Basic editing

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basic recording and editing tasks

So, you have already recorded your single track masterpiece. Now what? Perhaps you need to run the verse again a couple of times because of some little flubs that always mysteriously manage to creep in, or you wanted to take it slow and record section by section Or maybe you just thought of a killer vocal arrangement, or want to stack up many guitars for a heavier sound. A client has also asked you to record a voice over a karaoke track and we will see another way to set the tempo. Or maybe, after all, you decide that the solo at the end of the song is not necessary. We also have a slight annoying problem with that solo in case we decided to keep it, and it is that it came in a bit too early, but some notes weren't quite on time, either. But the ideas were perfect! Alas, our favorite soloist is always busy and in demand, so we will figure out a way to cope and stay with what we have. How do we tackle absolutely all of this? Keep reading to find out. You can skip some sections and then come back to those you will need, but please don't skip the fundamentals! Also, we mention some dialogs, tools and workflows here and the necessary steps to accomplish something. But don't be afraid to explore and in most cases, experiment. Remember, there are many ways to accomplish the same thing in Reaper. If in doubt, you can use many of the resources available to consult what a specific setting or option will do. The sections here will introduce basic concepts and will gradually progress to more advanced ones. As we pretend to explain how editing audio is done in Reaper, Item manipulation will be the bulk of this article.

basic and quick fundamentals

Since you have already installed reaper and recorded your first track, we assume that you are at least a bit familiar with the following:

  • creating and renaming reaper tracks
  • searching for reaper actions and assigning key commands to them
  • assigning audio inputs
  • turning the metronome on and off
  • arming and unarming tracks
  • Lastly, if you use a mac, be sure to review and remember the windows equivalents, such as command instead of control, option instead of alt and so on. Where applicable, the reaper actions will be named so even if you use a custom, non default or non standard key map you can follow along.

What we will introduce will relate all of this even further. So, get to grips with the following terms:

  • Track. A container for anything you record, or import. Can be audio, midi, video and other types of media, each acting normally independently from each other. This allows you to record first a guitar, then a voice and so on without affecting what you have already recorded. Programs that have this capability are called Multi-Track Recording. You may record and playback an arbitrary amount of them, limited only by your computer's processing power.
  • Item: A rather flexible container for media content that a track holds. There are many ways of manipulating them and they are the main staple for editing your audio, midi ETC. They cannot exist if no tracks are present.
  • take: a version, or pass, of a recording. They belong strictly to items. Their function is to help you when you want to record the same material several times, such as a solo, and then decide which one out of all the recordings you have made you prefer.
  • timeline: Its name is pretty self explanatory, but just in case, the timeline represents the elapsed time of your project. It runs across the top of the REAPER window. It measures the length of your project and helps you identify the position of the various media items.
  • zoom: There are two types. Vertical and horizontal. Vertical zoom adjusts the visibility of tracks and other elements, thus its not of greater concern if you have no sight. However, horizontal zoom will affect visibility for the graphical representation of audio and also will affect commands for navigating and moving things around, deserving a special mention here. The more something is zoomed in, the greater detail it displays and contains.
  • Audio Jogging or Scrubbing: These are techniques originated in the days when all recording was done with magnetic tape. They help you to move within a project, or track, or group of tracks, to audition or locate a very specific, particular section. They are dependent on the horizontal zoom level. The more zoom in you have, the slower the movement will be. The more zoom out you have, the faster you will be able to scrub.
  • pre-roll: This can be used so that when you start recording, or playback, the metronome will play for the specified number of measures before recording or playback actually begins.

We hope this was not an awful lot to register. Nevertheless, its crucial for everything that follows. We will be working with navigation commands and time selections a lot. Thankfully, osara reports as you select or navigate and so much more. Make sure you remember all of these! Remember that You can also use shortcut help or also refer to the |Reaper shortcut key list by headings.

