ReFill your ReFills and learn something new…

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Back in the ‘good ole days’ before Record came out, us Reason users didn’t have much to worry…  Our trusty 14:2 reMIX device (mixer device with 14 tracks and 2 channels per track) were all we needed to piece our sound together. And in the sporadic event where 14 tracks wasn’t enough; no problem: reMIX devices can easily be chained thus giving us a nearly unlimited amount of tracks to work with.  Of course, mixing became a little harder since you had to work your way from left to right and top to bottom, but it worked!

Much has changed since then, and even though we can still use our ‘good ole’ reMIX devices with Reason 6, it becomes quite clear that the new main mixer section provides a “little” more options to mix and process your work.

But what to do with all those old ReFills which sometimes even contain demo songs using the old workflow? Have you ever considered to convert a few of those to the new mixer line-up yourself? Why you ask?  Well…

What is a ReFill?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term: rest assured, us Reason users don’t continue to refill our glasses of beer every time we work with Reason. It’s not that kind of refill 🙂

A (Reason) ReFill is a single file which can contain a huge amount of musical data. From instrument presets to Rex or sound files (samples) right down to full Reason songs. It uses Propellerhead software’s own storage format which makes sure that your disk space is used as optimal as possible. As a side note: this same technique is used for Reason songs. When you create a nice set which contains (recorded) samples, loops and perhaps quite some MIDI then all that data will end up in a single Reason song file.

So when Reason users are talking about ReFills they are often basically talking about collections. Sample or sound collections, loop collections, and so on.

If you’re interested then you should really check out Propellerheads ReFill download section. Both commercial as well as free ReFills are provided there, and make no mistake about it: just because its free doesn’t mean its bad, mkay ?

Making ReFills

To make a ReFill you need an external program called the ‘ReFill packer’, you can get that from the Propellerhead website too, right here.

ReFill packer

And in contrast to other DAWs Propellerhead treats all of us equally when it comes to making ReFills, which does them quite some credit I think.

Whether you’re selling your ReFill(s) or you’re giving it all away; we all get the same options to make our ReFill look the way we want it.

In case you’re wondering: other programs do this differently. Ableton Live for example also allows us to pack up our project into a single archive. Some companies however can create their own archive installer. This will install its contents straight into the Live library.

Although I can understand why Ableton wouldn’t want everyone to do that (it would pollute your library really quick) I still think would have been nice if we had a choice.

But, back to ReFills again…

Demo songs in ReFills

A lot of ReFills contain demo songs. Either because the artist who made the ReFill wanted to give you a good start which you can use to base your work on, or they simply want to give you a good impression of all the things you can actually do with their library. If you know what you’re doing… 😉

And make no mistake about it: ReFills have been used since Reason 1. So there are a lot of ReFills out there which have been made with previous versions of Reason, so they are fully setup around the old 14:2 reMIX device.

‘Refilling’ your ReFill

Although I have some ReFills on my harddisk I have actually used them very little so far. So earlier this week I eventually found the time to take a closer look at some of them and well, often enough Reason is just too inviting to fiddle around and not do anything serious. That got me into trying some samples as well as looking into the provided demo songs.

After loading the song I automatically started playing with the mixer section during playback and the result was quite astonishing. With little effort I managed to get the score to sound fuller; get the bass deeper and high parts better “fitted”. And only by playing with the master compressor as well as the EQ section on the ‘mixer channel’ (meant quite literally: if you load an old song then the reMIX output is sent to a single mix channel device).

That got me thinking…

Redoing the old

If toying with 2 channels could achieve such a massive increase in audio quality (at least to my untrained ears); what would happen if I were to move all the tracks from the reMIX into the main mixer section?

Only one way to find out!

You may now start to think by yourself: “Why bother?  If it sounds good, it sounds good. Lemme get on with my work.“.

Well, that’s just the thing…  If you’re applying the options in the mixer section to your own work then you’ll probably just focus on the end result. One dial will make it sound “cooler” while the other makes it sound “flat” (for example). So basically; you don’t really have to fully know what everything does (though knowing the difference between LPF, LMF & HPF helps). Even so: as long as you can use it to (try) and get your sound becoming better the main challenge is finding the right settings.

But when you’re actually going to try and recreate something you will have to change your approach a little. Because now we’re not so much aiming for a better sound, we’re aiming for that one particular sound. Its my opinion (and experience) that this will automatically get you to learn a lot more about the available options in the mixer section.

A few things to keep in mind

This is all about the sound of the song and nothing else. When talking about this project with a few friends of mine they got a little bit confused about the impact of it all; wouldn’t this require you to also go over the entire sequencer to make sure no automation got messed up ?

Fortunately not; we’re only adding several new mix channel devices, doing quite a bit of re-routing and we’re going to re-create the right mixer settings. But all of that won’t effect the sequencer in any way. So we’re only messing about in the rack and later redoing the mix to some degree.

