PROPELLERHEAD REASON 8
The Reason Rack Extension ecosphere has exploded, and now the GUI can keep up.
Review: Christopher Holder
When non-studio people inevitably ask me ‘how long did it take’ to produce a track, I answer them somewhat cryptically: “I get it 80% done in four hours, about 95% there in four days, and 99% complete in four weeks” (as we all know, a track is never entirely finished, only abandoned). Naturally, they look at me blankly.
What I’m talking about is workflow. It doesn’t take long to figure out if you’re onto something: drums, bass, a lead line… if things click, you bash away frantically until you’ve got all the constituent dramatis personae stacked and racked, and maybe already loosely arranged. Four hours… ish.
From there you’re sufficiently in love with the track to spend a day on the build up, a couple of hours on the drum fills, and another couple exploring some more interesting chord inversions on your pad sound. Four days… ish.
By this stage you could pat your track on the bum and release it into the world. But you’ve got pride and (deadlines notwithstanding) you keep your track in the background, return to it periodically, give it a polish, fine tune the compression and EQ, and some of the internal mastering plugs. I’m not saying you work on it solidly for four weeks but it stays in your orbit that long.
LETTING IT FLOW
Again, what I’m talking about here is workflow. In those frantic first few hours you don’t want any obstacles in your way. Something sounds good? Get it down. Don’t overthink it. You really need your DAW to keep up. And here’s a big reason why Ableton’s Live has won so many friends. When people saw they could simply drag loops into the Arrange page and not worry about tempo or key… it really was like throwing paint at the wall — very different to the dominant tape-operator or piano-roll approach of the time.
Okay, I’m about 300 words into this review and I’ve not mentioned a new synth engine, or a 300GB sample library yet, so I’m guessing a few of you may have already drifted off. “If this bloke says ‘workflow’ one more time, someone please put me into an induced coma.”
So it’s with a certain amount of bravery that Propellerhead reveals version 8 of its flagship Reason DAW, leading with workflow improvements and not an ‘Odin’ synth or ‘Valhalla’ sample library. And I’ll admit I’m one of those who met the news with shoulders involuntarily slumped. One thing’s for sure I didn’t set my alarm early to be the first to download the update.
But I have, and I’m glad I did. The short review of Reason 8 is that it makes those first four hours of track building I was talking about far more productive. There is far more of that easy ‘throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks’ required to more quickly pull something together I’m excited by. Arguably, the improvements don’t do a heck of a lot for the following ‘four days’ or ‘four weeks’ but Reason 8 encourages me to jump into a super-creative mindset more readily.
I’ve mentioned that there isn’t the usual tasty array of headlining upgrade inducements in Reason 8, but guitarists and bassists might disagree with the inclusion of Softube Amp. Amp gives you four modelled guitar amplifiers and four guitar cabinets. The cabinets include models of the studio mics used and studio room emulations for an authentic sound. You can easily combine any amp and cabinet for a rich variety of tones. It’s a similar deal for Softube’s Bass Amp: two modelled bass amplifiers on offer (Modern for clarity and punch, and Vintage some grit/attitude) and three different speaker cabinets (Dark, Bright and Room), plus the mic and room emulations for a variety of tones. Softube is right at the top of the tree in this regard and the models sound first class. You can purchase the Amp separately for US$69 or make the Version 8 upgrade.
If you’re a Reason user you’ll almost certainly have already looked at Propellerhead’s promo material. You know that Reason’s new centre of gravity is the Browser. The Browser stays with you regardless of which of the three (Mixer, Rack, Sequencer) windows you’re in — like a guiding pole star over Scandinavian skies. And rather than right-clicking to instantiate a synth or plug, you simply drag it over. It’s amazing how quickly you get used to this new MO, and in practice it works very smoothly. For example, one bugbear for me has always been swapping synths out. If you’re happy with a bassline, for example, but you’d like to hear Maelstrom play it rather than Thor… well that’s traditionally been a pain in the butt. You have to copy/paste the part, you can’t simply/easily audition that part with another synth. Now you can.
Let’s not forget, only a few short years ago Reason had a couple of synths and a dozen or so effects and utilities. Now you might have 10 or more synths at your disposal along with dozens of effects, thanks to the Rack Extension universe exploding in the way that it has.
In other words, Propellerhead needed to respond, by allowing users to better mediate that enormous palette with improved workflow.
You’ll be glad it did.