Reaping in the Dark – Part 1.3: Quickstart Guide

Welcome back to Reaping in the Dark! In this article, you will get a crash course on how to get up and running with Reaper if you already have some experience with digital audio workstations. Though this particular article is aimed toward those with some previous experience with computer based recording, there will be a future chapter dedicated to walking you through the process if you are a complete beginner.

Setting Up Your Interface

Unfortunately, there are too many variations on a setup process to write out every possible step you may or may not have to take. Differences in the interface you are using and the necessary drivers for it make writing a step by step guide impossible, so the best advice I can give is to trust your drivers’ setup wizards and turn to the Internet with issues you may have. There are countless threads on various forums concerning every interface line from all the major brands (and even the not so major brands), and I can say from personal experience that the odds are someone has had the same issue as you.

Setting Up Reaper

Once your drivers are installed and your computer is recognizing your interface, it’s time to set up your recording preferences in Reaper. The global preferences menu can be accessed with control +p. The preferences are displayed by a combo box with nested options for some categories, and the options for each category can be accessed by tabbing through them. You will want to find the “Devices” setting under “Audio”, and tab through the options for this setting and set all the appropriate settings to match the drivers for your interface. If you continue tabbing past these settings, you will find the options to set your bit depth and sample rate for your particular interface. Finally, if you continue tabbing through this set of options, you will find the options to change the allowed inputs and outputs for your particular interface. Depending on what you are using, this may appear as an edit box in which you can type a number or a combo box that lists values between the minimum and maximum possible inputs and outputs for your device. Adjust these depending on your particular recording and monitoring setup is, and you’re good to go.

Setting Up a Track

Once your preferences are set, you can then begin recording. Tracks can be added by pressing control + t, and you will be prompted for the name of the track. You can rename tracks later by selecting them with the up and down arrows while in the track list and pressing F2. Once a track is created, you can arm it for recording by pressing F7. You can also mute a track by selecting it and pressing F5, or solo it by pressing F6. Pressing F5 or F6 again will unmute or unsolo the track. Adjust your input and monitoring settings for the track by pressing applications on the track you wish to record on. Options that are active are marked as checked, and you can check or uncheck a particular option by pressing enter on it. However, note that this will close the menu if it is a single option or automatically take you into the next submenu if applicable, so to return to the initial  menu you will need to press applications again from the track list screen, or arrow left if you are in a submenu. From the track options menu you get from pressing applications, you will want to turn on “monitor input”, select “input: mono”, “input: stereo”, or “input: MIDI” depending on what source you wish to record, and select the input channels you wish to use for the input type you selected.

Navigating in Your Project

You can use the following shortcuts to move forward or back in your project:

  • Move to start of project: control + home
  • Move to end of project: control + end
  • Move forward in project: right
  • Move back in project: left
  • Move forward one measure: page down
  • Move back one measure: page up
  • Move forward one beat: control plus page down
  • Move back one beat: control + page up

Tempos, Time Signitures, and the Click Track

The metronome can be toggled on and off by pressing control + shift + m. To add a time signature or tempo change, move to the position at which you wish the change to occur and press shift + c. The tempo and time signature settings will appear, and you can navigate through them with tab and shift + tab. Pressing c alone gives you the option to edit the closest time signature or tempo change.


You are now set up to record. The transport controls are as follows:

  • Record: r
  • Play/Stop: space
  • Play/Pause and jump to current position: control + space

Inserting Files into a Project

To insert an audio file into your project, create and name a new track, select it with the arrow keys, and press insert twice to open the prompt that will allow you to browse for the file you wish to import. Alternately, you can open the menu bar with Alt, arrow right to the “Insert” menu, and select “Media file …”, which will then open the prompt to browse for the file. The “Insert” menu can also be opened by pressing alt + I.

Basic Mixing

To adjust the volume and pan for individual tracks, select the track by arrowing up and down through the main track list screen and use the following commands:

  • Raise track volume: alt + up
  • Lower track volume: alt + down
  • Pan left: alt + left
  • Pan right: alt + right
  • Toggle visibility of master track: control + alt + m
  • Raise volume for master track: shift + alt + up
  • Lower volume for master track: alt + shift + down

Monitoring Levels

There are two ways you can monitor levels to avoid clipping. The simplest way is by pressing j or k while playing back your project to report the current peak of the selected track. You can also use the peak watcher to monitor levels, which notifies you when the level for the selected track passes a certain threshold. To bring up the peak watcher menu, press control + shift + w. Follow the prompts to adjust the various settings for the peak watcher then press OK. Note that if you have the peak watcher set to hold peaks until it is reset, you will need to reset it every time the threshold is passed.

Saving and Rendering

To save or render your project, press alt + f to open the file menu, and arrow down to select the action you wish to execute. If rendering, you simply select the “Render …” option and tab through and adjust the various rendering settings before pressing the button to render your project at the end of the render settings.

Shortcuts Used in This Chapter

Below are the shortcuts used in this chapter, as well as their names as they appear in the Reaper action list.

  • Enable noncontiguous selection/toggle selection of current track/item (depending on focus) (works as an alternative to clicking on a button or check box): shift + space
  • Options: preferences …: control + p
  • Insert and name track: control + t
  • Go to previous track: up
  • Go to next track: down
  • Rename last touched track: F2
  • Mute/unmute tracks: F5
  • Solo/unsolo tracks: F6
  • Toggle metronome: control + shift + m
  • Insert time signature/tempo change marker at edit cursor: shift + c
  • Edit time signature marker near cursor: c
  • Move edit cursor forward one measure: page down
  • Move edit cursor back one measure: page up
  • Move edit cursor forward one beat: control + page down
  • Move edit cursor back one beat: control + page up
  • Go to start of project: control + home
  • Go to end of project: control + end
  • Move cursor left one pixel: left
  • Move cursor right one pixel: right
  • Nudge track volume up: alt + up
  • Nudge track volume down: alt + down
  • Nudge track pan left: alt + left
  • Nudge track pan right: alt + right
  • Toggle master track visible: control + alt + m
  • Nudge master track volume up: alt + shift + up
  • Nudge master track volume down: alt + shift + down
  • Report current peak for channel 1 of current track: j
  • Report current peak for channel 2 of current track: k
  • Report current peak for channel 1 of master track: shift + j
  • Report current peak for channel 2 of master track: shift + k
  • View peak watcher: control + shift + w
  • Save project: control + s
  • Save project as …: control + alt + s
  • Render project to disk: control + alt + r

Final Thoughts

If you have some experience with digital audio workstations, this should be able to get you off the ground with Reaper. Take some time to experiment, and explore the action list and the various options and preference menus Reaper has to offer to see how far you can get on your own. The following chapters will cover the basics of recording and will be a good review even if you have some experience, and once that is covered we will move on to more advanced editing and mixing techniques as they apply in Reaper. Until next time, Happy Reaping!

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