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Automating Reaper with MIDI

Long-time readers of this blog will no doubt know that I love to automate and remotely control things. The way I see it is simple; we have all this amazingly cool technology at our disposal, so why not use it to do as much grunt work as possible. That’s why I fire off my weekend recording sessions with an AppleScript triggered at a certain time with iCal. And that’s been working great. However, I knew we could do more.

Before we go further, I should note that I'm using a DiGiCo SD8 and Reaper for mixing and recording. Much of what I will describe can be done with other console/software combinations, but you're on your own to figure it out. Google is your friend here...

There were a few additional things that I wanted to be able to automate. First, we edit the message portion of the service into a podcast between the 9 and 11. Because time is tight, I need to do that as quickly as possible. We try to remember to drop a marker on the recording timeline when the message starts so we can find it quickly but we often forgot. So I figured we could automate that. 

Second, I’ve totally forgotten to stop the recording after the 11 AM service. Sometimes I get talking with someone and we just keep rolling. It’s not a big deal, but it does increase file sizes more than necessary.

Finally, we multi-track the 11. But I don’t need to multi-track 32 channels during the message. Again, we tried to remember to disarm those tracks once the message got going, but it’s easy to forget. It’s not the end of the world, but it does chew up disk space faster than necessary.

I knew that our SD8 could output MIDI commands when snapshots are fired. I just needed a way to connect the Reaper computer (a 17” MacBook Pro) to the MIDI port on the SD8. I landed on the MOTU FastLane USB MIDI interface. I first tried a little EMU unit, but it was broken out of the box. The FastLane has 2 MIDI channels, which is nice, though I only use one (for now…). 

Once all the connections were made, it was a simple matter of assigning commands in Reaper to be triggered by MIDI commands. The first step was installing the MOTU driver so the Mac would see the FastLane. Next up, I enabled the FastLane in Reaper. Finally, I selected the appropriate actions in Reaper and assigned them commands.

Now, I’ll admit that I don’t really know much about MIDI. I do know I can output all kinds of values from the SD8, but I chose Control Channel controls, since I’m doing control. In the SD8, I simply choose the port (A1 in my case), the type of command (Command Channel) and the value. This is where it gets fun.

I chose the value 1 to drop a marker on the recording timeline. So every time Reaper sees the value 1 on the Command Channel, it drops a marker. I put this command in my message snapshot, and presto, when I fire that snapshot, a marker appears. 

Second, I set up an action that will toggle the arming of track 3. I did this because my kick is always on track 3, and all of the band tracks are grouped together so they all arm and disarm together. When I get to the snapshot in the service after the band is done, I add a CC 2 and it stops recording the band. 

Finally, Reaper has a command to stop recording and save tracks. I set that up to activate with a CC 3 command and I no longer have 20 minutes of blank track at the end of my session (and the tracks all get saved). 

This is a typical weekend of snapshots and MIDI commands.

It takes just a few clicks to insert those commands into the SD8 and it saves me a ton of time. At some point, I will also set the system up to start and stop my walk-in/walk-out music playback as well (as soon as I get the MIDI commands working in MIXX). 

So that’s my latest adventure in remote control. What and how are you controlling gear in your tech booth?

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