Here is a summary of important commands to know:

  • pause or resume playback: control plus space
  • stop playback, but go back to where you were before: space bar.
  • go to and select previous or next track: up and down arrows respectively. Use the shift key with these to select more tracks.
  • Go to previous or next item: control and the left or right arrows respectively. Use the shift key to select more adjacent items.
  • go to start of project: w or home
  • go to end of project: end
  • move cursor by musical bars or measures: page up to go back, and down to go forward. Use the control key with these to move by beats.
  • use alt plus home to move to the start of the current measure, or alt plus end to go to the start of the next one.
  • jump dialog: control plus j. Quickly move anywhere, entering
    • enter: 36. (36 followed by a period or full stop) will move you to bar 36 beat 1.
    • Enter: 36.3 will get you to bar 36, beat 3.
    • 36.4.25 will get you to exactly a quarter way through bar 36, beat 4. (the 25 being a percentage)
    • enter: 02:32 to move to minute 2, second 32
  • scrub audio: press and hold the left or right arrows to move back or forward respectively. Add shift to create time selection. This will depend on the horizontal zoom level.
  • set time selection start and end: left and right brackets respectively. Use alt plus control with these to move the selection start and end together to the left or right. Use the control key with the brackets to move the starting point only, and use the alt key with the brackets to move the selection end only. Moving will depend on the horizontal zoom level. Also, the play/stop command (by using the space bar) will play the time selection only.
  • select from cursor to start or end of project: shift plus home or end respectively
  • move to start or end of time selection: alt plus hsift plus home or end
  • clear time selection: escape
  • toggle repeat: control plus R. By default this will loop any time selection you might have made.
  • Report Edit / Play Cursor Position : Control + Shift + J
  • OSARA: Enable noncontiguous selection/toggle selection of current track/item (depending on focus): shift plus space bar

It is also important that we mention markers here. They can save you lots of time and help you easily move on the timeline. Four useful commands are:

  • Insert & / or Edit Marker at Current Position : Shift plus M . In the dialog that opens, enter a name and adjust properties to your liking, press enter to save or escape to discard changes.
  • Go to Marker 1 to 10 : Use number 1 through 0 in the upper numeric row.
  • Use semicolon and apostrophe to move to the previous or next marker, even beyond marker number 10.
  • Renumber all markers in timeline order : This command is not assigned to any key but you can do so if you wish to use it.

Lastly, osara and reaper both are very context sensitive. This means that, if you turn on shortcut help and then press the delete key, you will find out that the action it invokes goes something like this:

OSARA: Remove items/tracks/contents of time selection/markers/envelope points (depending on focus)

Which is very confusing, what is all of this supposed to tell us, anyway? Why can't it just say, delete?

As you have guessed by examining the commands listed above, it turns out that you can select many things either at once or separately in reaper. These include tracks, items, time, and so on. If you press the up arrow to focus and select a track and then press the delete key, that track along with everything it contains, is gone. If you press control plus the left or right arrows to focus and select an item, then press the delete key, the item and not the track is what gets erased. Pressing a number to focus and move to a marker's position and then pressing the delete key will, as you guessed it, remove that marker.

Thus, you can always double check what you have selected, depending on what you have focused by using the command

osara: Report Track / Item / Time Selection, depending on Focus : Control + Shift + SpaceBar

This is practical, because it means that we would not need a different key command just for deleting a track, or an item or a marker and so on. Most edit operations including copying, cutting and pasting work exactly in this same way. However, here is one common situation that may confuse many users to leave you thinking for a bit, which we will cover later, and here is where manipulating items really come into play: If you instead make a time selection using the brackets, then press the left or right arrows to focus the timeline and then press the delete key, whatever content that is in that time selection (whether it's one track or 50 of them) is gone.

reaper's takes system

As we had discussed before, takes are simply versions of the same material. Let's go back to the first situation. You recorded a verse and would like to do a different version, because the one you just heard was perhaps a bit dull but you still liked it. One possible way to do this would be:

  1. ensure that repeat is off by pressing control plus r.
  2. we will open the metronome and pre-roll settings dialog by using alt plus shift plus m. Press shift plus tab about three times to enable the pre-roll before recording, and then tab twice to find an edit box that lets you specify the number of measures. When you are done, press enter to save your changes.
  3. locate the beginning of the first verse by using any of the navigation commands. Ensure that no breaths or other audible noises are present when playback starts, then set the start of the time selection there.
  4. Do the same for the end of the verse, and set the end of the time selection
  5. audition and adjust the time selection as necessary
  6. open the options menu and arrow down once. You should hear: Record mode: time selection auto punch. Press enter
  7. Now, ensure that your track is armed, and that you hear yourself through the monitors, then move to the start of the time selection and press r. You will hear the audio just before the verse, then the audio should be gone or silent, for you to record in a new version or variation. It will come back in when you are done. Press space when you are finished.
  8. Repeat this as many times as you wish.

