs and loop samples, and the other loaded with a full compliment of orchestral samples which are actually much more useful than you might initially think. Armed merely with the software installed to your laptop and a USB/MIDI keyboard (optional but necessary in my opinion) you can start making music straight away.

The mixer

Anyone who has connected turntables to a DJ mixer or worked with a multi-track recorder should be able to get their heads around the way the Reason rack works in a very short time indeed. Starting with an empty rack, a few clicks of the mouse will create a mixer, a drum machine to lay down a beat and any of a variety of synths and samplers to handle leads, bass, pads and anything else you might think of, all hooked up and ready to go.

Those coming from a pure hardware background will find the step-sequencer on the ReDrum drum machine works exactly as they'd expect from an 808 or 909 style drum machine, and the 'Matrix' sequencer device functions in a similar fashion. Those already familiar with 'traditional' sequencers will probably prefer to draw notes and hits directly into the piano roll with the mouse, or use a MIDI keyboard or drum pad to play them in.

So far so easy – but you can go so much deeper. Press the TAB key and a whole new world of possibilities opens up. The rack flips to reveal a load of cables and sockets that allow you to route the audio from the various devices through chains of effects. However, the real killer here is Reason's take on the use of 'CV'. 'CV' stands for Control Voltage, and is based on the pre-MIDI system that early synths used to talk to each other. Put simply, it allows you to do a number of things, such as triggering a synth with a drum machine (useful if you want to beef up a kick with a tweakable sub-bass sine wave, or create an 'analogue' drum kit based around tweakable, synthesised sounds), use the LFO from one of the samplers or synths to automate a parameter on an effect device, create stuttering gate effects or rhythmically change the pitch of a sample – the list is nearly endless.

Almost any device in Reason can vastly alter the attributes of any other. The Combinator device allows you package up many instruments and effects into a 'rack within a rack' for ease of use, so with a bit of creativity and layering different patches and devices, you can quickly build a track from complex, deep-sounding instruments that rival the lushest pads and gnarliest leads of powerhouse hardware workstations like the legendary Korg Triton. You have infinite oscillators, multi-timbrality and effects, you can use your own samples as synth waveforms or textures and so on - the only limiting factor is your CPU. Sure, programs like Native Instruments Reaktor might be more powerful as a modular synthesiser but it lacks the ease of use, has far higher processing requirements, must be used within an external program for playback and sequencing, and also costs £100 more than Reason itself.

The Combinator

To sum up, I'll quote Liam Howlett, whose opinion on Reason should be enough to compel anyone to try it out:

“I bought myself a laptop, which completely reanimated my creative process because I was able to write anywhere I went. At one point someone told me to check out this program Reason, "It's really back to basics, you should check it out just for fun, you know?" So I did - I started out just writing beats on it and approached it in a sort of recreational sense, like you would a computer game. Then I'd go off somewhere like Scotland or New York and I'd take my laptop with me, with all my samples on the hard drive... and then it all just started happening. Reason was just like... it totally refreshed me, it was just amazing. It was like going back to how it was in the beginning. All of a sudden I was writing two or three songs a week, just messing around and having a laff again. I started something with it and got it rocking in ten minutes. That took a lot of pressure off of me. If Reason hadn't come along I would probably still be in my studio, depressed, going "aww bloody 'ell, don't know what I'm gonna do"

Next week:

Next week we’ll look at making a 32 bar section of a track, so you can gain a better understanding of the musical process in this impressive programme.

Get your FREE trial copy:

If you haven’t already got the programme you can download a free demo from Propellerhead here for both PC and Mac platforms. With all the usual features, the demo is only save/export disabled and quits after 20 minutes, giving you more than enough time to have a good look around.

Rebirth is also available completely free from this link

Like it? Then buy it:

You can purchase Reason direct from Propellerhead by following this link

Jargon Buster

VST: Virtual Studio Technology, an interface standard for software plugins to work with audio software, usually but not limited to instruments (VSTi) or effects.

DX: DirectX, another plugin audio standard.

MIDI: Musical Instrument Digital Interface, standard protocol for connect electronic equipment, musical instruments and computers together.

DAW: Digital Audio Workstation, the basis for any music production tying in your instruments, recordings, MIDI and such forth.

Screenshots and logos used for educational purposes only. Not to be reproduced without permission.
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Other Features By Voodoobass:
Notes from Glade 2012
The HarderFaster guide to Production: Reason - Part Two
Track Arranging 101 - from loops to magnum opus - Part 2.
Track Arranging 101 - from loops to magnum opus - Part 1.
There will be mud! Waveform Festival: Reviewed
The views and opinions expressed in this review are strictly those of the author only for which HarderFaster will not be held responsible or liable.

From: lowkey on 20th Aug 2009 22:55.10
Good work Voodoobass, keep it up. I hope in a later feature you will give us some tasty tips 'n' tricks for when on a CV flex.

From: NeonBlue on 21st Aug 2009 09:56.34
Nice one dude, I've been waiting for a Reason production article for a while now. Looking forward to future installments.

From: Safe As Fuck on 27th Aug 2009 08:34.40
Useful information! Look forward to more...

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