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In-Depth with Reason’s Rack

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Recently, we published a two-part Plus tutorial on Reason’s sequencer. It’s only fitting that we devote one to the rack. The rack is something that many Reason users are comfortable with but haven’t fully explored, while others are confused by it. We’re going to look at the rack itself, devices, patches, and the least understood of rack topics, rack routing.


The Rack

In Reason, the area known as the rack consists of the area above the sequencer that is mostly black by default, aside from the devices already in it by default — the mixer, the MClass mastering suite (which is really a combinator device), and the hardware interface which is a permanent fixture in every project and cannot be removed. If you’ve created your own session templates, what comes up in the rack by default may be different.

The rack is a vertical construct which displays one device after another, except in the case of some smaller effect devices which stack horizontally. When working exclusively with the rack and not requiring the sequencer — say, when tweaking sounds to perfection for which MIDI notation has already been recorded — there’s a small square-within-a-square button at the top left of the window, above the scrollbar, that will maximize the rack and minimize the sequencer. You might want to use it from the start of this tutorial!

With the exception of the transport bar at the bottom, this is what we’re referring to when we mention the rack:


For those of you who aren’t familiar with audio studios, the Reason rack model is a direct copy of the studio rack model, probably in an attempt to make audio professionals feel more at home and comfortable with the software (if you know how to route a rack of equipment in the studio, you should only need a few minutes of fiddling to figure out everything you need to know about Reason’s rack routing).

The studio rack is an enclosure with no front or back panels that allows you to screw in a series of effects processors, pre-amps, audio interfaces and routing devices so they’re easily accessible. Here’s what one person’s home studio rack setup looks like, to give you a real world example for comparison:


Image by boboroshi

Rack Devices

Rack devices means anything that goes into the rack and creates, manipulates or processes your audio in some way. The mixer and mastering combinator in your default project are both devices. The Redrum unit or one of Reason’s many synthesizers, such as the Thor or Subtractor, are also devices. And effects such as Scream distortion, the MClass compressor and the RV-7 Digital Reverb are also rack devices.

Propellerhead has made the basic act of creating a device in your rack incredibly simple: right-click on the black empty rackspace and select the desired device from the list of options. Reason will attempt to wire the device up the way it thinks you want it done — so if you create a synthesizer in a fresh track, it’ll be connected to the mixer and show up as channel strip number one.

Unlike in our studio parallel, you don’t have to get your shirt dusty around the back of the rack hooking things up yourself (but you can, and we’ll go through that later, if you can settle for any dust involved being totally imaginary).

When creating these devices, the basic rule is this: if you want to create a sound device (such as a synthesizer or a sampler instrument), right click on the black space and create the device. If you want to create an effect on a sound device, right click the sound device, go to the Create menu, and choose the effect you want to include. Reason will automatically connect the effect to the device that was selected.

I’ve gone and added a sound device (Thor in this case) with its own effect device to start filling out our rack.


You can select multiple rack devices by holding shift while clicking on them. Deleting any device — including individual devices and selected groups — is as easy as hitting Delete and confirming on the subsequent dialogue box. This accomplishes the same thing as right-clicking on the device and selecting “Delete Devices and Tracks”, so be warned that deleting the device will wipe out your device’s sequencer track and any data on it.

To rearrange the devices, you can simply click and hold the handles of the device — the section to the left and right with images of screws supposedly holding the device in place — and drag them to the desired location.


Patches

Patches are the files that contain all the information Reason requires to replicate a certain sound in one of its devices. A large library comes with Reason, and you can find more patches on the Internet — but nothing beats making your own.

There are several different types of patch:

  • Synthesizer patches for Thor, Subtractor, and so on. These are self-contained and include everything the device needs to know to reproduce a sound.
  • Sampler instrument patches for the NN-XT and NN-19, which include a bunch of data on how the audio should be processed by the sampler but not the audio itself — just references to the audio file locations.
  • Effect patches for the Scream device and other effect devices, which include the settings for different desired sounds.

