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What You Need to Know to Make Great Music in Reason

reason Apr 04, 2020

Are you confused by trying to learn how to make music in Reason? Do you want to speed up your workflow, or learn some advanced tips for using this powerful DAW? This page gives a high level overview of how to use Reason, as well as links to more in-depth resources.

Over the past five years I've taught nearly a million people how to use Reason through my YouTube videos. This page collects some of my best tips, tricks and tutorials all in one easy to find place.

I've been using Reason for about fifteen years, since Propellerhead's Software released Reason 2.5. In that time, songs I've recorded in Reason have been on TV, Netflix, and even an award-wining indie film. So step right up and prepare to learn all about Reason!

Note: some of the links in this article may be affiliate links.

Reason DAW Review

Reason 11.2.1 is the most recent version of the Reason DAW. Reason 11 added two new effects, Quartet (a chorus) and Sweeper (an advanced filter). Reason 11 also added the ability to use Reason as a plugin in most other DAWs. If you want to know how use Reason as a VST or AU plugin, it's discussed at the end of this article. Reason 11 also added several new features to streamline workflow.

You can read a more in-depth review of Reason 11 here.

Reason 11.2 added Beatmap, an algorithmic drum sequencer that can also be used to make music. 

While Reason 11 is certainly the best version of Reason ever, it's also starting to show its age. Reason Studio's hasn't updated Reason's underlying design, UI, or workflow in nearly a decade.

Many other DAWs can be used much more intuitively, with a more streamlined workflow. Additionally, other DAWs, like Logic or Ableton, have a host of additional features that do not seem to be anywhere on Reason's radar. 

I still really enjoy creating music in Reason, but I due to the workflow, I avoid using it for projects that I know are going to become really complex. Instead, I'll reach for the Reason plugin inside of Logic.

As a plugin, though, I'd whole heartedly recommend buying Reason. It's loaded with great instruments and effects that will do some really cool, unique things for your projects. You can buy Reason 11 here.

How to Use Reason

Reason's workflow can be really confusing. It consists of four main windows: the mixer, the sequencer, the rack, and the browser. We'll dig into each one in detail.

I'd recommend watching this video demonstrating what your first 20 minutes in Reason would look like to give you a sense of what follows.

The Reason Mixer

When you've finished recording your track, the mixer is where you go to make everything sound nice. It's divided vertically by all of the functions you can apply to each channel, and horizontally by each channel.

By default, every channel in Reason has access to a trim tool, a compressor, a noise gate, high and low pass filters, EQ, and stereo width. You don't need to add additional plugins to use these.

The top section of mixer covers the input section.

The insert section of the Reason mixer lets you gain stage by setting the input, invert the phase of a sound, and determine the order and signal flow of the rest of the Reason mixer.

The compressor and noise gate are the next section of the mixer. We'll cover compression in more detail below. But to enable compression or a noise gate, you need to hit the "on" button. Then you can use the threshold and other controls to dial in the right amount with the help of the meters.

Next we get to the EQ and filters. Each filter has its own "on" button. There is a separate "on" button for the rest of the EQ. By default the EQ has a high and low shelf, and two wide band mid range EQs. You can turn either shelf into a bell curve EQ by hitting the "bell" button. You also can turn the mid band EQs into narrower EQs by hitting the "E" button.

The insert section comes next. The insert section lets you control an insert effects you may have on individual channels, if you've mapped it right on the mix channel section of the rack extension. I don't really recommend doing this mapping, though, because I don't think it's an efficient use of your time.

The send effects section comes next. You can use this section to determine whether your mix channel is going to a send effect as well. This article will show you the right way to use send FX in Reason.

Finally, you've got the level, pan, mute, solo, and other basic mixer functions at the bottom.

It's also worth noting that on the far right of the mixer you'll find global mixer functions that apply to all channels in the Reason mixer.

Recording in Reason

Reason is a full featured platform for recording midi and audio. In essence, midi allows you to use software synthesizers inside of Reason to create sounds from notes that you play or draw in to Reason.

Recording audio, in contrast, allows you to use a microphone or cable insert to capture "real" sound from the world. Whether you're recording a voice or a guitar, you'll want to record with audio.

Depending on what you're trying to record, you'll need to use a slightly different process, explained below.

Recording Midi in Reason

To record midi in Reason, you first need to create an instrument. Reason is chockfull of midi instruments, and just about anyone will do. For simplicity though, let's start with Europa. 

