Most ProToolers will know the name Kenny Gioia, a Multi-Platinum music producer, engineer, mixer and songwriter from New York City, and also a kickass tutorial creator. Kenny has done some awesome tutorials for both Pro Tools and Reaper. In this post Kenny discusses what Reaper features perhaps should make their way into Pro Tools. Enough of me, over to Kenny. – stiff
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There has been a lot of debate on the forums lately about the positives and negatives of using Pro Tools vs. using Reaper. As someone who makes tutorials for both, I thought I may have some interesting insight.
I am well aware that this is a Pro Tools Blog so it probably wouldn’t make much sense to try to convince people in droves to head to the other team (and I certainly wouldn’t suggest that). Pro Tools is still great program. So let’s not jump ship just yet…
There are definitely a few things I wish Pro Tools would borrow (or steal) from Reaper.
Firstly, while I was originally against the current Pro Tools theme, I have gotten used to it. It’s fine by me, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could have the option to change it? I’d love to have themes that users can create, customize and share, or at least let us choose the colors that show up in our color palette. The colors are pretty random right now. What about colored presets that change according to what’s on a given track? With Reaper, you can have it set up to choose a specific color based on the name of the track or what it’s function is (ex: FX return, Master etc). If you want your guitar tracks to all be green, just having the word “guitar” in the name can make that happen, automatically.
If you use the Pro Tools “smart” tool, you already know the benefit of NOT having to switch tools constantly. My fingers would ache switching between F6, F7, and F8 just to Trim, Select or Grab in the Edit window. The smart tool avoids all that, but we do still have to switch modes (using F2 or F4) to toggle between Grid or Slip mode. If you do a lot of music production in Pro Tools, you’ll know the frustration of always being in the wrong mode. Reaper has solved this problem utilizing the feature Snapping. Snapping doesn’t require switching modes. You can leave it on all the time and as your Region (or Item) is dragged closer to a grid line, it snaps to it, just like a magnet. How strong that magnet is can be adjusted to your taste (by the pixel). If you set it to 25 pixels and drag regions within that value, they will fall right on that grid line. I find that much more productive than hitting keys each time. If the Snapping feature is not what you want for a certain move, simply holding down the Shift key disables it.
How about Keyboard Shortcuts? While Pro Tools has many of them, we still have so many actions that have to be chosen through a menu or a mouse-click. Why can’t every single action have a keyboard command to go with it (or at least the ability to have one)? Greater productivity can clearly be achieved by keeping your fingers on the keyboard and only using the mouse for visual necessities. With Reaper, not only can you do everything with a keystroke, you can also change or customize each one and create Macros (multiple actions with one keystroke) and assign keystrokes for them as well. If you want the “V” key to make a new track, name it vocal, and adjust it’s volume to -2dB, you can do that. Reaper knows when you’re renaming a track so it won’t execute a shortcut by accident. While both programs allow you to compile multiple takes to create the perfect performance, only Reaper allows you to choose those takes with keystrokes for a much improved workflow. Not only can you choose next or previous takes with a keystroke, you can also choose specific takes, each with their own (ex: 1-9 could be takes 1-9).
Reaper is customizable. (Picture is animated, by the way)
Another big one that’s been asked about for years has been Track Freezing. This one took me by surprise because I never thought it was that big of a deal. Users would complain and I would think, just print it to a spare track and disable the original one. That works, but you have to print it in real-time, buss it to a separate track and decide if you want to print the automation and use certain plugins or not. A time-consuming process if you’re dealing with 40 to 60 tracks of instrument tracks or soft synths. In Reaper, it’s done with one menu command. Hit Freeze Track and almost instantly it turns your midi track into an audio track. Everything printed. Or any plugin or FX. You can also choose, plugin by plugin, what gets printed. If you have a Virtual Instrument plugin, an EQ and a compressor on a track, you could just Freeze the instrument. Or the Instrument and the EQ. Or all three. This gives you the flexibility of still adjusting some plugins while having others frozen, freeing up as much CPU power as you need. The best part is the ability to Unfreeze with one command as well, quickly back and forth when you need to edit a note or two, or even change the whole key or tempo of your song. You also have the ability to keep all of your automation and effect sends on the track in tact, rather than having to print or bypass it and copy it to a new track so it all looks and behaves the same.
