Enter… Reaper

As I recently mentioned, I’m looking at getting into voice over work to help bring in some money.

I did some research and got a good (used) mic and a good (used) interface and in the spirit of continuing to keep costs down, went with a digital audio workspace (aka DAW, aka the recording software) called Audacity that was both well reviewed and free.

So Audacity is what I’ve been working with for the last handful of weeks. Trying to get some demo samples down to put on my site and put on some other sites to start getting a bit of money in (emphasis on the “bit”, as it’s widely confirmed that especially when starting out in this business, you won’t be making much). I watched videos on how to use it, how to record and improve the quality and presence of the sound of my samples. I asked questions and went back and forth with people in forums who helped out with troubleshooting I was having.

It was looking good.

But then…

I happened to connect with someone on Mastodon who, as it turns out, has done voice over work in the past. And we got to talking. And he asked what DAW I used.
And I was all, ‘Audacity’.
And he was all, ‘Hmm. I use Reaper. Seemed to me to be a step up from Audacity as far as control and nuance goes.’

I’d heard about Reaper in my video watching, but hadn’t given it much heed. Then this guy mentioned it, and in my head, I was thinking, Come on, I’ve read reviews and Audacity is good. It does… y’know… the stuff I need it to. In all the right formats, and with effects and editing and all the whatnot. I don’t need to pay for a program when this other one does all the same stuff for free.

But then later yesterday I was doing more video dives on what certain effects and editing does to the recorded waveform of my voice. All the better to understand what tech-speak sound engineering thing does what, and how, and why, and best approaches to using it (or not). And what I found was that the hosts who do these video series — people who clearly know their stuff — all use Reaper.

And I was quite prepared to just listen and take notes. Like, it’s their experience that I’m tuning in to learn from, not what program they use to implement that experience with. A noise gate is a noise gate, after all (he says, casually dropping sound engineering lingo). If I know what it does and where to find it in a different DAW, I can still use it effectively. It’s the what that matters, thought I. The how doesn’t matter too much.

Then I noticed on each of three separate videos from three separate hosts about three separate features of editing that… huh… the Reaper interface is pretty nice. Nicer than Audacity’s.
And by golly, that slider he’s using — which Audacity doesn’t have — is making it pretty easy to apply what he’s doing to the recorded content. I wonder if I can get that detailed a pinpointing of sound without that visual aid.
Then… wow, the EQ this other guy is nuancing looks really nicely rendered and modifiable.
And finally… whoa, wait… this third guy is bringing his vocal sample into a different EQ grid and he’s watching the frequency form of his wording in real time? And that lets him shape where to cut off needless frequencies because he can literally see how high his voice reaches on the live image rendering?

So I was already most of the way to being convinced I should maybe give Reaper a shot.

The killing blow was a fourth video that I sought out that was a head-to-head comparison of Audacity vs other DAWs. Was what I thought I was seeing really that big a difference? Was there something Audacity offered that helped nudge it back closer to being comparable to Reaper’s robust functionality and UI?

Yes and no, in that order. Plus there was even more to it: I also learned that if you apply changes to a waveform in Audacity and then save it and close the program and then change your mind about those changes later, when you load it back up, you can’t go back to the previous version of the waveform. You’ve permanently changed the data of the sound information itself, irrevocably. It’s what is called “destructive editing”, because the waveform has itself been altered for good. Whereas Reaper — and apparently every other decent DAW out there — lets you apply changes to the original by adding onto the original, but without saving over the original. Meaning if you change your mind later about tweaks you made but after you’ve closed the program, you can load up the program and file again and can adjust or remove those changes piecemeal, stripping everything away as much as wanted, back to the point where the original recording reveals itself again. It’s “non-destructive editing”, because your original recording is still there under everything and can be retrieved at any time, no matter what changes to it you’ve affected.

That’s a big deal.

I went straight to the Reaper website. And was happy to see that it offers a fully unlocked version of the program to try out for free for 60 days (very generous anyway, and more than twice as long as I’ve been using Audacity). After that, it’s $60 to purchase, provided you earn under $20,000 a year with it. Earning more than that bumps up its cost to $225. But frankly, if I ever get to a point where I’m making north of $20,000 a year from voice over work, I certainly won’t begrudge shelling out a one-time cost like that to keep using the program. (Particularly since Audition, Adobe’s DAW offering, costs $32 per month to use after just one week of trial period. No-brainer which is the better deal.)

I’m happy to have made the change to Reaper, even if it means I’ll have to re-do all my demos (since it somehow seems to make my mic more sensitive on its recordings).



With far more to offer functionality and customizable features for its users to wade through (it’s pretty bananas how granular the changes are that you can apply to the program to make it very much yours), Reaper is also a whole new, steeper learning curve for me. It’s not that everything I learned using Audacity is gone, so I’m not starting at square one again, but there’s way more detail and nuance to help get the user to as close as they want to professional quality final product. This will definitely take more time, and more instructional video watching, to get Reaper to a point where I’m not at a total loss with using it and can really make it work for me.

But if it means soon being farther ahead in terms of what I know and understand and can do for voice over work, it’s time and effort I’m more than happy to put in.

It’s all progress. And any progress is good.