Reason 4 revisited

One of the demo’s I really liked with Reason 4 was the default demo song which seemed to be embedded with the product (you could actually configure Reason to start up with the demo song). I liked it so much that I even exported it at one time. Unfortunately I don’t know the name any more, its the one with the cool “aah” vocal sound (every Reason 4 user will know what I’m talking about).

And so, now that we have Reason 6, I re-discovered this song and noticed that when simply playing with the 1 track song in the new mixer I already got quite some audio boost.  So now its time to go all the way!

So lets go over the steps how I converted this song from the old layout to the new.

Step one – Play the song

This may sound obvious enough but honest: its a requirement too since this will give you a good impression of your goal. An important step is to identify the individual tracks a bit so you’ll know what sounds to expect. Use the sequencer for this (solo tracks). Why the sequencer and not the 14:2?  Because in the sequencer you can see more clearly which tracks are playing and which tracks are going to play.

I’d also advice you to play with the new mixer section a bit to see if (and how well) things can be spiced up.

Keep in mind: Because we’re loading an old song the mixer section is set to its default values. Channels are set to 0dB and all channel effects are off. Blocks is usually turned on. That’s quite normal and not an indication that its being used. Settings such as ‘blocks’ are actually stored within your Reason song file. And since these songfiles date back from the “pre-block era” its not much of a big deal. I do suggest turning blocks off so that you’ll have more space in the sequencer (gets you a better overview).

And when you’re done don’t forget to reset the settings in the main mixer section (right click and use “Reset all channel settings” and / or “Reset all master section settings” (on the master track)).

Step two – Identify the rack structure

This step takes us deep into the rack. First check if there are any send effects being used; you can check by looking at the right side of the 14:2 mixer. If they are being used I’d advice to move all tracks which use these effects one after another. I usually start by moving all the “clear” tracks which gives me more overview (less cable clutter) and finish with the “effect tracks”. These tracks can be identified by looking at the knobs in the aux section:

The remix device in the original Song
The 14:2 reMIX; on the right you can see the send effects.

As you can see here tracks 4, 7 and 8 are not using any send effects.

Another important thing to keep in mind: the EQ section. As you can see above tracks 2 and 3 use the 14:2 equalizer.

The EQ setting in the new mixer sectionThe good news is that the new mixer section has plenty of options available to recreate this. The bad news is that the new mixer section has so many extra options to recreate this 😉

A mere treble (high tones) and bass (low tones) is easy; but as you can see on the left the new section goes much deeper than that. Even so; as you can see I decided to start with using the High and Low filter and set them to a setting which roughly mimics the setting in the 14:2 device.

However keep well in mind that these aren’t settings you can really copy one on one. In the end you always need to rely on your own ears to listen if things really sound the way you want them to.

Now that we have this out of the way its time to look out for any used insert effects. The best case scenario is if these are used inside combinators. Then we can simply ignore them because they will continue to be used as they are now.

To identify insert effects in an older rack we need to check up with the routing; it is the only connection between instrument and effect…

A not so obviously used insert effect
Is Scream 4 used on the Malström or something else?

Once you have all of that identified and ‘out of the way’ so to speak its time to get your hands dirty…

Step three – Move the send effects

Moving the send effects
The send effects after they’re connected to the Master device.

Not only is moving these effects first a very easy thing to do; it will also help you to remove a lot of cable clutter from the 14:2 mixer device. Which will really help you with the re-routing and identifying, even though you can easily make cables transparent in Reason 6…

Step four – Move the master effects

In previous versions of Reason the way to apply dynamic changes to your material was with the use of the MClass devices, and many older demo songs will use these in a so called “MClass combinator”; a combinator which contains several of the MClass devices.

Although we’re going to use the new mixer section its a good idea to keep these devices around for the time being so that your first end result sits as close to the original as possible.

As such we want to go from this situation:

MClass combinator
The MClass combinator, as it is used in older Songs.

To this situation:

MClass effects in master device.
The MClass devices setup as insert effects in the master device.

The way to do this is relatively easy; first check the combinator to see if any configuration has been done in the programmer section. If so then you should write these down or memorize them.

Then simply drag and drop the MClass effect from the combinator into the FX section of the master device. This will result in the device sitting in its new location but still routed to the combinator, you can see as much in the screenshot (note the “External routing” indicators).

Once you moved the effect you need to re-create the right mappings. This step is optional by the way, but it can make your live a little easier later on.

When you moved all the devices this way you can reroute so that they’re not using the combinator anymore, and then all that’s left is deleting the combinator device.

