I keep getting asked by users why basic audio editing behavior differs in Reaper so I decided to share a few tip that are going to seem as obvious as the proverbial nose on a Reaper expert’s face. This stuff’s mainly for migrants to Reaper so mods feel free to move over to newbie land if it’s more relevant there.
Editing audio – rearranging, snipping and moving audio items in Reaper
This guide provides a simple explanation of how to edit out and splice together chunks of an audio file pulled into Reaper into more usable items.
1. Control Snap in Reaper
For precise control of item movement you can toggle off snap altogether with Alt+S, or toggle off grid-lines with Alt+G. The former is the Magnet icon on the toolbar, and the latter is the icon to its left. Snap snaps to the grid divisions, so if the grid’s off, grid-based snap is effectively off.
Why the separate options? Because Reaper can snap both to grid divisions and also to items – Reaper’s name for “parts” or “regions”. Both are fully controllable, and Alt+L gives you the options to adjust snap behavior more precisely. For the purpose of splicing out sections of unwanted audio and butting remaining segments together, set “Media items snap at” to “Both start/end”. That way, items will snap to each other at either end when you’re sliding them around with no grid. With item snap, there’s no danger of going too far and creating unwanted cross-fades.
2. Control cross-fades
Alt+X toggles auto cross-fade behavior which happens if you drag one item over another. On the occasions you don’t want this, Alt+X is your friend. The toolbar button is the leftmost on row 2.
Reaper’s split behavior is pretty intelligent. Place the edit cursor by clicking somewhere on an item and hit “S” to split at the edit cursor. By default, when you split audio items, it creates a really tiny fade-in/fade-out at end and beginning of the new items either side. Not for you to hear it, but to help avoid potential clicks created by splitting audio at non-zero crossing points. It’s practically inaudible unless you lengthen the fades, which of course you can to create an audible fade in/out for an item.
You can also split at zero crossing points using ALT+Z to split, which typically splits a few samples to the left of the edit cursor according to where all channels of the audio cross the zero point. The normal split behavior as above is usually sufficient, but if you’re getting clicks in transitions between items, you can look here to find out how to use cross-fades to make edit transitions smooth in any scenario.
Once you’ve split and deleted unwanted sections of audio, with grid disabled but snap enabled (and configured as above), just move the items together and allow them to snap to each other. Job done. Transition between items should be smooth with no clicks – the tiny fades take care of that.
5. Glue together to create new single items.
When you’re ready, select several items separated by splits (click & ctrl+click) and glue them together with Ctrl+Shift+G or right-click->Glue items.
Whenever you glue audio items, Reaper will render them into a new audio file which can be seen in the media bay (Ctrl+B). Take note that, with the exception of fade-in on the first item and fade-out on the last, all other non-destructive item processing will be rendered into the new (glued) item. That includes any Take (item) FX and Take (item) envelopes that may exist on one or more of the items that you’re gluing.
Further info – Nondestructive editing and The power of glue
Quite a few Reaperites don’t know this (I didn’t until recently) but you can also glue just a single item. This is a super-quick way of rendering down “What you see and what you hear” from a given audio item into a new audio file in Reaper. Why is this handy? Because in the non-destructive world of Reaper, sometimes you want to work with small snippets of a bigger audio file and you’re not interested in the rest.
So “glue” on a single item gives you the power to snip out a piece of an item and turn it instantly into a new audio file for looping. Ordinarily, if you snip out a little piece of audio from a big file, copy that somewhere and extend it, it’ll bring back the hidden audio beyond the item’s edge. This is because in Reaper all edits are nondestructive, including snipping, unless you use a function that renders a new file. Looping in Reaper is always governed by the item’s underlying audio file; if you extend beyond it, Reaper will loop.
So by gluing an individual item, you create a file that represents the item you see. Once “glued”, you can extend the right edge and loop away.
Items can overlap
Unlike some other DAWs, if you overlap items Reaper will just sum (mix) them together for the overlapping portion, and the waveform you see on the track represents the mixed waveform. With auto-cross-fading enabled, Reaper will automatically place a cross-fade on the overlapping portion – which you can adjust by grabbing to the top-left of the cross-fade edge at either side (the mouse will change to a fade pointer). Without cross-fades, the audio’s just mixed together. Using this along with Item properties: Volume, take envelopes for example, with or without cross-fading, the behavior of overlapped items can be very useful to create mini-mixes of audio. The final step is to glue the overlapped items, which are then rendered to a new audio file that can be used in your project. If you want to include track-based automation or effects in your render, mark a region and use the track render options.
Overlapping items can be shown in two ways. The default is to show them literally one atop the other, where the waveform seen represents the mix of the overlapping items. The other is to show them in lanes within the track. This view can be enabled with “Options.. Show overlapping media items in lanes”.
To get the best out of Reaper’s editing/arrangement of audio, get familiar with split behavior (snipping), snap options, fades and gluing. Remember that almost everything in Reaper is non-destructive, apart from functions that specifically render to a new file. Glue is one such function and most others have the word “Render” in their title, so it’s pretty obvious. All “destructive” functions create a new file, leaving the original in tact, so you’ll never lose the audio before a destructive process. Plus, Reaper’s undo always allows you to go back, so you can experiment freely and should never lose anything – though new audio files generated by any render functions (including glue) won’t be deleted if you undo them: you do this manually with File..Clean current project directory.
Hopefully, this article has helped you get a basic idea of how to use Reaper and given you avenues of exploration to pursue further. If you decide to give Reaper free a try, you’ll benefit from the relatively easy learning curve and they have a 60-day free trial. If you decide to buy it, it’s quite affordable at $60. This is a lot for the money compared to other free options out there on the market. Given that your annual gross revenue from music production doesn’t exceed $20,000.
Otherwise, the Reaper full version upgrade is $225 and if you purchase it the Reaper DAW price is $60. You can later upgrade Reaper at a discounted price should your income transition over the threshold. I believe the full version includes some free upgrades and there’s a lot of help available online for learning. Just search: Reaper, reaper tutorial 2019, reaper daw wiki and reaper tutorial midi inside out. Its usage of VST plug-ins means you have access to a host of well-known tools.
Go out there and make some music. Enjoy!