Why Use Reaper?
By Jeff Kaiser
[Caveat: This page is a list of tech reasons directed primarily at those who currently use a different digital audio workstation (DAW) or are looking for reasons to support the use of Reaper, but new users may also find it interesting.]
I was first introduced to Reaper (Reaper, a DAW by Cockos, is an acronym for Rapid Environment for Audio Production, Engineering, and Recording) while playing in multiple recording sessions in Berlin during the summer of 2009—in the home studio of Roy Carroll, then at Ausland, Loophole, Salon Bruit, and other venues/locations around the city. A diehard Pro Tools, Logic, and Digital Performer user at the time, it held no appeal and I gave it little further attention once I returned home.
Then, in 2013, as instructor of digital audio composition at the University of San Diego, I began to use Reaper, initially for my students, because we required a reasonably priced but effective alternative to expensive software packages that would only run on newer computers and found I loved it. None of the students at USD had ever opened Reaper before my class.
Then when I took a post as a professor at the University of Central Missouri, I found several students that did have some familiarity with it, and as I have encouraged its use, this number has increased and the application has entered the culture of our program. Our Music Technology program here primarily teaches courses that rely heavily on Pro Tools, Logic, Ableton Live, and Max, which are the choice of tools for many professionals in the music industry. However, since arriving in 2016, I have consistently used Reaper in Electronic Music Composition, a course focusing on the creative practice, as well as the history, of experimental work in electronic music (art, jazz, pop, and more). and it has even become the choice of some students for projects in their senior seminar and Music Composition 1 and 2.
The number of students electing to use Reaper increased dramatically during the move to online instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic when many students moved home, losing access to our studios and their array of expensive hardware and software. Relying on their own computers, which were not able to run the latest industry standard software in every case, and lacking that expensive software itself, many more students, having been introduced to Reaper in their classes here, found it the obvious solution offering everything they needed at a price (initially free!) they could afford.
When I assign Reaper for my Electronic Music Composition course, the first question from students is most always: “Why?! I really love _______ [Live, Pro Tools, Logic, FL Studio, fill in the blank].” When I started, though a few were familiar with Reaper, none had used it extensively. This unfamiliarity inevitably created distrust, and even a dislike of the program. And so, I made a list of reasons for the inclusion of Reaper in my syllabus. After some further pushback, I posted my list of “Why Reaper?” on Facebook, and friends and colleagues from other universities and the professional audio world started adding to it, expanding it more and more.
Shortly after I wrote my initial blog post, Why Reaper?, I subsequently realized that the list had become a clear argument for the use of Reaper not only in education, but also in personal creative practice and professional studio environments.
I made Reaper my primary DAW owing to the many reasons listed below and many more besides. I still use Pro Tools et al for certain sessions , when they seem more appropriate, convenient, or necessary, but when I have the choice, my first choice is Reaper.
So, I thought I would share the list.
A big thank you to Peter McCulloch, Louis Lopez, and so many other friends for their input!
Why Use Reaper?
- It is cross platform, working on Mac OS, Windows, and Linux.
- It works fine on many older computers. (And older versions of the application are readily available.)
- It works beautifully on new computers, consistently and effectively updated as new hardware and operating systems are released.
- The application has a very small size: it downloads fast, and installs and loads quickly.
- It works with standard plugin formats, as well as its own.
- There is no extra paid upgrade to get surround-sound variants and other advanced features.
- No artificial track limit, no paid upgrade for more tracks. The limit is your computer strength.
- It offers surround-variants not available in many other DAWs, let alone those in its price range.
- It functions fully in its free demo (Evaluation) mode, making it accessible to students of any income level. Cockos requests that you buy a license after 60 days. However, they are a very generous company, so the demo does not expire. We love Reaper, and encourage you to buy a license if you are financially able.
- Since it is both affordable and fully functioning in demo mode, it can be installed on a student's personal computer allowing them to work outside at home, the library, coffeehouse, park, and more.