Step five – Add and setup the mix channels

Now that you have your basis environment setup its time to start moving the devices around. Of course you’ll have to find your own preferred way in doing this, but this is what really works well for me:

  • Add a new mix channel in a new (different) rack segment, name it accordingly.
  • Move the instrument you’re working on to the new rack segment as well (drag & drop). Note that this will only move the device and won’t change the routing. Pay attention to the icons; you can move the instrument to a whole new rack segment (not what we want!) or place it below the one with the mix channel device.
  • Now carefully copy the settings from the reMIX. Use your intuition since you can’t copy everything one on one. For example: the faders on the reMIX go from 0 to 127. On the new mixer section however you go from infinite dB to 8,06 dB. A “little” bit different.
  • Always use the same order to copy the mixer settings. I prefer going from bottom to top; fader, pan, eq and optional send effects.
  • Something to consider: If you copied the EQ settings keep the new EQ turned off. This helps you to easily identify these tracks, but still allows you to determine if they still really need it.
  • Finally re-connect the moved device from the 14:2 reMIX onto the new mix channel device. Be sure to do this as the last step, because it will also remove the device name from the 14:2, thus making it harder to identify.
Malström and RPG8
The Malström and the RPG8 have been moved, but are not yet reconnected.

Step five b – Setup insert effects

Sometimes a device will have an insert effect associated with it, I showed as much in the screenshot above of the Scream 4 device. When an such an effect is being used you should move it into the insert FX section of the mixer channel you’re going to use for the device.

In a previously shown screenshot the Scream was actually being used by one of the NN-XT instruments, as such the new situation looks as follows:

Scream setup as insert FX
The Scream 4 effect is setup as insert effect for the NN-XT.

Send FX section in mix channel deviceCompletely optional, but highly recommended, is to use the programmer section of the Mix channel to setup any settings which you might want to change on the insert effect(s).

As said this step is purely optional but it will help you get easier access to the settings of the insert effect(s) right from the main mixer section, as you can see in the screenshot on the right.

Because we basically need to re-create the mix it helps to keep a little control over such effects without having to open the rack every time you want to change something.

Step five c – Pay attention to reMIX chaining

reMIX backside, chaining being used

One of the features of the 14:2 reMIX device is that you can chain it with another reMIX device. This allows you to expand on your mix channels; so instead of 14 channels you will then have 28 channels at your disposal.

However, as you can see in this screenshot, some artists also use these connectors to sent audio straight into the mix. In this particular example the send output of the ReDrum is connected to the chaining input of the 14:2; so basically giving you the option to add extra sound into the mix by using the sends dial(s) on the ReDrum.

I think its a little bit of a weird setup, so I chose to ignore this. However, if you want to recreate this then my advice would be to connect these ReDrum send outputs to the FX return inputs on the master device. That will give you control over the extra sound to add, straight from the mixer section.

Step six – Repeat until done

Now all that’s left to do is go over each and every strip on the 14:2 reMIX and reconnect all of the devices, as described in steps 5, 5b and 5c. Its a bit of a boring and maybe tedious job but I think you’ll discover it to be well worth it.

What I usually do is move all the tracks which don’t use any send effects first, these get placed into a new rack segment. Then I add mix channel devices to the ‘old’ rack segment and work my way up from there. Of course your mileage may vary so to speak 🙂

When all devices sit on their own mix channel its time to delete the 14:2 reMIX.

Step seven – Recreate the mix

The new mixing environment
The new mixer section for the old Reason 4 demo song.

Now its time to play the song and recreate the mix. Note however that we’re only after the mix here, so keep your attention to the faders and don’t mess with anything else, ..yet.

When you think you have a good mix its time to apply the effects.

But hold it right there!

Master insert effects sectionRemember the MClass dynamic effects sitting in the insert FX section? Before you go any further start by bypassing these effects (enable bypass, as you can see in the picture here) and then listen to your mix again.

This is a very important step which I initially managed to completely forget. Instead I started applying extra dynamic effects (compressor, EQ, etc.) which resulted in some very nasty side effects.

At one time I noticed that the sub-bass cancelled out my entire song completely. What the heck ?

I tried everything, from changing the automation right down to side-chaining to try and cancel out the cancelling out 😉

Totally overlooking the obvious…

I ended up asking about these problems on the Propellerhead User Forum and a friendly guy going by the name of Selig, aka Giles Reaves, took a closer look and it didn’t take him very long to spot the problem: “So what you’re experiencing is caused by a combination of a super high frequency bass track, feeding a super high frequency boosting EQ, which is forcing the final limiter (Maximizer) to basically go nuts and clamp down the entire mix by a HUGE amount (in gain reduction terms). The Master Fader being @ -11.23 dB isn’t helping, because it’s ‘hiding’ the huge amount of level feeding the Maximizer.“.

Thanks again Selig, as mentioned back there as well; highly appreciated!

Step eight – Apply dynamics where needed

Now its time to play with the mixer to see which tracks need some extra effects applied to them. And if you took my advice to heart about copying EQ settings without turning the section on right away you should have a good starting point.

And there you have it!

Conclusion

A project such as this can gobble up quite a bit of time but I honestly think its something you should seriously consider doing yourself. Its fun, you get to learn a lot about the old and the new way of mixing and most of all: you’ll get a very good feeling for the way the new mixer section actually works.

As I mentioned earlier: going after a good sound or going after a specific sound can really make a difference.

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One comment

  1. you can also pick up new techniques this way. that chain 14-2 connection is a known bypass to get extra sound in.

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