Home Recording Basics: 3 – Recording tracks

In Home Recording Basics 1 we covered configuring your computer for recording. Home Recording Basics 2 showed you how to create and save a new project. In this installment of Home Recording Basics we are going to talk about recording your first tracks. After going through this tutorial you should be well on your way to a home studio addiction that can last you a lifetime.

Start by opening REAPER and opening the project you created in Part 2 if you do not already have it open. You should see a number of tracks ready to go.

reaper-tracks

If you don’t have any tracks in your project, or would like more, it is easy to add some. Like most things in REAPER there are three ways to add a track:

  • Choose Insert new track from the Track menu -or-
  • Right-click on the track area (directly on one of the tracks or on the blank area below the last track) and choose Insert new track from the popup menu -or-
  • Press Ctrl+T on your keyboard

Select the track you want to record on and give it a name by double-clicking on the name area of the track. The name area of the track is just to the right of the track number. I am going to record a backing track from my iPod so I have named my track “backing track”.

reaper-track name

Naming tracks in REAPER before you record them serves two important functions. There is the obvious benefit that you will be able to tell what is on each track while you work with the project. The less obvious function is REAPER will automatically name all your recorded files according to the track name they were recorded on. This frees you from the mundane worry of having to name all your files as you record them, a technical requirement that in other software packages can take you out of the moment and spoil the creativity of the moment. Remember in Part 2 we set our project to save all our audio files into the audio directory of our project. REAPER is very good at keeping all our information organized behind the scenes with very little effort from us.

In Part 1 we set up our soundcard to record from the line input. I have connected my iPod to the line input jack using a 1/8″ to 1/8″ stereo cable. Depending on your soundcard, you may need a few adapters to make this connection. Click on the R button of the track to arm it for recording.

reaper-track armed for recording

You will see some extra controls appear after arming the track for recording. This is where we can configure REAPER to record from the inputs we want on the soundcard. Clicking on the area of the meter circled in the screenshot above will bring up the input configuration. When you click on that area your menu will have three options for inputs near the bottom: mono input, stereo input and midi input. Midi does not record any audio so that is not what we want. Since we are recording a backing track I want to record in stereo so I click the Stereo Input option. You might see a few options at the top of the input menu, then a separator, then a bunch of options like ReaRoute with many combinations of numbers. If you see the ReaRoute options, you can safely ignore those as they have nothing to do with your soundcard. The options at the top of the menu are for your soundcard. My Audigy is only a stereo card (as your soundcard is likely to be) so the top option is Left/Right which is what I want, so I select it.

Start to send some input to the track (I pressed play on my iPod but you can start playing your keyboard or guitar or whatever you have plugged in). You should start to see the recording level meter bounce around with your input.

reaper-record metering

If you are not seeing the meters bouncing around similar to the above screen capture then you have something configured incorrectly. Double check all your connection, try some different input options by clicking on the meters again, and even go into the soundcard mixer as described in Part 1 to make sure you have everything set up correctly. Note that nothing is recording yet, we are just making sure everything is set up correctly.

I like to adjust the volume of my input source so it is peaking between the -12 mark on the meter and the red lights at the top of it. This is the setting levels part of the recording process. In the analog days it was important to set levels as hot as possible, even pushing above 0dB, but in the digital domain we never want our input to hit the 0dB mark. For this reason it is usually a good idea to keep 6-10dB of headroom on the input. You want to adjust the input volume on your soundsource itself, not on the track. In my case this meant turning up my iPod.

We are ready to record our first track! Press the record button on the transport or Ctrl+R on the keyboard.

reaper-transport

Once your recording starts you can start playing. In my case I hit play on my iPod to start playing the backing track. When you are done, press the stop button on the transport or the space bar of your keyboard. If REAPER gives you a dialog asking to save or delete the files just click save all. You should see the audio file show up in the REAPER workspace. You just recorded your first track!

Now I want to record myself playing some guitar over the backing track. Disarm the recording on track 1 by clicking the R button again, the record meters will disappear. I disconnect my iPod and plug my Line 6 POD into the input of my soundcard. I only want to record the guitar in mono so I connect only the left channel of my POD.

reaper-second track armed

In the screen capture above you will notice four things:

  • I have named track 2 “guitar solo” which will automatically name all my files for me.
  • I have armed the track for recording by pressing the R button.
  • I have selected only the Left input of my soundcard by clicking on the meter, going to Mono Inputs on the menu, and selecting Left.
  • Track 1 is no longer armed for recording.

I can now hit record (or press Ctrl+R) and REAPER will start playing back the previously recorded backing track while recording anything I play on the guitar solo track.

You can continue adding tracks to your recording as needed. REAPER will play back your existing mix as you record so you can hear what you are playing over. This concludes part 3 of our series on Home Recording Basics. I plan on continuing the series to cover more topics. Feel free to leave a comment below if you have a request for a future article.

