To master a track in REAPER, start by inserting a stereo WAV file of your final mixdown into a new REAPER project file. Once you have done this, you can begin mastering by inserting different plugins onto the ‘MASTER’ track to shape the sound of your song.
Mastering In REAPER
Mastering is the essential final step of producing a song in which you make any final tweaks to your track and push it through a limiter to increase its overall volume.
If you do not master your track, it will sound much quieter than other songs.
Although mastering can be an extensive process that takes a professional mastering engineer a lifetime to perfect, you can still master your track as a beginner in REAPER using stock plugins.
In this step-by-step guide, I will show you how to master in REAPER!
What You Will Need To Master In REAPER
All of the tools that I will use to show you how to master your track are stock plugins that come standard with REAPER.
Keep in mind, though; you can follow this tutorial using other 3rd party plugins if you want to.
Here is everything that you will need:
- REAPER DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
- Master Limiter plugin
- ReaEQ plugin
- Saturation plugin
- ReaVerb plugin
Step One – Inserting Your Mixdown
The first step for you to begin mastering your track in REAPER is to insert a stereo WAV file of your final mix into a new REAPER project file. This project file is made specifically for mastering.
There are two reasons that we do this instead of mastering our track within the REAPER project that we did our mixing on:
One – The main reason we do our mastering in a separate REAPER project from our mixing is that we are not tempted to go back and mess around with the mix during the mastering process.
Once you have moved on to mastering, the time for mixing is over!
Having our mix finalized during the mastering process helps us focus on mastering instead of getting distracted.
Two – The other reason for mastering on a separate project file is to help spare your computer’s processing power.
Chances are, mixing your track will require you to use quite a few plugins that will use up your computer’s processing power.
Suppose we master our track on a separate REAPER project with the mix consolidated into one stereo WAV file. In that case, we print all of the plugins that we used during mixing onto one file.
That way, once we start mastering, our computer will only have to handle the plugins that we are using for mastering.
Because WAV files are of higher quality than MP3 files, make sure you export your mix into a stereo WAV format for mastering instead of MP3.
This is fine if you are working on producing an album or EP and want to master multiple tracks at once. You can either insert a separate stereo WAV file for each song or just one stereo WAV file of the whole release.
It doesn’t really matter since we will push all of the songs through the same mastering chain.
Step Two – Saturation (Optional)
Now that we have our final mixes into a new REAPER project file, we are ready to start mastering!
The first thing that I like to do when mastering is use a little bit of saturation on the master track. This will help add warmth to our track and glue everything together a bit.
To do this, I will add the Saturation REAPER plugin and adjust its level to taste.
Any processing we use on the master track will affect all of the individual elements within our mix. Remember that it is often best to be light-handed with plugins when mastering.
Step Two – Corrective EQ
The next thing that I like to focus on when mastering is any corrective EQ that I need to do.
In this example, I notice that my track is a little bit low-end heavy and a bit boxy.
To fix this, I’m going to make a couple of corrective EQ moves on the low end and the low mids using the ReaEQ REAPER plugin.
You will notice that the EQ moves I am making are very subtle. This is because we are EQing our entire mix now, and anything too drastic will completely undo all the hard work we have done during mixing.
The purpose of EQ during mastering is to shape our track’s overall sound very subtly.
Step Three – Creative EQ (Optional)
After we have cleaned up our mix with any corrective EQ we need, we can use a separate EQ to make some creative EQ moves.
In this example, my track sounds a bit dull, and I want it to have a bit more presence in the high mids, and highs.
To do this, I will use a second ReaEQ to make a couple of small boosts to these frequencies.
Again, you will notice the boosts I have made are very subtle. At this point in the music production process, I’m just looking to add a bit of flavor to my track!
Step Four – Reverb (Optional)
I want to emphasize further that this next step is totally optional and will definitely not work for some tracks!
However, suppose you are experiencing issues of elements in your mix not sitting together quite right. In that case, you might benefit from just a splash of reverb.
As it turns out, my mix is having this particular issue, so I will try a bit of reverb to help put everything in the same space.
If you do decide to add reverb onto your master track, I recommend you use it very lightly, as I did in this example (-12.5 dB or less).
Step Five – Limiting
The most crucial step of mastering your track is going to be limiting.
Limiting is a form of compression that you use to bring a track up to a commercially distributable volume level without it clipping or distorting.
The limiter I will use today is the Master Limiter REAPER plugin. I use this limiter on almost all of my tracks, and although it is just a stock plugin, I think it sounds great!
Start by inserting the Master Limiter plugin onto the master track and setting the ceiling (limit) to something like -0.1 or -0.2.
Once your ceiling is set, you can adjust the threshold. I typically put the threshold between -0.5 and -3.0, depending on the type of track I am working on.
The best way to set the threshold of your master limiter is by playing your track at its loudest part to check for distortion or clipping.
If your master limiter is not causing any distortion or clipping in this section of your track, your threshold is probably at an acceptable level.
Step Six – Take a Break and Check Again
My final step of mastering a track is always taking some time away from the computer to rest my ears. If you do not do this, you will experience ear fatigue which can cause you to miss crucial details in your mixing/mastering.
After taking some time to rest my ears, I like to sit down, listen to my mastered track again, and make any minor tweaks that I think it may need.
The track should be 90% done at this point in the process, so I’m not looking to make any significant changes.
My goal is to make just a few small adjustments to help shape the overall sound of my track.
Make sure to check out our other article on mastering for more information!
What is your opinion about making a pro song in REAPER?
Although REAPER is relatively new to the market and low in cost compared to other DAWs, in my opinion, it does not lack functionality or performance in any way.
Whether you are a recording artist, beatmaker, EDM producer, or composer, you will be able to use REAPER to make professional-level songs. As long as you are knowledgeable in music production, you should get on fine with REAPER.
How do you delete audio in REAPER?
There are a few ways to delete audio in REAPER.
One method that you can use is selecting the audio track that you wish to delete and press ‘delete’ on your keyboard.
Another way to delete audio in REAPER is to right-click the audio item you want to delete and scroll down to ‘remove items.’ Clicking this will delete the selected audio item.
What REAPER plugin should I use to master?
For mastering your track in REAPER, I recommend that you use the Master Limiter stock plugin to increase the volume level of your track.
Aside from this, you can also use the Saturation, ReaEQ, and ReaVerb REAPER plugins to make minor adjustments to the overall sonic shape of your track.
about the author
I’m Jack Oberkirsch, a film and media composer residing in Denver, Colorado. I play in several local bands and have been touring the country for nearly a decade.
Since 2016 I’ve been focusing on studio work and production and have moved into the realm of film and media composition.
I like to combine and implement many different musical instruments and styles to convey the director’s vision on any given project.
I also enjoy writing material for music libraries and sync placements.