Learn how to use the features on Reason Compact

Mobile music-making has, of course, been with us for many years. However, Propellerhead’s new Reason Compact looks set to bring some of the stunning drum, synth and bass sounds from this most popular DAW to the masses…

Learn how to use the features on Reason Compact

Proper mobile music-making has been a reality for a while now, especially on the iOS format. With a 12-plus-year history, the iPhone has had plenty of time to bed in, so iOS music-making has really exploded, with incredible apps – from full-fledged DAWs to incredible soft synths – produced by both the established players in music production and newer app developers. Some of those established players include Apple (with GarageBand), Steinberg (with Cubasis) and Korg (with Gadget and a many mobile synths). Now Propellerhead looks like taking further strides into mobile music-making with Reason Compact, the subject of this workshop.  

Compact synths and beats

We say ‘further’, because this is not the first app in the Propellerhead armoury. Reason’s mighty Thor synth is available as an app – and a very good one at that – while the company recently acquired Figure and Take, free apps that allow you to create beats and record and import audio. Reason Compact is not really like anything that’s gone before from Propllerhead, although it does share some characteristics with the company’s now sadly discontinued RB-338 synth and drum machine app.

Like RB-338, Compact includes two synths and drums, but is very much its own entity and produces its sound with some very high-level synth and drum engines – almost a ‘best of’ suite of instruments from Reason itself. As a result, it could well be the best thing that you’ll hear from your iPhone this year!

Surely it costs, though?

The best part of the Reason Compact story is that the app is free. There are in-app purchases, sure, but you can make pretty decent tunes with what you are given, without spending a penny.  

First of all, you can choose from 16 drum kits from the Rytmik drum machine for your beats and create them on a familiar grid, just by touching blocks as the app cycles around. A bass part can then be added by way of the Monotone Bass Synthesizer. When entering notes, Reason Compact utilises a ‘smart keyboard’ so that you never hit a wrong note – simply select the key you want your song in and everything you play should be in tune. You can also play this via an external keyboard using a standard Lightning to USB camera adaptor. 

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Either use this to play in time,or simply add your notes and beats on a MIDI grid by touching blocks and then dragging each ‘hit’ to extend notes. Easy! There’s even a Chords tool to allow you to add more complex progressions quickly and easily.

The same keyboard applies to the final of the three song parts, synth sounds from Europa. This is one of the flagship synths from the desktop version of Reason, and while you don’t get the full functionality of that synth, Reason Compact still offers a great version, with access to some of its prominent parameters, like filter and resonance, plus a fantastic selection of presets. These are proper professional sounds and, mixed with Monotone and Rytmik, you can create simple but pro-sounding tunes in no time. In this way, Reason Compact is a superb solution to get ideas down quickly, but that’s just the start of it.

Mix and export

Once you have the ideas flowing, it’s easy to adjust levels between your three parts and also add some pretty dramatic effects, including distortion, delay and reverb. If you are unhappy with your beat, bass or synth sounds, you can simply step through kit sounds and further synth presets to audition other ideas. Finally, you can easily create longer loops for each section, adding bars to create complete and evolving song ideas.  

Afterwards, you can export any Reason Compact ideas into the full, desktop version of Reason or as WAV files or patches (all exported patches can be opened in the main Reason Europa). Reason Compact can also be tempo-synced using Ableton Link and supports Inter-App Audio and Audiobus so can be used with other apps that support these. Inter-app purchases include beat and sound packs for £0.99. 

However, because the following workshop is intended as an intro to Reason Compact and you won’t need to pay for any of these, download the app for free and enjoy!

How to use Reason Compact features: step-by-step

Learn how to use the features on Reason Compact

1. When you open Reason Compact for the first time, you’ll either be able to select from a song within a certain genre – always good as a starting point – or start from scratch. Hit the New Project icon to start afresh.

