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You've heard it a thousand times and seen it in countless Instagram and Facebook comments. "Just use your ears". As much as that is of course very true in all aspects of audio work, that comment can get a little tiresome. Just because the end result will be audio only, that doesn't mean we can't get a little help from our visual tools. Given the fact that most of us don't work in ideal locations all the time maybe using headphones, poorly treated rooms or mixing a song on the go, visual tools can come in really handy to either verify what we are hearing or question it. That is why I love a certain Reaper feature that I will tell you all about right about now.

In pretty much every DAW there's a visual element to audio files. You know the waveform telling you how loud or quiet a part of audio is in a visual representation. Like the picture to the right:

Reaper waveform

It is of course helpful to see when audio will begin playing and to distinguish loud parts from quiet ones. Waveforms are all about displaying volume though and not so much frequency information, which is of course the other big part of audio.

In Reaper we can change this however using something called spectral peaks. And the waveform will look a bit more like this:

Reaper spectral waveform

This spectral type of waveform will help distinguish problematic aspects of your recording in a much better way than your normal peaks display. You can set up your colors the way you want, I have min ranging from purple to blue. So looking at the waveform the blue parts are most likely high frequency information and probably S:es; whereas the purple ones before the big red/yellow peak is probably a plosive. I know from looking at this that I might have to address these three sections, ducking the s:es and probably fading in the plosive. All this from not even hitting the play button once.

To set up spectral peaks in Reaper go to Options > Peaks display mode > Spectral peaks. Reaper will take some time to analyze your peaks and then your good to go. If you want to change how the colors behave or the opacity of the colors, go to the same menu again and chose Peaks Display Settings. You'll get to a window looking like this:

Just drag the color bar to match preferred color with frequency range!

I hope this was helpful!

Finding ways to reduce clicks for repetitive tasks is pretty much always a good idea. My posts are mostly about Reaper and to speed that workflow up but this is true for any DAW out there. Just implementing this mindset when you work in your DAW will give you ways to work faster the next time. For instance if you reach for the scissors tool in logic all the time; you should probably take the time to learn the keyboard shortcut for that to save some mouse clicks down the road.

Going back to reaper the whole idea with the DAW is for you to ask yourself these questions. Reaper is built to be extremely customizable to make the DAW behave the way that fits you and not the other way around. Therefore I usually end up changing keyboard shortcuts so that the ones I use a lot are in comfortable reach, add more shortcuts for stuff I do a lot and make new customized toolbars for different applications.

The thing that has probably made the most impact on my workflow though, is something I implemented very late. Starting and stopping audio is probably the most repetitive yet necessary task we do in audio. You won't get around the need to start play back from different spots in the project. This might however result in a lot of clicks down the road. Think about it. You listen to the verse and you change something click at the beginning of the verse again and press play, move the cursor back to the beginning ... you get the hang of it. Many clicks!

What I've done to reduce this is to set up a couple of shortcuts for playback. My regular space bar which is the normal play/pause behavior. But I also have W, ALT-Space and some keyboard buttons assigned to another action from the SWS library: SWS/BR: Play from mouse cursor position. This enables me to play from wherever my mouse cursor is and then pause with the space bar. This reduces the need to move the play back cursor in on the time ruler. If I want to go back to the beginning of the project I have that action set to keyboard shortcut 1. Hope that helped!

Coloring your tracks while mixing and producing can help a great deal to keep your projects organized. It's a lot easier to find specific track colors without having to look for the names and if you color the items the same way that will help to find corresponding tracks. If you stick to a plan for this and color similar instruments the same way this will also help with organizing your project for certain tasks like mixing. For instance I always use red for drums, yellow for bass and purple for vocals. This is all up to you of course but pick a rule and stick to it!

Having picked a color and a way to structure your project you may notice this may take a lot of your time when preparing for a mix for instance. This is where I get DAW specific. In the SWS-extension for Reaper there's a function for auto color both tracks and regions. This can help a great deal to quickly color your tracks based on their name. If you also have a well structured naming scheme your tracks will be properly colored in no time. To set this up go to extensions>Auto Color/Icon/Layout. Here you can add names for certain tracks like drums, bass, guitar etc. and add colors, icons and even track layouts. The names doesn't have to be specific names but can also be properties; for instance if the track is a child or folder. You can also add colors for regions so that there are specific colors for verse or chorus regions etc.

I have mine set up so that track prefixes like DRM,GTR or VOX, will get a specific color, I've also set up different track layouts for children and folders. Folders have a bigger meter in TCP and a tall channel layout in MCP. You can make these layouts in the Theme Adjuster window and then assign the letter through this extension. Finally you can add icons if you like but I'm fine with just colors.

Make sure to pay attention to the order of your rules in the Auto Color/Icon/Layout window. You can prioritize colors so that if a track is named KEYS_FX or something that has two colors assigned to it will pick the one first in your list.

Auto Color/Icon/Layout window

TCP Layout

MCP layout

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