Now, if you arrow down or up, you will hear that you have some more audio items into your track. You should have three of them. If you navigate to each item, you should hear their name, followed by a number and then the word takes, depending on how many passes you recorded. In this case, we are interested in the item two, or in other words, the one that is in the middle. You can clear the time selection at this point if you wish, though note that you will have to create it again if you plan to record more takes. At this point you can press t and shift plus t to move between takes and then audition them. Whichever you leave selected will be the definitive one. You may now set the recording mode to normal using the options menu and don't forget to disable the pre-roll by using the metronome and pre-roll settings dialog or alt plus m. There is also a way to delete all the takes except the one you have picked, by assigning a keystroke to an action called: Take: Crop to active take in items or you can also use the command

Delete Active Take from Items, Prompt to Confirm : Control + Shift + T

which will delete the take you just selected.

recording tracks section by section

So you have recorded a verse, but want to continue on from the first chorus that follows. In this case, you would:

  1. Find the end of the verse that you have recorded using the navigation commands, or first using play and pause, then navigating to it.
  2. find the point at which you want recording to start, make sure that no trailing noise is heard and adjust the position as needed.
  3. we will open the metronome and pre-roll settings dialog by using alt plus shift plus m. Press shift plus tab about three times to enable the pre-roll before recording, and then tab twice to find an edit box that lets you specify the number of measures. When you are done, press enter to save your changes.
  4. press r and record.

And that's it. Repeat these same steps to record more sections.

recording more tracks (layered recording or overdubbing)

This is a very simple procedure and works very similar to the one described in the article recording your first track. Once you have a track recorded, you can create a new one and give it a name, then assign an input, arm it for recording and begin recording. You will hear what you previously recorded along with the new material that you plan to record. Repeat this as many times as you like. You can also create many tracks, assign inputs and arm all of them, then record for example a duet or a full band all at once. In this case you would do the following:

  1. Create three tracks for this example
  2. use the arrows to move to the first one, and then use shift in combination with the arrows to select them. You can check your selection by using control shift plus space.
  3. press the applications key on windows, or bring up the first of the menus (in Mac) and you will notice that reaper will tell you that your settings will be applied to three tracks. This is present as a menu item that actually will do nothing since its just information. Arrow up a few times to find an option to assign track inputs sequentially.
  4. here then you choose how exactly they will be assigned, whether they are stereo or mono and their descriptions will be self explanatory. Press enter on the assignation you will use.
  5. press f7 to arm all of them, and then r to start recording, space to stop.

And that's it. By selecting many tracks, we can do anything with them. Copy, paste, delete, mute (f5), or solo (f6) one or many tracks. What if we want only some specific tracks selected?

performing non-contiguous selection

Thankfully osara makes this rather easy to do. So we have three tracks up to this point. Lets try selecting tracks 1 and 3 only.

  1. go to the top of the track list with the up arrow
  2. now press shift plus space, and you will hear the message: "noncontiguous selection". Keep in mind that track one is still selected.
  3. you can now use shift plus down arrow, and you will notice that track two will not be selected. Press shift plus down arrow again, and you will now hear that track three is also unselected.
  4. at this point you should press shift plus space to select track three.
  5. check your selection by using control plus shift plus space. You should hear two tracks named, one and three.

And that's it. Pressing shift space repeatedly will toggle between selecting and unselecting what you have just focused, in this case track three. You may now control these two tracks at once.

Experiment: try doing the same with audio items.

record over backing tracks

So a client asked you to record a solo, a voice, whatever, over a track that has already been produced, such as a backing track, or the rest of the band, for example. Before we record anything, We need to set the tempo first.