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18 Responses to “Home Recording Basics: 3 – Recording tracks”

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  1. Monkey says:

    Reaper Rawks!!!!!!

  2. darren says:

    Is it always manditory to keep -6 to -10dbs? I use Cubase and it seems to handle close to 0 as well as even above. That being said, I seem to get a very strong signal from my Pod X3, but the drums from my yamaha electric kit, as well as vocals seem to sound much more quiet with the same db reading in the meter. But the drums midi triggered from Reason are clipping, but not distorting at all. I’ll try the lower db, thanks!

    p.s. I’ve had my set up for two years and always just hit record and mixed with volumes, tyhanks to your articles I have a good starting point to actually refining the end result from the start, thanks!

  3. bvesco says:

    No, it is not strictly necessary to keep -6 to -10. I like to strive for that while setting levels because it gives me a safety buffer for when the recording starts and the musicians invariably get wrapped up in the take and play harder. It’s not uncommon to say, “play your loudest while I set levels” and then have them play 3-4 dB louder than that during the actual take. It is absolutely fine to record right up to 0dB if you feel comfortable pushing the “safety zone” that far up.

    And I’m glad you are enjoying the articles. All I ask in return is that you spread the word!

  4. OLDPIT says:

    Man, your web site should win some kind of prize. It rules!
    After all that I learned, I still have a question for you: on your example you used a backing track from your Ipod. How to jam over a BT that is only avaliable on a certain web site and still be able to record w/ Reaper?

    Best regards!

  5. bvesco says:

    I would record the backing track into REAPER and jam over it there. Also, if you don’t want to record the backing track, REAPER is certainly able to function while you play a sound file in a web page.

  6. Frank says:

    Great site!

    Thanks…just one question.

    I just ordered a TonePort UX1 and wondering if it will work with Reaper or Audacity.

    The reason I ask is because Toneport uses USB rather that a sound card as the interface.

    Thanks,
    Frank

  7. bvesco says:

    Yes, in fact I use a UX2 with Reaper. Also, UX1 *is* a soundcard.

  8. JimBo Whitaker says:

    I’m trying out Reaper and love it (except), I can’t record on the Right Channel for some reason (even if I try Stereo, I only get a signal from the left side), what’s up, Surely I must have something configured wrong, just can’t findout what’s wrong. Any suggestions. I have cuebase and have no problem with it.

  9. bvesco says:

    The first thing I think is that your audio preferences must not be straight with your hardware. You will probably have good luck at the REAPER forums. Be sure to post your problems there and tell which soundcard you are using. There will probably be someone using the exact same soundcard that can steer you in the right direction.

  10. ScooterPDX says:

    Ben,

    You rock! (It’s not the first time I’ve said that.) I quickly devoured parts 1-3. When is the next trilogy coming out?

    I hear there are these great FREE VST plugins available at vescofx.com. Is there an easy way to get them to work with my new REAPER demo?

    :-)

  11. mickelius says:

    Reaper looks greate! But when a connect Rewire to Reason4, my input device (keyboard) is blocked in any software I run.

    • bvesco says:

      That sounds pretty bad but would be a question to raise on the Reason and Reaper forums. I don’t use Rewire so I can offer you no support. Sorry!

  12. SuprchrgedSi says:

    Hey man, I’m glad to finally find someone who knows what they’re doing AND uses the same stuff I do. I just had a quick question about recording guitar direct in through my PodxtLive. Up on this page, you said you like to have your input around -12dB. I like to apply PodFarm or the gear boxplugins, so I just record clean into Reaper. When I record that clean tone, the level seems to be around the -40 to -30 dB level. Is this acceptable, since I eventually apply those effects later in the chain, or do you have any other suggestions for upping the level without losing clarity?

    • bvesco says:

      Recording dry for later use with the plugin is a very different use case. For that I definitely recommend not doing any gain changing. Try to keep the guitar level at exactly the volume it comes in on. It is fine for it to be -40dB down for something like that. It will keep the signal “true” to what the virtual amp is expecting.

  13. NextToHoliday says:

    Any suggestions on getting the best sounding recorded guitar? I’m using a Line6 Spyder2 head with a crate 4×12 slant cab. A Audix dynamic mic and a Samson condenser mic. A samson tubed(12ax7) pre amp and im using a pro tools LE interface. I normally just use the dynamic mic on the cab directly into the interface and copy and paste the track to thicken it up but its still not the sound i want.

  14. diggitguitar says:

    Nexttoholiday: For starters, what kind of guitar are u using? And what sound do u want? You should also get rid of your amp and get a tube amp. Better dynamics. You also might want to use more than one mic’ing technique and try better quality cables. That’s what helped the quality of my guitar recordings ten fold!

  15. PG says:

    Reaper sounds interesting (no Pun intended. Like to give it a try.