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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.