The point is that while most of the time you won’t have to worry, when dealing with sampler patches you need to ensure that the audio files are accessible and where the patch tells Reason they will be. If you run into problems getting a sampler patch to work this is one of the things to look into first.

Any device that allows the loading of patches will have three buttons on the surface, and they look something like this:


Depending on the device, there may be minor stylistic changes but in each case there will be a set of arrows, a disk and a folder.

To select a new patch, you can either use the arrows to navigate the list of patches in the folder your current patch is in, or you can use the folder icon to open a traditional file selection window. You can audition these patches as you go — just make sure some looped music is playing on the device’s track.

It’s a good idea to come up with sounds of your own that you like to work with and save them as patches. It helps to have your own library of original sounds that helps you define your own sonic signature. To save patches, use the disk icon. A typical save file dialogue will appear. Take care in naming it so that you can identify it later, and so that it’s clear to you that this is one of the patches you created.

Finally, occasionally when you’re writing for the same instrument on separate tracks it’s a convenience to know how to copy them over from the first device to the second easily (diving into the folders of Reason patches can be annoying to say the least). Simply right click on the initial device, select Copy Patch, and then paste it to the second device by right clicking and selecting Paste Patch.

Using patches is a fairly simple matter, and that’s about all you need to know to use them properly — despite being the files that power the breadth of sound-sculpting you’ll do with Reason.


Routing

One of the cool things about Reason for anyone who uses real audio devices made out of metals and plastics (no, the world of the analogue is not irrelevant yet!) is the fact that you can hit Tab and see an array that looks like the back of anyone’s audio rack. Give it a try now and take a look; you can also access the back of the devices by going to Options > Toggle Rack Front/Rear.

Reason will guess your preferred routing and hook your new devices up, but a lot of the time you’ll want to change these defaults, or do things with ports that aren’t used at all by default. I’ve removed the default routing on my synth and effect device so I can show you how to do it:


The important thing to remember is that most Reason devices are stereo. If you attempt to plug the left output into the left input of another device, Reason will automatically plug the right output into the equivalent right input. If you only wanted one channel routed you can remove the other one after Reason auto-creates it.

Routing is done largely by click-and-dragging. I want to send my Thor signal to the EQ device, so I’ll click on the 1 Mono / Left port under Audio Output on the Thor device and drag it to the Left audio input on the EQ.


As you can see, Reason added the right lead itself.

From here we want to send the output of the effects unit straight to the mixer itself, in channel one’s slots:


The output of whichever device is last in the chain needs to go to a mixer channel, or to the hardware interface if for some reason you want to directly skip the mixer. When I say chain, I’m referring to any series of devices through which one original signal flows before it reaches the mixer or other final output — in our example, the Thor and the EQ are a chain.

Creating send/return effects is an important part of any audio project. This is something we can accomplish with routing as well. An EQ is not something you’d typically see as a send/return effect, so let’s throw a reverb effect up there.


Have a look at the back of your mixer device. You’ll see a section like this:


The plugs above the Send Out label send sounds out for treatment, and those above the Return label bring the effected sounds back into the mix. What we need to do now is click and drag from one of the Audio Input ports on our reverb device to one of the Send Out ports in the 1 column, so that it corresponds with send/return effect 1 on the front of the mixer.

Then drag from one of the Audio Output ports up to one of the Return ports under the 1 column. You should see something like this:


From here it’s a simple matter of using the corresponding Aux knobs on each channel strip in your mixer to determine how much of the effect you want. These are the set of four orange knobs right at the top of each strip.

What happens when you run out of channels on the mixer? The simple answer is that you create another Mixer device which will be automatically chained off the first one. The aux and master output of the new mixer will be connected to the main mixer’s, but the channel strips will be unique. This means you can use the same master fader and the same aux effects while gaining a bunch of new channels.

You may want to have a second mixer with its own set of send/return effects, however. By default the chaining setup between mixers will look something like this, with the aux Send Ins and Returns connected:


The solution to this is to remove the connections between Mixer 1’s Send In ports and Mixer 2’s Return ports, and then create the send/returns as you normally would.


Next time, we’ll start looking at some of Reason’s devices in-depth, including the Mixer in much more detail.

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