Simply click to create a Europa. It will automatically create a mixer channel above the Europa, which is where your sound will come through.

Now it's time to record your midi part.

There are three different ways of getting a midi recording in Reason.

First, you could record a midi keyboard (aka piano), and the notes that you played on the keyboard would be captured and recorded in Reason. In order to hear the sounds, you need to make sure that you've selected the right channel. You can select the right channel for playback by clicking on the little arrow icon at the far left of an instrument.

 

The second way to record midi in Reason is to hit F4 to use the actual keys on your computer keyboard to "type in" notes. This can be a bit clunky, but a life saver if you don't have a real keyboard.

Third, you can use the sequencer in Reason and select the draw tool (the hotkey is "W"). From there, you can draw in or tweak individual notes in the sequencer, and the synthesizer will play it back.

My preferred method of recording midi in Reason involves playing the notes in with my keyboard, then cleaning them up in the sequencer with the editing tools.

The Best Reason DAW Controller

I think the Nektar Panorama T4 is the best keyboard for Reason, because it integrates so smoothly with DAW, but also is really affordable and plays well.

Nektar Panorama T4 Keyboard for Reason

Recording Audio in Reason

Recording audio in Reason is a little different. First, you'll need to make sure you have an audio interface, so that you can record audio without any delay. 

I really recommend the Komplete Audio 6 Mk2. It comes bundled with a ton of great instruments and effects, it's affordable, and it includes enough features that it can grow with you as a producer.

Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 Mk2

From there, you need to create an audio channel in Reason. This is where you'll record your audio to, and it's also where you'll listen to your audio back from.

If you go to the sequencer view, you'll see several icons:

The most important of the four icons for recording audio are:

  • the red and white circle - this determines which channels will be recorded
  • The little speaker - when it's green, that means you'll be able to hear what you're playing through Reason
  • The IN - this determines which input of your audio interface is selected, so if you've plugged your guitar into the second channel of your interface, be sure to select 2 for the IN.

Recording Guitar in Reason

If you're going to be recording guitar in Reason, there are a few things that will make it sound better. First, you're likely to get better results plugging your guitar directly into your audio interface (after any effects pedal). If you do this, be sure to select the "instrument" or "hi-z" option on your audio interface, otherwise your guitar will sound weak. After that, you can add an amp simulator plugin.

Instead you could also try putting a microphone in front of your amp, but for a lot of people, this won't get a good result. First, if you live an apartment, you might not be able to turn up your amp loud enough to get a good tone out of it. Second, once you turn up your amp, your room might have too many reflections to sound great. But if you do use a mic, you can't go wrong with an SM57.

Shure SM57-LC Instrument/Vocal Cardioid Dynamic Microphone Bundle with Mic Boom Stand, XLR Cable, Mic Clip, and Bag

Just be sure to turn your audio interface from off of instrument mode, and be sure to turn off any phantom power.

Recording Vocals in Reason

To record vocals, you'll need a microphone. While the SM57 recommended above can work alright, you're really best off using a condenser microphone, which is much more aligned with the subtleties and tones of the human voice.

I've gotten really good results recording vocals with mics that cost under $100, and if you're on a budget, you can't go wrong picking up the MXL 990.

MXL 990 Condenser Microphone Bundle with MXL-90 Shockmount

Just as important as your choice of mic though (maybe more important), is using the right technique to record vocals. This in-depth article will show you everything you need to know, from positioning the mic, to getting the best take.

Chopping Samples in Reason

There are dozens of ways to sample in Reason, and I don't want to bog down this already lengthy article digging into all the ins and outs of sampling and chopping in Reason.

Chopping samples is a really popular technique in hip hop and EDM, and I'd really recommend you spend some time reading that article to see how you can use those techniques in your tracks. 

Of course, if you're going to be chopping samples, you need to find samples to chop. Here's a list of the best sites for free samples and loops.

Mixing in Reason

Mixing in Reason isn't too different from mixing anywhere else. If you apply these mixing tips from a BBC-Trained mixing engineer, you'll notice a huge improvement. And don't forget to apply this simple mixing hack as well!

However, this section will focus on a few of the most important tools in Reason for mixing. First, using a mixing template to speed up your workflow, then how to use compression in Reason (including sidechain compression), and finally how to unlock the power of Reason's hidden effects.

