I’ve never really been a fan of ProTools. There I said it. I know, I know, almost every song I even listen to was recorded and edited in ProTools, but I find the interface obtuse. Like many things, it comes down to what you know; and I admit to not really knowing ProTools. But every time I try it out, it seems hard.
On the other hand, I took to Reaper like a fish to water. It was easy to get up to speed quickly and I continue to discover shortcuts, more efficient processes and easier ways to do things. Reaper is also heavily customizable. As I wrote in my post about automating Reaper recording, you can quickly and easily configure it to work for you.
Better still, the amazing team of programmers at Cockos continue to develop and advance the product. Project templates have been around since I started using Reaper, and they’ve saved me considerable amounts of time. Before we get to project templates, I want to make the distinction between track and project templates. Track templates save the layout, naming and input assignments of your tracks. A project template will save all of that plus the output routing, and just about everything else about your project. Note that a project template will also save media that might be in the tracks, so clear our any media before creating the template.
On any given weekend we typically have drums, bass, keys (piano, synth and B3), our worship leader’s electric, his and background vocals plus a teaching mic in the mx. Depending on the week, we may also have percussion or winds. In Reaper then, I have two versions of my project templates; one for when we have percussion, one for when we have winds. If we have neither, I start with winds and simply delete that track.
To create a template, start laying out all the tracks you’ll need. I put my tracks in board order to make it easy to keep track of. I include both our teaching pastor’s channels, deleting the one who is not speaking each weekend. I also include tracks for as many BGVs as we’re ever likely to have (deleting the ones not used), as well as a tracks for backing tracks and extra guitars (again, deleted when not needed).
I go through and get all my output patching correct so that when I play back for virtual soundcheck, all the channels show up in the right place on the SD8. This is all done in the Routing/Grouping Matrix tab. Because I can, I also color-code my tracks using the same colors we use on our input sheets, and assign custom icons to each track. Once that’s all done, I save the template (File -> Project Templates -> Save as project template…).
Remember that this will save everything—including media, window positions, audio devices, starting render settings and the like—so make sure you have it set up the way you want before saving the template. Once I built the first (I started with winds), I built the second based on the existing settings. I suppose I could also create a third— a minimal template that only has two background vocals; no winds, perc or additional guitars—that would speed up my set up some weekends. But it’s also just as easy to delete the tracks I’m not using.
To use the templates, I launch Reaper (actually, it launches automatically when we boot up the Mac) and simply head to the File menu and select Project Templates. I pick the one I want and tell it not to bother saving the blank project that it opened. I go through the project selecting and deleting tracks that aren't used, renaming the vocal tracks for future reference. Finally, I save the project, naming it for that weekend. The whole process takes about 30 seconds each week, and I am confident that when I play it back later, everything shows up exactly as it should.
If you’ve been starting from scratch every weekend with your track layout, consider project templates. If you have multiple band configurations on a regular basis, this will really speed up your workflow. While it does take a little time and experimentation to get set up correctly, the time you save every weekend from that point on will be more than worth it.
What hardware/software combination do you use for virtual soundcheck?