  1. ensure you have a blank project open and press alt enter to open the project properties dialog
  2. the first thing you will find are the various tabs. Makes sure that the left most one is selected: project settings tab
  3. tab about six times and set the bpm. You can also set the time signature here.
  4. press enter to save your changes.

and now for the importing and recording process itself:

  1. ensure you are at the start of the project or at a place you feel at ease when recording. Most people like to leave a two bar empty space as a precaution.
  2. double tap the insert key or use the insert menu, and then choose media file.
  3. locate your mp3, wav, whatever contains the backing track, and press enter on it. You will notice that a track ahs been created with the file name as an item inside that track. When importing multiple items at once, reaper will prompt you for what you wish to do. Options are self explanatory.
  4. Once the file or files have been imported, it is time to create new tracks and record, just as described previously.

item manipulation

As we previously mentioned, items are the sole and responsible containers for any media you might have for a project. Unlike tracks that have no time, they are always placed somewhere on the timeline and have a duration. Remember that item editing in reaper is non-destructive. The content of the source file is thus never modified or changed. When we edit items, basically we must select either the item itself, or a portion of it, and then we can split, copy, move, delete, and so on. Now follows a description and how you can use these tools.

splitting items

This tool is used in many of the editing functions available. Be familiar with the following:

  • If no items are selected, pressing S will split items in all tracks at the edit cursor position.
  • If any item(s) are selected, pressing S will split all selected item(s) at the edit cursor position.
  • pressing the letter "a" will select and split the item under the edit cursor, which can be a more intuitive and viable alternative as you will not lose your position when you want to split a particular item.
  • If you have made a time selection, pressing Shift S will split all selected Item(s) at the beginning and end of the time selection.

deleting items

Now that we are equipped with this information, its time to go back to one of the situations outlined at the beginning. You recorded something, a last solo, but then you did not like how it turned out and want to discard it completely. But, maybe you tried to do this already, intuitively, and found out that if you had made a time selection and then pressed the delete key to erase part of say, just your voice, then as described on the fundamentals, everything else including your voice was gone, and that is absolutely what you did not intend to do. In this case you would:

  1. make a time selection using the left and right brackets and select the portion that you want to move, copy, delete, ETC
  2. select the track and then the item that contains the audio you want to remove by using the up and down arrows to select tracks, control plus left or right to select items.
  3. press shift plus s to split the item at time selection, two items should be created. One before and another one after the time selection
  4. either go to the beginning of the time selection and then select that very next item, or find the item in the middle, which is the one we would like to erase, and then press the delete key

copying, cutting and pasting items

Same is true if you wanted to copy and paste that item somewhere else, to repeat a verse at a later point. You must split the item first, select the newly created item, and then copy it. Finally, you would navigate to where you want to paste the item and press control plus v to paste.

moving and nudging items

Well, copying and pasting was easy, but I need help! I pasted the item and now its out of sync with everything else, it sounds too early or too late. Or, outlining the situation at the beginning, whatever someone else played is not quite on time. How to fix this? Again, if we do have one single item, the best course of action is to first split the item right at the places that we need (when correcting timing for individual notes it will be split into many small bits), then we can use the following commands, all based on the numpad keys (they work when it is enabled):

  • move selected items left or right: numpad 4 and 6 respectively
  • move selected items up or down one track: numpad 8 and 2 respectively

remember that in REAPER, nudging is relative to the screen display. For example, if you are zoomed in horizontally very closely on an item, (800 thousand pixels per second for example) then nudging left or right will move or slide it backward or forward thru a much smaller unit of time than if the view was zoomed out to the full project at 23 thousand pixels per second.

ripple editing modes

When you delete part of a media item, or when you move an item, a gap is left on the track where the deleted or moved item used to be. With ripple editing, the material on the track is moved over to fill that gap. Reaper has the following options, cycled using alt plus p:

  • ripple off: leaves a gap when you delete items and does not move items when you move just one of them.
  • ripple per track: moves the items, leaving no gaps between them when deleting items, and also moves other items together with the one you are moving.
  • ripple on: moves all of the items in the entire project moving other items together with the one you are currently moving.

smoothing out gaps, punch in and outs or edits

Remember that items are flexible containers that represent the media for your project. Suppose that you have split and deleted an item, but you probably deleted more than what you would have liked. Or when you recorded something, it came just a bit too early and it sounds chocked, or interrupted, because the beginning is missing. There are also some pops and clicks that result from a punch in or from editing or moving items. Reaper provides a couple of tools that can remedy this. Regarding pops and clicks, This last part is not that common since reaper does have automatic crossfading enabled by default, but a possible solution is explained.

