Reason: Why RE’s And VST’s Waste Your Time

Something not a lot of people realize is that most additional instruments and effects you can add to Reason via rack extensions (RE’s) and now VST’s (bleh) not only aren’t needed, nearly all of them are features found in Reason masquerading as new concepts.

Don’t be fooled by fancy audio demos

The hard, unspoken truth about music production is that there isn’t many instruments and effects devices that are doing anything new. How many effects are doing anything actually new? That’s the thing; people aren’t inventing new effect categories… after 40 years of audio design, the music community isn’t going to be coming out with new concepts anytime soon. You’ve got categories like distortion, delay, reverb, repeaters, chorus, unison, phasers, pitch shifting, gaters, amps, filters, EQs… and of which all of these are already built into Reason (with the exception of a repeating device, but that’s why combinator patches exist I guess).

Look at this screenshot of the newest arrivals on the Propellerhead store for effects. Besides the Index Chord Dictionary (a utility, not actually an effect), it’s the same things, dressed up like something special. Going from top left, it’s: Amp, Amp, Delay, Mixer, Bundle (EQ), Bundle (Delay), Bundle (EQ), Delay, Utility, Bundle (Amp), Bundle (Amp), EQ, Delay, Bundle (Utility), EQ, EQ, Reverb, EQ.

And it’s not just effects that suffer from this, instruments are even more guilty of this because instrument creators will call the way their instruments generate audio deceptive names and rarely ever call them for what they are. Looking on the Propellerhead store, you’ll find all these deceptive descriptions on how the instruments create music. But there’s only a few categories for how RE and VST instruments can generate sound and they’ll either be via subtractive synthesis (i.e. Subtractor), additive synthesis (i.e. Parsec), wavetable synthesis (i.e. Thor), graintable synthesis (i.e. Malström), frequency modulation synthesis (i.e. Thor), phase distortion synthesis (i.e. Thor), physical modeling synthesis (i.e. Kong) and sample-based synthesis (i.e. NN-19).

At it’s core, there are only a few ways to generate sound via the methods above. There’s a lot of different things to alter that sound, effects, EQing, filter, LFO’s, etc… and these are all typically found on all variants of instruments. All these different RE and VST instruments claim to be doing something crazy or different, but most of them are just doing the same sound instruments in Reason can already do.

Reason’s effects devices are already “professional”

The makers of these RE and VST effects and instruments will claim that their devices are professional quality and that this is what you need if you, too, want to consider yourself a professional. Don’t believe this. This is just marketing designed to “separate fools from their money”.

The thing is; Reason already has professional sounding devices. There’s a reason users of other DAW’s for years would ReWire Reason just for the devices (before audio recording and the virtual SSL mixer were introduced).

I mean look at this garbage… $350 for simple effects that do the same, or worse, jobs than the effects that come with Reason. To be clear, I wouldn’t even buy it if it was $9. I’m not learning a new effect device to duplicate existing functions in Reason when I could be spending that time mastering the devices already in Reason. As you can see, even at $9, I’m essentially spending money to waste time… No way.

The key to professional-sounding music isn’t buying crap like this garbage, it’s knowing how to use the devices at your disposal. I’ve met so many people who had all these paid, extra EQ’s for their copy of Reason yet didn’t know how to work the half-rack device PEQ-2 EQ that ships with Reason in version 1.0. Many of these people also didn’t know how to EQ via the virtual SSL’s channel strip, yet they’re buying EQ add-ons to get “professional results”?

Nearly all of these add-on devices, effects and instruments aren’t doing anything special. Using an MClass Compressor inline but wish it wasn’t introducing so much bass at a certain frequency (a rare situation)? Rather than trying to see if there’s something to buy that’ll do the trick, just throw a PEQ-2 on there and target the frequency you’re after (if it’s not just easier to EQ it from the SSL channel strip itself).

Get new melodies, not new synths

This is one of the biggest problems I see in the music producing community in general, not just Reason. People are focusing on trying to get new devices to create a different sound or to bring their producing to the next level. But, really, you have (with Reason at least) all the instruments you could ever want (especially with the Combinator). What we all should be focusing on is creating better melodies.

You’d think this was common sense, but it’s not; the best melodies played on the simplest of devices will sound better than average or poor melodies played on the most advanced devices.

Here’s two floppy disk drives playing the Imperial March melody from Star Wars. These aren’t even music devices, yet they sound more melodic than many melodies I’ve heard from people with the most advanced synthesizers.

Invest in physical hardware, not software hardware

Fancy, new devices won’t make you a better musician. Save your money, focus on getting better at playing and creating music. And, in fact, if you’re going to spend your money on anything, spend it on getting some more or better hardware. Do you have a decent MIDI keyboard? Speakers? Headphones? What about a dedicated drum pad (and not those crampy little drum pads on bloated keyboards)? Do you have a mixer? Do you have a universal controller to control all those knobs, faders and buttons on the devices in Reason, such as a Behringer BCR2000 or Ableton Push? Do you have bags to carry your gear when you wanna’ be mobile?

You don’t need all this physical hardware to create music, but you certainly don’t need additional virtual hardware either. But if you were gonna’ spend money, physical hardware makes a lot more sense. Physical hardware allows you to feel more connected to your virtual hardware. And, physical hardware can be resold whereas virtual hardware (RE’s) can’t currently (some VST’s can).

Other DAW users have an excuse

This topic isn’t quite as relevant for other DAW’s because many of them are designed simply to be VST management windows. In other words, other DAW developers never intend their DAW to be used without adding a bunch of VST’s to handle aspects that Reason covers natively. So those who don’t use Reason have a legitimate need for adding in extras not included with their DAW-of-choice.

So if you see someone using something other than Reason and they have a boat load of garbage VST’s, don’t get on them for it because they may need.

Some notable exceptions

Of course there are some notable exceptions. Hydronexius is a great rompler instrument (noteworthy because most sounds have a slight evolving quality that makes notes sound slightly different each time they’re played). And the Proton Particle Accelerator functions like no other device in Reason (takes sampled audio and turns it into time-based modulated melodies triggered via MIDI keys)… And many of the utility devices in the Propellerhead store are not only useful, but many save so much time and are worth every penny, such as the Flower Audio Loudness Meter or the RE 60 Spectrum Analyzer.

Judge with your ears, not your eyes

Load up some Reason 9+ sound bank combinator patches, for both instruments and effects, and listen to the results. Now listen to the things offered on the Propellerhead store.  Are the devices on the store really unique sounding? Will they really help your sound out?

Don’t waste your time on this stuff. Master the devices you currently own, focus on creating different sounding melodies rather than loading up different sounding devices. Or go buy out the entire Propellerhead shop. It’s your money and your time, spend it however you wish.

Later. – MJ