Rack ’em and stack ’em

Future Music - - PRODUCER’S GUIDE -

One of the ear­li­est ‘rack’ util­i­ties was Rea­son’s Com­bi­na­tor. The idea was sim­ple: in­stead of hav­ing two sep­a­rate in­stru­ments or ef­fects ‘float­ing’ in the project in the nor­mal way, group the two to­gether by hous­ing them in a Com­bi­na­tor. Once the de­vices had been united in this way, their pa­ram­e­ters could be tweaked and the en­tire Com­bi­na­tor patch saved and re­called later. Cus­tom in­stru­ments, chan­nel strips, ready-mixed drum kits – you name it – could be used, saved, loaded, shared and even sold. A new ecosys­tem was born. We’ll show you ex­actly how the Com­bi­na­tor sys­tem worked at the bot­tom of this page.

With the self-con­tained na­ture of a rack setup, it can of­ten be pos­si­ble to route the sig­nal flow in a man­ner that suits you. Your DAW project might have sends and re­turns, wet and dry blends and so on, but th­ese wouldn’t be saved in a rack patch – hence the need for racks to in­clude their own sig­nal tools, mix­ers, crossovers and more to help give you ul­ti­mate flex­i­bil­ity. Track­tion Wave­form and PreSonus Stu­dio One 3 are great so­lu­tions for com­plex rout­ings of this type.

Pos­si­bly the most im­pres­sive fea­ture of rack sys­tems is their usu­ally-in­cluded macro con­trols.

So you’ve got five ef­fects loaded up in a rack – are you go­ing to open, tweak and au­to­mate a pa­ram­e­ter from each to move si­mul­ta­ne­ously? Ain’t no­body got time for that! With a rack, you can link mul­ti­ple pa­ram­e­ters to macro con­trols, map­ping sev­eral pa­ram­e­ters to one master knob or slider in the rack’s hous­ing, and then just twid­dle, tweak or au­to­mate that one con­trol to make them all move.

Us­ing map­ping ed­i­tors, you can de­ter­mine ex­actly how much change each macro con­trol com­mands over the pa­ram­e­ters it’s as­signed to. A lit­tle like a mod­u­la­tion ma­trix, you can select the ‘amount’ or ‘depth’ of a macro con­trol, or set the val­ues of the map­ping when the macro is at its min­i­mum or max­i­mum.

Each DAW has a dif­fer­ent way of serv­ing up racks. From Logic’s Smart Con­trols to in-depth nerdery like Track­tion Wave­form’s ‘Racks 2.0’, there’s al­ways a slightly new take to adapt to, with more or fewer ca­pa­bil­i­ties and a slightly dif­fer­ent way of work­ing. On the whole, though, ev­ery DAW’s take on the rack con­cept will be of­fer­ing the same ba­sic ser­vice: easy com­bin­ing, stor­age and re­call of mul­ti­ple in­di­vid­ual pro­ces­sors.

So, over the next few pages, we’re go­ing to head a lit­tle deeper into the rack-os­phere, telling you how it’s done in dif­fer­ent DAWs, show­ing you the lim­its of what’s pos­si­ble in dif­fer­ent sys­tems, and giv­ing you the in­spi­ra­tion to push racks fur­ther and come up with your own cre­ations.

Who knows, you might even be able to make a bit of cash from your hard work. Th­ese days, whole com­pa­nies ex­ist that cre­ate in­spir­ing and use­ful racks us­ing the in-built pro­ces­sors of the DAW in ques­tion. The sky’s the limit, it seems, when it comes to this tech­nol­ogy.

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