Friday, March 25, 2011

Which Daw? A Beginner's Guide pt 2; Dialectic 1


Rotund Alfred
yeah, as a reason user I am in a constant dilemma as to whether to abandon the software [Reason] that I have spent so long learning the ins and outs of just to see what a 'real' DAW is like; I love reason but at the same time I fucking hate it too, and its hard to tell how much is down to my own failing creativity and how much is down to the oddities of the program itself. Do other people get as annoyed with their DAWs as reason users do?

Despite what was said in the comments in Which Daw? A Beginner’s Guide pt. 2, I've used reason over the years.  I remember intently waiting for Reason 1 to be released.  Reason at that time was unmatched.  Nothing like it existed.  Imagine that for a second, a totally new way of producing electronic music.  Nothing has come along since its November 2000 release to change the game as much.  Well, maybe Ableton Live, wink wink, check Which Daw? A Beginner’s Guide pt. 3.

I've always found Reason to be a really fun (not to be overlooked) and immensely inspirational environment.  I think Scream is the best computer based distortion I've ever heard (why has no one cloned Scream in vst form, WHY?), though Ohm Force’s Ohmicide does kick a fair amount of ass.  I also love the rv7000.  I think Thor and Maelstrom are really powerful synths with a lot of creative potential, but they cannot compete with the sound put out by top tier vsti's.

Now it gets even worse, the samplers are very underpowered and don't allow for the creative manipulation of samples to the extent that something like Native Instrument’s Kontakt does.  And even worse, the compression and equalization in reason are extremely limited.  You can do just about anything in Reason with clever patching and workflow, but you cannot patch your way out of poor compression and equalization (I suppose you can, by ReWiring, a very common practice amongst professional Reason users).

Reason just falls off for me.  Great environment, great limitations, great synths, great distortion, great reverb, so so samplers, poor eq and compression, and just unspeakable metering, a very important, if nerdy, feature that is essential in proper gain staging.  See future post regarding gain staging.  If you are just starting out, this coming post will change your life, and shave years off of your production learning curve.  I swear to you, that is no joke.

All of this doesn't really matter, though, if you are a Reason user who produces dope tracks.  Whatever works for you, works.  That is the bottom line.  Results speak for themselves.

But, as I’ve tried to emphasize, learning a daw is a long, sometimes frustrating process.  True facility in a daw is equivalent to facility with a musical instrument in many ways.  It does take years to feel out all the nuances, peculiarities, propensities of an instrument like a daw.  Casting that knowledge aside and starting with a new daw is a painful process, and necessitates years more of learning, and less than optimal performance all the while as the new daw is mastered.

So where does that leave us?  For Reason users who have been producing successfully for years, I’ve got nothing to say to you, go for it.  But for a young producer who is just getting started, I really can’t recommend Reason.  I feel its inherent limitations outweigh its positives with the exception of those with severely underpowered computers and no ability to upgrade, or those who need extreme restrictions to be productive.

And for the extremely difficult case of the midstream producer who has been working with Reason for a couple of years, knows it really well, but is still unsatisfied with the music they are producing…  hard choices are going to have to be made.  You have to look inside yourself and really try to determine if your own musical ability is holding you back, or if your musical ability is there, but workflow limitations or the sound of Reason is the final barrier to achieving your production goals.  If this proves too difficult one potential way to discern this is to demo another daw and rewire Reason into the daw.

Because all or most of the sound design and writing will be taking place in Reason, you will initially be required to learn a smaller set of skills in the new daw.  This will allow you to test another daw’s sound against Reason’s, and as familiarity grows in the new daw, you can begin preliminary attempts at sound design and writing. 

I have to warn you.  Using a new daw will feel like you are on square one again, and square one in computer music can be very frustrating.  But you have to try to learn as much as you can, as quickly as you can to really determine if the potential of the new daw exceeds that of Reason's.

I know many producers that have ReWired Reason into other daws, only to eventually abandon Reason entirely over time as they became more familiar with the new daw, but I also know others who are happy to continue in Reason and ReWire into another daw for mixing purposes (where sound is summed together, and much of the compression and equalization of sounds takes place).


  1. Good post, i'm backwards and forwards between Reason and ableton at the minute. Reason is cool yeah, but I just cant get past the lack of audio. To me, Reason initially seems more exciting but I think i'm gonna be putting in more hours on ableton from now on.

  2. these posts are fantastic, so much effort. bigup yourself.

  3. Great stuff, I look forward to the ableton post as that is probably the next option for me

  4. Great content in your posts as always

  5. yeah, i'd only think about abandoning Reason if scream had a VST version... i mean really, there are so many that come close and then just fall flat for me

    again, great read, i'm starting to really look forward to your posts

  6. i used to use reason, it is a very good and capable daw, has a set of very good synths and decent effects. the one thing that annoyed me the most was the fact that it couldn't handle audio files so working with samples was a nightmare. its probably solely this factor which made me switch to ableton.

    i don't see the lack of vst support as a big issue as i only use 3 third party synths anyway (sylenth, massive, albino) and most the effects i use are the stock ableton ones

    good post tho and interesting read

  7. I agree with everything you've said. I like the hardware style design and faux CV routing you can do and I think some of the synths can do pretty nice things. However it's so fucking hard to make a track sound good if you're using only reason. Any mixdown I've ever attempted in Reason has sounded kind of flat and it's really hard to shake the general Reason sound. It just often sounds cheap and souless to me. However I have heard great music and been told it was done on Reason so you can work round that I guess.

  8. Ever since I read that Rob Sparx uses Ohmicide, I've been wanting to pick it up. Is it really worth forking over that much money though? Lovin all your posts on this though, can't wait for part 3.

  9. Mistayif, that is true, but Ableton's bundled effects are far superior to Reason's, both in terms of sound quality and creative potential.

    And the mere fact that you do use three third party vsti's is really the point. Those are your chosen devices, even though it is a minor set of the total potential vst synths.

    I too may only use even just one synth, but it is the synth that I choose to use. That ability to choose is at the heart of the openness that vst technology enables, and Propellerhead denies.

  10. I used to be a hardcore Reason user - absolutely loved it, but really felt the restrictions after a couple of years. After trying pretty hard to get mt head around Live, I've hit a bit of a standstill, where I've ended up both creatively and technically stuck between Live and Reason, unable to make my mind up, and slowly losing my memory of the latter and getting frustrated with the former.

    Dangerous situation.

  11. Feel your pain on that one, that is why I'm writing this thing. The midstream switching can really retard your production, like in a profound way. Best to get a taste of everything when you're just a pup, pick one, and just go with it.

    I know people that are like, I'll start on Reason and then when I understand everything, I'll switch to a better daw. I'm like... Facepalm.

    For some reason this has turned into a post about Reason! haha jokes, but of all the daws, I find it to be the least relevant as we move forward into the future.

    I recommend just putting reason down entirely, and forcing yourself to work in live now. You will take a hit, no jokes about that, but when you discover the creative potential of Live's session view... Reason will seam like a tricycle to your Lamborghini.

  12. Really looking forward to what you've gotta say about Ableton!

  13. At the same time, square one is liberating. Being lost vs exploring unknown territory, all depends on your outlook.