December 8, 2011

Reason 6: Interview with James Bernard

So we just wrapped with the final edits on the Reason 6 Unique Perspective and I just wanted to take some time out to put throw my final thoughts down about Reason 6.

When the idea was pitched to do a video about Reason 6 my knowledge of the DAW was, to say the least, weak.  For those of you that still don’t know what Reason 6 is, I’m talking about an all in one music production and recording suite.  It is a complete package in a box and although there are a plethora of recording suites out there, Reason 6 stands out because of it’s ingenius design.  Designed in Sweden this software has a sense of European practicality to it, as everything is laid out in a well thought out and efficient manner.  Throughout the years Reason has been moving closer and closer to becoming an all in one production and creation suite and with this sixth update they may finally be there.

Some of the new updates include an SSL style mixer, new effects plugins and even the ability to record a persons voice, something that is new in the box for Reason.  Although these new features are cool, what struck me most about the software was the way it changes the way one thinks about music production.  No longer are you hunting for that perfect tone, you’re creating it.  Thats what makes Reason so cool, as a producer you are in charge of so much within the program that experimentation becomes integral in the production process.

This unprecedented amount of power and control make Reason 6 an awesome choice for anyone looking to get into the production game.  As far as ease of use goes, Reason also has a great amount of support and excellent forums and videos to help you not only learn the basics, but really to help to take it to the next level as your production gets more and more advanced.

Reason 6 is laid out just like a recording studio.  You read that correctly, a recording studio.  At it’s most basic level, Reason uses midi inputs (which can really be anything midi, anything at all) to control sound generators within the program, then it takes that sound and allows you the producer to put it down on a timeline for visual editing.  I can’t stress how much time can be saved by keeping everything under one roof. There are no conversion times, no crazy export times and no staring at your computer praying that your computer is just frozen for a second and not freezing as a sign of an impending crash.  The Reason dev team designed the software to run in a way that doesn’t tax your computer so even if your running on an older rig it should be pretty compatible right out of the box.

Reason 6 is all about the Reason instruments and effects and if you are familiar with any other type of serious DAW (digital audio workstation) like ProTools or Logic then you already know that they are useless without additional plugins.  Sure its possible to get sound into the system but the native plug-ins are lacking to say the least.  Reason 6 is unique in that it is a self contained studio that all of the devices you need are ready to go as soon as you start the program. So rather than spending all that time and money shopping for the right plugins for your sound, you can just start recording with devices that are tailor-made to work with one another, and versatile enough to get any sound that you can think of.

If you want all of your music production to be done under one roof or if your are just looking for some inspiration then you need to get on Reason.

In our previous post about Reason 6, we asked our readers to submit questions for our guest, James Bernard. Here are those questions and answers from the man himself.

Q. What are the advantages to using Reason 6 as opposed to another software like Ableton Live or Fruity Loops? -Michael Smith

A. Um I’ve hard this argument come up where people sort of want to say one or the other and my stance has been and always will be that I dont think any program does everything better than another program.  Reason has its strong points and what it does really well, Ableton Live has its strongpoints and does what it does really really well, fruity loops as well.  I dont think that I would ever tell someone that you need our program and dont use that other program.  Software is so cheap these days there is no reason to say I’m only going to use Reason because it doesn’t cost $2000 to get Reason.  For me personally I use a lot of different software so I wouldn’t say Reasons preferable in this situation or that but to use the programs to their strengths.

Q. If you were going to switch from a different production software to Reason, how easy would it be to switch? -Michael Smith

A. It depends where your skill set lies, i think for people that have never gotten their hands on hardware the UI or the way the rack works may seem confusing to someone because it may seem like you have to patch things constantly in the track which you dont have to.  So, the sort of beauty of Reason is that for someone just starting out it could be as simple as you dont even look at the rack you just go to the browser and say “I want a bass sound.” and you find a bass sound and you dont even care what device it takes to make that sound.   You can very quickly build a song up by doing just that, selecting sounds, getting your parts down and recording off and running.  The beauty (of Reason) is that behind the scenes its still there and as your knowledge increases and your start getting behind the rack and routing its there for you, but you dont have to.  SO id say for someone starting out, especially if your someone that thinks that they may eventually get some hardware pieces, Reason is a great place to start because you are going to cut your teeth on things that you are eventually going to be doing on hardware on your software and you can make mistakes, you can mess around and your not going to break something.  You can undo it and get back to where you were, its sort of the beauty of undo, you can experiment, stretch out and get back to where you were very quickly.  And i think the one thing that maybe coming from a different application and going into Reason is that it is a different UI (user interface) so that might take a little bit of getting used to.  If you’ve sort of always been programmed into a UI which does not look like hardware and has a much more software look to it that might be an initial hic up but . . . I think for people starting out or coming from a different background give it a chance, play around with it, its all about having fun.