Learn how to use the features on Reason Compact

2. The main Reason Compact screen has the three song elements shown in blue (Rytmik beats), red (Europa synth) and yellow (Monotone bass). Select Rytmik, as we’re going to start with beats. 

Learn how to use the features on Reason Compact

3. At the bottom of the screen, you get eight sounds to audition by touching each square. You can select from 16 different kits by stepping through left and right beneath these (Techno Kit is shown selected).

Learn how to use the features on Reason Compact

4. Once you are happy with a kit and drum sounds, time to record your beats either live or step by step. For live recording, press play and record. You should hear the metronome click. Hitting beats will now record them.

Learn how to use the features on Reason Compact

5. The other alternative is to enter the notes step by step. Here, you hit the MIDI grid icon as shown. If you have already recorded some notes in ‘live’, then this will also allow you to edit the results. 

Learn how to use the features on Reason Compact

6. Now you enter the MIDI-grid edit mode. You will need to turn your phone to landscape so that the bars loop left to right. Note the drum sounds listed across all eight parts. Now simply tapping a grid records beat.


MAIN SETTINGS Reason Compact has a set of parameters for its main settings, accessed by the top right icon. Here, you can select the overall song tempo, the overall song key, metronome, Ableton Link settings and other global parameters. You can access the export features here, too.


7. Gradually build your beats up by tapping sounds. If you make a mistake, simply tap the relevant beat again to remove it. If you make a mistake and misplace a beat, simply click and drag it to the right position.

Learn how to use the features on Reason Compact

8. Remember that you can return to add parts live simply by going back to the main screen and hitting record. This way you can build up complex beats by mixing both programmed and live playing.

Learn how to use the features on Reason Compact

9. Finally for the beats, you can add six different and very dramatic effects. These apply to all of the beats at the same time, so be subtle here. You can really mess with the beats by pitching them up and down, for example.

Learn how to use the features on Reason Compact

10. Now go back to the main screen to select your next song part. Before we do that, we can also select the volume of the beats we have just recorded and adjust both filter and pitch. Once happy, select Europa. 

Learn how to use the features on Reason Compact

11. Now we’re going to add some great Europa sounds. You can select the sound by pressing left and right at the bottom to audition various presets. Use the middle range (left and right) to select the octave.

Learn how to use the features on Reason Compact

12. Press the Setting icon (top right) to select Loop Length, Scale, and Tempo. We want the melody part to be longer than the beats so we’re upping the Loop Length to 2 (from 1 shown).


MAIN SETTINGS Reason Compact has a set of parameters for its main settings, accessed by the top-right icon. Here, you can select the overall song tempo, the overall song key, metronome, Ableton Link settings and other global parameters. You can access the export features here, too.


Learn how to use the features on Reason Compact

13. As with the beats, you get a choice of live recording or entering notes on a MIDI grid. We’ll start with live recording, so hit the Record button and the grid will cycle around the two-bar length as you record notes.

Learn how to use the features on Reason Compact

14. Now tap the Grid icon at the top of the screen to enter the MIDI Grid and tap on more notes to record more. You can also click and drag note lengths here to increase note durations.  

Learn how to use the features on Reason Compact

15. Now return (step back) to the main Europa screen and the effects section is interesting, as you can also step through Europa’s main waveforms. You get 16 to choose from; the main Reason synth has 32.

Learn how to use the features on Reason Compact

16. Again, you can access some of Europa’s main effects from the main Reason Compact screen and also return here to access the last song part, the Monotone bass. 

Learn how to use the features on Reason Compact

17. Now go back to Step 11 and repeat to Step 16 to add your bass part to your beats and synth lead. Again, you can record live (as shown) or step by step using the grid. Your Reason Compact song is complete!

Learn how to use the features on Reason Compact

18. Now you can simple export your work as a Reason 10 song, a sound file (in WAV format) or as a Europa preset. You can export in the usual options on an iPhone (mail, text, etc). You’re done! 

For more Reason tutorials and workshops, check here.

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