Mixing in REAPER: 8 steps to basic mixing for beginners


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This guide targets newbies or anyone who plans to try their hands mixing in REAPER.

I have mixed tonnes of songs for well over 10 years and counting. In those years, I have used REAPER extensively to achieve pro-level mixes.

To follow this guide, you will need the following tools:

  1. A PC or Mac computer 
  2. REAPER installation
  3. audio interface
  4. monitors or headphone

Set up your session

It is crucial to set the file name and location for your session. This will ensure that you can quickly get to the project when necessary.

  • Click on “file” in the toolbar and select “save the project as” in the dropdown.
  • Enter your desired name for the project and click Save.
image of a clean reaper session

Import your tracks.

The next step is to import your wave files into your session. Ensure it is correctly set as well as the required sample rate. It needs to match the source files.

  • Click on the toolbar and select “Insert,” then select “media file,” the first item from the dropdown. 
  • Please navigate to the location of the wave files to be mixed and ensure you select all of them.
  • Click on import
  • A mini dialogue pops up asking if you want the files on a “single track” or “separate tracks”. Select “separate tracks” and watch your session populated by the files.
Importing your tracks

Balance the levels

Now it’s time for the great balancing act. I usually start from the low end and work my way up. 

  • Click view” on the toolbar and select mixer from the dropdown.
  • Now you should see all the tracks in your project laid out.
  • While the music plays along, try and set the various levels using the faders and the mute or solo buttons.
balance levels

Equalization

An easy way to understand equalization is to consider each frequency band as having its volume, which can be increased or decreased. In other words, an equalizer is simply a level meter for the various frequency bands. Tweak it to get a feel but don’t go too crazy here. 

  • Click on the grey fx knob located after the volume control on every track. This opens the effects dialogue.
  • Click on “add” at the bottom of the box to reveal a list of all plugins on your system.
  • We are working strictly with inbuilt Reaplugs, so select ReaEQ vst. This adds the plugin to the channel. There are four default bands, and you can add more if you need to.
  • Set the levels as desired using my description below as a rough guide.
    • Add some brightness around the 5Khz range, suitable for vocals.
    • To cut off mud, reduce around the 350 to 450hz range—a boost for more body.
    • Boost around 150Hz for depth Cut for clarity.
    • Add a high pass filter curve (HPF) to all tracks except bass or kicks.
    • Use this setting only as a starting point and let your ears to the rest.
  • Do this for all tracks you want to eq.
Equalization in Reaper with the Reaper ReEQ plugin

Compression

This is arguably the most misunderstood tool in the mixing arsenal. Simply put, a compressor is a tool used to smooth out the dynamics in a signal. You can also use it to bring a sound forward in the mix. We shall be using the ReaComp compressor to smoothen the dynamics in select tracks. Let’s add to the main vocal.

  • Add the ReaComp vst to the tracks you want to compress using the above process.
  • Set the threshold to catch some signals, and then set a ratio till you can see or hear the compression kicking in.
  • Take it easy with this tool, as it can destroy the impact of a track if wrongly used. A single tool that can do all these functions is the ReaFir vst in Reaper.
interface of the ReaComp in a project

Finishing touches

Typically, you would go through iterations of balancing, equalization, and compression till you get a perfect balance, better known as the “sweet spot.” don’t worry if it seems you are not making progress as much. Mixing is an art, and you need lots of practice to get it right. This article serves as a guide to get you started.  

How to use the ReaComp vst

Export your mix

Hurray! We are at the last step.

It’s time to go through your mix again and check to see any adjustments that may be necessary. One final thing to do now is to export your song so you can listen to it on your phone or burn it to a CD.

In REAPER, this process is known as “rendering.” 

  • Go to the top left corner of the toolbar, under “file,” and click on “render” from the dropdown. The dialogue opens up. 
  • Set the name of your song and directory. 
  • Choose the format for the render as wave or mp3. You may want to set the sample rate to 44.1khz and bit depth to 16bits
  • Ensure the dither and noise shape boxes are ticked if your project is at a higher sample rate or bit depth. 
  • At the bottom right corner, you will find the render button. Don’t worry about all the many other settings in this dialogue. 
Render dilogue for the mix
Exporting your mix

Congrats, you have exported your mix.

One final note, TEST! TEST!!

You will find that there will be reasons to go back to make various adjustments. Feel free to experiment using your ears and eyes as the guide. Then test your mix some more. 

Don’t forget that you will need to master the song before it gets out to the public.

Note that you can always come back to the mix at a later time, So don’t sweat it.


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