Q. As a guitar player, teacher and songwriter why should I switch from a cheaper application like Reaper to something like this? -Stuart Deakin-Berry

A. Every application has its strong points and price is sometimes a factor for people when it comes to choosing a software application, you may be on a budget or what have you and there are some really good applications Reaper is a pretty good application and the price is pretty good on it it has a specific workflow and if your not really someone that jives with that workflow then even though its inexpensive it may not be the program for you. Especially someone like a guitarist tend to want to have a little bit different workflow than sort of that software programmer mentality, where you’ve got to go through fifteen different menues to get t0 recording a track of audio. So for someone like that yeah our software might be a little bit more expensive but I wouldn’t even say its a tonnage more but a little more expensive but the benefit that your going to get is the style of workflow that you get for producing.  So the best thing is, the demo is is free.  You dont have to commit and buy a copy of Reason because the demo is still the full version and its not a time limited demo so try it out for a month and see if it works. 

James Bernard

Q. Do you see audio quantizing being added in a future version? -Richard Oaten

A. Hi Richard, I remember you from the UK.  Um you know I can not answer that question and you know I’ve already answered those types of questions for you back in the UK. (chuckles)

Q. Considering the time stretch and audio transpose options, how will this new feature affect vocals? -Escape from LA

A. I can tell you very quickly, I’ve been doing some demos now using a couple  of the demo songs using the transpose and the stretching and its a world of difference being able to quickly on the fly decide that your entire song needs to go down three semi tones and nothing more than selecting the audio tracks and the midi tracks that contain the track information and going minus three and boom and you can hear it quickly without waiting for some offline process, its just a time saver and musically it makes things flow a lot better.  Because if I have to do that and wait, in the throws of making a song I want o know if this is gonna work if we go down a fifth if we go up a third is song gonna sound good.  Or you may have a vocalist where you have written a song in a key and that vocalist just can not hit the high note in that key, having the ability to transpose the entire song down to a range where they can sing well have them record that then just transpose the clip plus the other clips up to where you want it is just a time save, and it sounds amazing. 

Q. How does the new audio recording feature in Reason 6 compare to dedicated recording programs like Pro Tools? -Andrew Popeo

A. Its taken all of the audio that we had in the record program so unlimited recording of tracks of audio, time stretching always on having that ability to have all that audio stuff going along with all of your midi sequences is a time saver because previously to do that you had to use require and with Reason now it truly can be that all in one solution and the audio tracks and having that malleability to be able to change tempo by just changing the tempo is something that people are noticing more and more.  When we did it in Record and now in Reason 6 you’ll see very quickly the stretching  algorithm is just amazing and having another new stretch that has been added to Reason 6 for vocals.  That is just a time saver for production and having unlimited audio tracks is a great thing, as many as your computer can handle and you’ll notice right away with Reason is that it’s very light on your CPU so you’ll get a lot of tracks of audio without having to have some dedicated external DSP processing.  Having everything native, being able to have a laptop, turn it on put headphones and be able to just go on any amount of audio tracks is really a game changer I think for the industry.

First Video Transcript:

I’m James Bernard, I’ve been working for Propellerhead Software for many years now. I am artist relations, I am also product specialist, and I’m also part of the sound design team, so I do a fair amount of the patches and stuff, especially for Reason 6.
Reason, in its inception, was supposed to be the software replacement for what you would have been doing with hardware. So in the old days when Reason first came out it was meant to replace a MIDI production studio.
The main idea behind the software has always been, to sort of give you the shortest path from inspiration to creation, and that’s kind of been our mantra from day one and it’s continued on ’till now.
Pulverizer is one of my favs because it really does really add a new breath of life to sounds in Reason. Not that it wasn’t achievable, but it did take a few more steps to try and squeeze that out.
Whereas, when you use the Pulverizer on tracks it just sort of instantly breathes this sort of character into a sound. Where you can go from just a subtle, sort of, extra bit of spice, to just way over the top.
These days I’m putting a Pulverizer on like, every single channel. Well, to describe Thor as a product, it’s technically a semi-modular synthesizer.
Which has a number of synthesis methods as your sound generation, plus a number of different filter slots and ways that you can modulate or change sounds using modulation bus.
So that really opens up a lot of possibilities for synthesis, because then everything becomes malleable in any source, whether it be audio or voltage sources, it becomes something that could be used in music.
So it really just sort of expands your mind as to what you can do with sound and I would say that it really begs experimentation.
Alligator is a triple filtered gate. It’s an effects processor that takes audio that’s coming in and divides the audio into three specific frequency bands, there’s a crossover in there.
So you’ve got highs, mids, and lows, and as the signal passes through the chain you can do things like filtering, with LFO, envelopes.
So you can make sure sounds are really short and staccato, pan them left or right, distortion, phaser, delay, just a whole gamut of effects and they’re just built into the one unit so it’s really good for pads.
I use it a lot for things like, guitar, sort of strum the held chords, vocals, sort of if there’s a nice sustained note that it’s really nice on, and drums actually, I run drums through it and take maybe the mids and the highs of the drums and circle them around the head, while the lows are staying tight and constant.
So it’s sort of out there and open for more experimentation. It’s a whole new world now, you can mix your track entirely in the box, in the computer, and get that professional sounding mix without having to do all those extra steps that were required in Reason 5 or below.
Having everything sort of laid out, like it would be on a professional mixing console, where it’s just in line and you’ve got your dynamics, the feed into EQs, your AUX ins, and everything sort of right there.
It just makes the whole process of mixing much much more musical.
This is our first, sort of, approach into the hardware world and it’s a standard, two in two out, audio interface, but as you can see it’s oozing with Swedish design and style.
But more than just aesthetically pleasing, there are some things that this device will do and functions that you get when you use it with Reason 6 that are pretty unique.
With clip safe on, what it does, is it actually takes the second input and drops it down by a number of DB, and records that as well but it does not swap the audio files out.
What it does, is that it uses that second recording, it redraws the clipped portions using that second waveform as the source to re-draw the waveforms.
So, it magically just fixes the clipped portions, and it will redraw above zero DB as well,so you don’t lose any transience or any sound that’s there. It’s sort of magic and it only happens with the communication between this piece of hardware to Reason 6 only.