Best Reason Mixing Template

Having a great mixing template will vastly speed up your mixing workflow. By starting from a solid framework, you can get running with mixing your song from the get go, so you can focus more on making music and less on managing plugins.

You can download this free Reason mixing template here.

How to Use Compression in Reason

Compression is one of the most important tools in a mixer's arsenal, and thankfully Reason is chock full of different compressors. You have so many options for which compressor to use in Reason, it can be overwhelming. While I think you're generally best off using either the builtin compressor in the mixer or the mClass compressor, it's worth taking the time to learning the differences between all of Reason's options, to save you time and make better sounding mixes.

Generally, your best off doing 2-3 dB of compression. You'll want a ratio between 2:1 and 4:1, with a slow attack and a fast release. If the compressor has the option to "adapt release" that will usually get you the best results. Then you'll want to increase the gain at the back to make up for the 2-3dB volume loss.

If you want to learn more about how to use compression in Reason, please read this comprehensive guide for using compression in Reason.

Reason Sidechain Compression

Sidechain compression is a critical tool for making songs stick together. It can really help glue a kick drum and bass synth, or a vocal and lead. I recommend using the mClass compressor for your sidechain needs. You place it on the channel that you want to duck, then hit tab, flip it around, and route the channel you want to control the ducking to the sidechain input. If you want to learn more about how to use sidechain compression in Reason, read this.

Sidechain compression can also be used for all sorts of cool and creative tricks. It can be used for far out reverb effects, as a dynamic EQ, and even create otherworldly delays. Here are some more creative sidechain compression tips for Reason.

Reason's Hidden Effects

Reason is comes with dozens of discreet effects, but did you know there are also lots of effects hidden within Reason waiting to be unlocked? For example, Kong (an instrument) has a ring modulator on it. You can tap into Kong's routing to allow you to use that ring modulator on any other track.

To learn more about Reason's hidden effects, watch this video.

Mastering with Reason

Reason can be a powerful platform for finishing your songs and making loud, punchy masters. If you follow the steps laid out in this free mastering cheat sheet, you'll be on the right track.  

Then, you can apply them specifically to Reason. This post will walk you through the 7 steps to master a song in Reason, and show you how to use stock plugins and VSTs to get incredible results. For what it's worth, I can't recommend iZotope Ozone enough when it comes to mastering, and it works really well inside of Reason.

Reason Rack Extensions

If you're looking to expand your sound even further than what you've already done, you can add Rack Extensions to Reason. Basically, Rack Extension are just additional Instruments, Effects, and Utilities that you can buy for Reason, but they can vastly expand your sound palette. 

Because they're purchased through Reason Studios, they're also very stable and super easy to install. 

Free Reason Rack Extensions

Of course, not every Rack extension has to be purchased! There's also a ton of free Reason Rack Extension. I've put together a list of the top 10 free reason rack extensions. You should definitely download them!

How to Update Your Rack Extension

To update your Reason Rack Extensions, you unfortunately need to go to Reasonstudios.com and log into your account. From there, go to the rack extension section. You can either chose to sync all of your rack extensions (this will install and update every rack extension) or individually update rack extensions.

This video will walk you through it step by step.

 

VSTs in Reason

Reason 9+ is also capable of running third party VST plugins. These massively expand the capabilities of Reason. I'd definitely recommend looking around Plugin Boutique for ideas about what types of plugins you can add.

Let's just say that you're only limited by your creativity.

As of Reason 10 and 11, VST performance in Reason is pretty good, too. 

To manage your VST plugins in Reason, simply click on "Window >> Manage Plugins."

If you're using Reason 7 or 8, you can also try using this method to get some VST action going on.

Unfortunately, Reason only has one internal midi channel, so you may struggle to take full advantage of multi-output VSTs. Here's some steps you can take to make the most of Kontakt's multi-outs in Reason.

How to Use Reason Rack Plugin

Reason 11 added the ability to use Reason a VST plugin in other DAWs. And it is super cool and easy to do. Inside another DAW, all you have to do is create a new track and either select the Reason Instrument Rack or the Reason Effect Rack as your plugin. Voila! 

While using Reason inside another DAW is delightfully simple, there are a few quirks to it. Here's a guide on how to record the Reason Plugin Player Midi output in Logic Pro X.  If you're using Logic Pro X, things do get even a little more complicated if you're trying to use Live Loops. So here's what you need to know to use the Reason Rack with Logic Live Loops.

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