shrinking and growing item edges

Very commonly used for smoothing or disguising recording punch in and outs, this functionality can be compared to the same as pencil or slip editing, or editing with the mouse in any of the other popular DAW software out there. Shrinking items will make them smaller, so they take up less horizontal space and thus they take up less time, which means that shrinking an item too much can effectively interrupt it prematurely and cut the audio. Extending or growing the items will do just the opposite. If you have them configured to loop (which is by default and we will cover this shortly in the following section) extending them too much will make them finish, and then repeat for some time. SO how does this all come into play when editing? Two of the most common situations already described are the most common use cases for this. They both grow and shrink items. First situation: you deleted something but it probably was too much and a word at the end of a verse is missing. What you would do is grow the item to the right:

  1. select the item that contains the missing word or bit
  2. move to the end of the item, or to right item edge by using either control plus numpad 9 or Control plus Shift plus FullStop, control plus numpad 7 or Control plus Shift plus Comma will move you to the left edge or the beginning of it instead.
  3. optional: set a marker there if you wish
  4. Use Alt plus FullStop or alt plus numpad 6 to extend or grow the right edge of the item. This will act according to your horizontal zoom
  5. press space to audition. If you have extended or grown the edge too much, then using alt plus comma or alt plus numpad 4 will shrink the right edge.
  6. in some cases, growing might not work because an item might be overlapping the edge. You should move the item that is preventing this.

That's it for this case.

Now, onto the second case. You recorded something but the attack or the beginning might be missing because it came in too early. Thankfully, reaper does have a preference set by default that records audio during pre-roll! You would now need to grow the left edge of the item, so you would:

  1. select the item that contains the missing word or bit
  2. move to the start of the item, or to left item edge by using either control plus numpad 7 or Control plus Shift plus comma, control plus numpad 9 or Control plus Shift plus FullStop will move you to the right edge or the end of it instead.
  3. optional: set a marker there if you wish
  4. Use Control plus comma or Control plus numpad 4 to extend or grow the left edge of the item. This will act according to your horizontal zoom
  5. since the item edge that is near the cursor as changed place, move to the previous item by using control plus left arrow
  6. press space to audition. If you have extended or grown the edge too much, then using control plus FullStop or control plus numpad 6 will shrink the left edge. You will need to move and focus the item again if you shrink the left edge with control plus right arrow.
  7. in some cases, growing might not work because an item might be overlapping the edge. You should move the item that is preventing this.

And that's it as far as item growing or shrinking.

To recap:

  • shrinking or growing item edges will work according to your horizontal zoom setting. The more zoomed in, the less effect these commands will have.
  • Use the control key and comma, or numpad 4 to grow the item to the left, and control key and FullStop or numpad 6 to shrink it back to the right.
  • use the alt key and FullStop or numpad 6 to grow the item to the right, and alt key plus comma or numpad 4 to shrink it back to the left

fixing pops and clicks by crossfading

So no matter how much you have moved, grown or shrunk things, those annoying pops and clicks still are there. What to do now?

Even though reaper's crossfade editor is lamentably not accessible at the moment, some reaper and sws actions can help you get the job done easily and in most cases very successfully. You will have to assign them though. Also be aware that some of these actions will perform more than just crossfading, as they intend to help you fill gaps using whatever means necessary (whether it'd be stretching, moving, crossfading) so always check and audition until you have satisfactory results. Normally you would select the two or more problematic items first, then use any of the following:

  • Item: Crossfade any overlapping items
  • SWS/AW: Fill gaps between selected items (quick, crossfade using default fade length)
  • SWS/AW: Fill gaps between selected items (advanced) Opens a dialog with settings for you to tweak and experiment.
  • SWS/AW: Fill gaps between selected items (advanced, use last settings)

the item properties dialog

One last important aspect which deserves a special mention here is the item properties dialog. You can access this dialog by selecting any item, and then pressing shift plus f2. From here you can change many things about them. Their position, duration, the rate at which they play, fades for them. The nudge/set dialog can be accessed from here as well, which is another way to be able to move items especially by larger distances. You can also select many items at once and change their properties here, by using multiplier or dividing values such as:

  • typing 10.0.00 in the length box will set them all to be 10 bars long
  • typing an asterisk and the number 2, *2 will double their current respective lengths
  • typing a slash and 2, /2 will halve their current respective lengths.

final thoughts

We hope all of this information wasn't too overwhelming. As with anything, editing audio takes practice and patience. But overall, we certainly hope that this will empower you in your future endeavors as a recording engineer, musician or audio producer. Do remember that many resources are available, and also people willing to help.