How about adding Multiple Tracks that are already named? Again, Reaper makes this easy. Pro Tools has the New Track dialog and we can choose all kinds of different types of tracks, but we still have to name them individually after they’re added. In Reaper you can say, I want to add 16 tracks and name them Vocal and they will be named “Vocal 1, Vocal 2, Vocal 3 etc.” This should be the standard. How many times have you had a singer have to sit around and wait for you to name all of your vocal tracks before you begin? This explains why I get so many songs to mix with track names like “Audio 1″ or “Audio 1.dup”. Speaking of tracks: do we really need so many track types? Reaper somehow manages to get away with just one. Any track can be used for anything. Midi, Instrument, Audio, Aux, Buss, FX return. They can perform multiple functions as well.
Now Pro Tools finally has Clip Gain (hooray). Reaper already has (had) many different areas to adjust volume, including Pre-FX (great for adjusting vocals before it hits your compressor) and separate envelopes based on track, item (region) or even takes. As you’re comping takes, you can adjust the takes level so it matches the others in case there were recording inconsistencies. It also has Pan, Mute and even Pitch envelopes as well. All happening in real-time non-destructive.
Another huge difference is a preference called Mouse Modifiers. These allows you to decide what happens when we click, right click, or drag the mouse to different areas of the screen. It can change the behavior based on putting the mouse on the upper or lower half of regions (items) or just changing how all the modifiers (Control, Command, Alt, Opt etc) will behave. You can have your mouse turn into a Zoom tool depending on where you place it or you can trigger any action in any way throughout the program. You can also click any open area and have it open any window or dialog or perform a unique custom action. Pretty much anything you can think of, can be done. Between mouse modifiers and keyboard shortcuts, everything can be customized. These settings can also be saved and exported as well.
Another biggie is Track Defaults. Not only can you save FX chains to open a group of plugins on a track with unique settings, but you can also save Track Templates that can easily be imported into any session (project) at any time. If you set up all your drum tracks the same way each time with settings, effect sends, and inputs you can just choose “Import Tracks from Template” and they’ll pop into your session (project) ready to go. Imagine how much time can be saved with this feature! Yes, this can be done in Pro Tools but it requires importing from another session, choosing tracks one by one, and deciding to not bring in the audio. Not quite as intuitive.
Users have been begging for Offline Bounce for years. While it seems like a small thing for people who only do music, I can imagine it’s a bit more important for people working on two hour movies. Even for those of us who work on three minute pop songs, the Queue Rendering features in Reaper can be very useful. Imagine that you needed to bounce twelve different mixes of your song ex: a few alternate versions, a TV, Acapella and an Instrumental mix. In Reaper, you can set each one up and add it to the Render Queue. You can then take a break, run that queue and each version will open up, render a mix, close, and do the next one in the queue all on it’s own. In Pro Tools, we still have to run each mix in real-time and set each one up separately. A tedious task for running stems for movies or TV.
I’m sure there’s a few more features that I can’t think of at the moment but I think these are some of major ones that I really wish Pro Tools would consider adding to the program. I know it looks like I’m trying to run down our favorite DAW but I assure you, I’m not. My goal here is to hopefully inspire one of the best programs ever created to stay competitive with all of the latest features while speeding up our productivity in the process. Maybe we could all put some pressure on them as well. (wink)
To be clear, there’s still many things that Pro Tools does much better than Reaper or any other DAW (Elastic Audio, VCA tracks and Automation), but that’s an article for a different time, directed at the other team.
Thank you for your time.
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From Wikipedia: Kenny Gioia is a Multi-Platinum music producer, engineer, mixer and songwriter from New York City, who is best known for working on the #1 hits “Sex and Candy” and “Crush”. Together with his long-term partner Shep Goodman, he owns a production company and record label.