Second Video Transcript:

There’s two main sections in the Pulverizer which sort of process sound, and that’s the squash and the dirt section, and even though they’re based on the one knob mentality where, you know, it’s just give me more, the sort of modeling behind them is that I think the squash was a compression type algorithm, which is very characteristic.
So you know, similar to something like Pultec or an 11-76. That’s what they were modeling that after, a very characteristic sort of compression.
And what is unique about the compression that is in the Pulverizer, is that it actually goes to infinite compression ratio and the dirt knob they actually modeled that after a specific guitar distortion pedal.
There’s a very characteristic, sort of, very meaty type sound to the distortion there. So it can go from like, subtle tape exaggeration to a full on beefy kind of sound to it.
So yeah, there was a lot going on behind the scenes for that, there’s nothing in Reason that they would not borrow any other device there, they were completely new models, completely new sounds that they were looking for.
If you’re going to drop it into a mastering rack, it would be akin to dropping just a two channel standard compressor in. More likely if I was going to throw it in a mastering rack I would probably hit it light, I wouldn’t hit it too hard, because then you might get that sort of breathing and pumping.
But if you’re looking for that sort of good light compression and just that characteristic, you just hit it a little bit lighter on its input.
Probably, you might want to build a multiband scenario if you really want that sort of control over all frequencies. And I don’t know, I don’t believe there are any patches in there yet, but I’ll probably do something for a future tutorial video and then just make those available.
The wet/dry mix on the Pulverizer and the alligator are both doing what’s called parallel processing. So if you have it fully wet, then you are just going to hear the affected signal.
As you start scaling back from wet to a little bit dry then you are getting both the dry signal and the processed signal. So, that’s going to be, in the case of Pulverizer, if you’re using squash, that’s going to be parallel compression, parallel compression.
If you are using the Alligator, it’s parallel effect processing, where you are getting the original signal sort of sitting underneath the affected signal as well.
It’s actually very useful because in the Pulverizer itself, there’s a few predetermined destinations for the envelope filer, one being the rate, which is the tremor rate, which is essentially an LFO.
So you can use that with pretty good effects, you get this emulation with rocking the on/off switch on a Leslie type sound where you can have when the sound makes that initial attack, it will start off with a real fast sort of vibrato or sort of leslie type effect.
Then as the sound decays the envelope goes into the release section and starts to slow down the rate, you can do the inverse of that because the knobs are co-centric. So when you go off center to the negative side, you’re getting an inverse effect on the rate.
So, it’s really cool for doing that internally in the Pulverizer, but since the follower also has a CD modulation output, you could actually use the follower to do things like vocal riding or ducking so when the signal crosses a threshold it sends out an envelope with a slow attack and a slow release.
So you can have the vocal and then the rest of the music on another mix.
So when the vocal crosses a threshold, the rest of the mix will come down a bit slowly and then back in slowly, so you can do that sort of vocal rise. So the vocal always sits just on top of the main mix of music. One example of something you can do with it.
The filter section is basically, as far as I understand, it’s sort of pulled from the Thor filter or multimode filter with the calm in there as well.
So it’s not really an envelop per se, it’s a true filter with a lot of different types, but you can use the envelope follower to play the frequency knob for you if you want, but it is a true multi mode filter.
So you’ve got all those different filter types there, and you can route it either pre or post the squash and distortion section. So if you want to take a signal and roll off some low end before it hits the compressor, then you can do that as well.


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  2. [...] The history of the program since then has been a steady stream of improvements. Versions 2.5, then 3, then 4 brought a stream of new, now indispensable devices. An insanely devoted user group (and one of the most wonderful message boards on the web) formed around the program. Version 5 saw Reason pair off with a new companion by the name of Record. With Record, the audio recording issues had been resolved, as well as made extra sexy with the upgrade to an SSL modeled console that includes (and why shouldn’t it?) the famous master bus. Meanwhile, a live sampling feature had been developed within Reason. So many problems that had been regarded as holding the program back were resolved through a stream of releases. Finally, in the recent release of version 6, Propellerhead smashed the two programs together, added the Kong Drum Designer, Pulverizer and the Alligator effects unit, among other things, and in the eyes of the dedicated users, had really brought the program a long way. There was much rejoicing, and James Bernard came out to visit us and we talked to him about the most recent additions to the program. [...]