- Adding free plugins make it a great, out of the box, production environment, and a great place to learn and explore. Please see the "Resources" link on this site for a list of recommended, cross-platform plug-ins that pair well with Reaper.
- It levels the playing field in the classroom for all the above reasons.
- It encourages students to think creatively by allowing them to think differently than the workflow other DAWs enforce.
- It encourages students to think about their music production tools agnostically, i.e., without attachment to either specific system or application.
- It is being used in more and more professional studio environments.
- It was one of the early adopters of modern nomenclature, moving away from master/slave to lead/follow
- It is the choice of Mike Senior, popular Sound On Sound columnist and the author of the classic text we happen to use in our Pro Tools course at our university, Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio.
- It has a large and passionate user base, and many forums. Many, many forums.
- Its powerful scripting features are used commercially in the gaming world. In particular, Guitar Hero.
- It has in-channel matrix mixing for flexible and creative effects routing. An example in the user guide shows how to mult a signal into three parallel signals, and then apply pitch-shifting and compression to two of the copies without ever leaving the channel. You can also easily split the signal into NBands.
- Create your own signal processing plugins in Reaper using the JS ones as examples.
- Reaper has no track types. Any track can have a mixture of audio, MIDI, and video.
- Reaper's ReaGate can output a MIDI note when it opens. Instead of the usual sidechain and subtone methods, you can use the generated MIDI note to trigger a synth,getting all the envelope triggering/filters/LFO syncing et cetera.
- You can assign effects to an individual clip, so if you move the clip, the effects go with it. Perfect for electro-acoustic music.
- Tone sweep generation plus deconvolution allows you to capture impulse responses easily.
- It displays waveforms, sonograms, or a combination, for tracks.
- It offers batch processing.
- Has the craziest origin story of any DAW. [Beginning with http://cockos.com/jesusonic/ and https://www.wired.com/2006/10/justin-frankel-rocks-on/]
- The way it handles FX chains is a time saver.
- It sounds good.
- It offers excellent video handling and even offers basic video editing features.
- It supports OSC.
- It has built-in Ninjam support for networked performances.
- It offers accessibility support through OSARA. https://osara.reaperaccessibility.com/
- It has easy track comping.
- It offers many, many export options.
- There are many great video tutorials, strong community support both in its own forum and on social media platforms.
- It offers parameter modulation from audio sources.
- Cockos releases regular Reaper updates and bug fixes, really regular.
- It is skinnable. The ability to change appearance is great, you can make it look like other DAWs, or unique, or like old school mixers: Do you have a large monitor? Check out Imperial from White Tie. There are dark/minimal themes and more. Students enjoy this, as they can find a style that appeals to their own aesthetics.
- You don't like skins, and you don't like the look of the default theme? Customize/adjust the default theme! Options-->Themes-->Theme Adjuster.
- You can customize the application (menus, shortcuts, preferences, theme, and more!) to work in the way you want to work, and take those customizations with you to other computers.
- You can download, create, and share your own configuration files to get mouse behaviors, shortcuts, et cetera similar to DAWs you have become accustomed to, for example: https://www.protoolstoreaper.com/mouse-modifiers
- Or; you can fully configure the menus, actions, preferences in a way that makes sense to you.
- Do you want to take your custom Actions with you to another computer? Menu-->Actions--> Import/Export.
- Do you want to take your custom Preferences to another computer? Preferences-->General--> Import/Export.
- The .rpp file made by the application: is a text file. It can be opened and read/edited in your favorite text editor. (Be careful of changes...you can break things.)
- ReaTune! A built in tuner AND also pitch correction, similar to AutoTune.
- Folder tracks AND aux routing is a dream. And pre-dates other DAWs use of it by years.
- Bouncing multiple regions with one click saves so much time on big projects.
- Switching audio devices does not force reload. (I’m looking at you, Pro Tools.)
- Spectral Editing built in.
- I mentioned tutorials above, but specifically: Kenny Gioia's ReaperMania videos!