Storyteller OTR – A Template for Success.
Storyteller OTR (Orchestral Template for Reaper) is a clever adaption specifically for media composers to create powerful orchestral-based templates in the Reaper DAW. Of course, my ears perked immediately when this was mentioned on the VI Control forums as creating and maintaining effective instrument templates is tedious work. Any software promising to streamline that process defiantly has my attention.
(Storyteller OTR Review Updated April 2020) I am a big fan of Reaper, and though other DAWs come and go none offer the same performance and feature set at such an affordable price. Reaper also has one of the most supportive and active online communities, with an immense resource pool of free themes, mods and UI customisations.
So, for a developer to offer a re-skinned and custom-coded port of the DAW at $129 USD (nearly twice the purchase price of the non-commercial Reaper software, which you will also need to buy in addition) it must not only provide a serious collection of features over and above the base software but arguably more importantly, some serious time-saving tools to tempt even the most frugal composer.
A customisable orchestral template UI replacement for Reaper sounds too good to be true, so let’s dig in and see if Storyteller OTR can deliver on what the box promises.
Storyteller OTR is a UI replacement for Cocko’s Reaper digital audio workstation. It runs as a second completely stand-alone installation and will not affect the original version, you are free to swap backwards and forwards between each as you need. Since Storyteller OTR is built directly on the Reaper platform, all specifications and system requirements are the same, with all core functions running as you would expect.
You do need to own a copy of Reaper, of course, and the Storyteller OTR price does not include this. There is no installation required, you simply unpack the supplied Zip file to a location and you’re good to go.
Though the DSP overheads for both Reaper and Storyteller OTR are minimal – even a modest PC or Mac can run fairly sizable projects with ease – this still does not mean you can avoid serious investment into hardware if you wish to run multiple virtual instruments with any degree of usability. The same rules apply here as with any DAW: bigger and faster hardware is key to stacking multiple VI’s.
Realistically, you will want as a minimum a modern dual-core CPU with 16 gig RAM and a 7200 RPM drive. But that would be a bare-bones minimum. Ideally, you should have a good size SSD drive and 32-gig or more RAM. More expensive CPUs help, but the immediate concern is RAM and hard drive speed.
However, having an optimal system is a luxury and we can’t all just whip out to the PC store and drop a few grand on a new setup. Storyteller OTR comes with a bunch of tricks to circumnavigate much of the heavy hardware demands usually required. More on this later.
Storyteller OTR’s core functionality stems from a handful of stringent naming conventions you apply to tracks to identify their role within your template. There is complex routing and coding behind the scenes allowing you to simply load a custom template and have everything set up and ready to go with no extra mucking around. A custom toolbar macro collection is also included that makes anything from custom track visibility, to enabling instruments and bouncing stems a simple one-button job.
This track naming process is set, you must follow the pre-configured identifiers for each track type – audio, MIDI, category and the like. There is a danger of accidentally erasing a track identifier which would render that track unseen by the software. Fortunately, the naming format makes perfect sense and actually forces you to be more meticulous with your layout, carefully ensuring tracks are in the right category with the correct syntax names. It is a little bit of a chore at first, especially if you’re like me – particularly lazy when it comes to project layouts – but for larger, 100+ track orchestral templates this is a necessary skill to develop.
The manual clearly lays out the rules with the prefixes you can and cannot mess with. Each track name will begin with a prefix – VI refers to a virtual instrument track, and VI-C means virtual instrument category. VI-OUT is the virtual instruments’ output bus, and VI-MIDI is the virtual instruments’ individual MIDI output channel. FX are for effect inserts, VCA is the master mixing bus and so forth.
All important prefixes are before a colon (:), so you are free to modify the track name after this. “VI-MIDI: 1” can be renamed to “VI-MIDI: My Track”, as an example.
There are three special prefixes which will break the cycle if you change them, namely “-inactive*!”, “-active*!” and “-frozen*!”. These are core process suffixes that the theme relies on using often. Happily, if you do rename these by mistake you can simply refresh the track status for everything to be restored.
There is no need to set up FX sends and multi-channel BUS mixes. Storyteller OTR automatically creates everything you need in the background depending on what setup you chose from. The FX routing is a little confusing at first, as it requires some modification to Kontakt to function in a coherent way. By default, Storyteller OTR offers you a choice of free-floating FX channel sends, or one of two custom multi-channel FX sends designed to emulate a concert hall setting (near mics, Decca tree, ambient, wide mics etc). These custom channels will need to be configured inside Kontakt (or your choice of sampler) so they match.
The fundamental feature of Storyteller OTR is the track template presets. These are designed to make creating new tracks or full projects as streamlined as possible. Storyteller OTR comes with a number of excellent starters to use and learn from, though you will need to develop your own layouts to suit your specific workflow and instrument collection.
A Storyteller OTR Track Template is a complete instrument setup from scratch, with FX, BUSSES, outputs and multiple instrument track categories all named and ready to go. The idea is you build a separate track template for each and every instrument articulation you plan on having in your master template.
These templates include a category hierarchy, Stem, VCA and customisable FX routing automatically applied, so it’s just a matter of dragging in the instruments you want to use and arranging them in the order that suits your workflow.
Out of the box, Storyteller OTR comes with large sections of pre-configured full project and track templates to get you up and rolling, especially if you run mostly Kontakt-based libraries. The idea, of course, is to customise the default project templates to better suit your needs, inserting your own VI libraries, synths and external hardware. Eventually, you will end up with many dozens of templates to call on depending on the project requirements, each fully routed and configured with the regular instruments you use.
As long as you don’t break the basic naming format you can pretty much rename categories and track templates as you need, reorder tracks and delete anything not needed. The main navigation toolbar will allow you to show or hide various elements of your template as you need. Using the supplied toolbar buttons you can completely clear the UI to only show a single track, maybe only show MIDI tracks, or tracks with no data, or perhaps have everything including the kitchen sink showing at once – whatever works best for your needs.
Storyteller OTR includes two built-in skins colour options, the default is pretty good, but a slick-looking “FRXST” alternative is also available. You are able to use any custom themes you have as well, though the UI might not marry up well unless you start modifying the layout. Some White Tie themes will have issues displaying the full OTR format naming system on the mixer scribble strips, which is a pain. But other than the naming format, you are free totally to customise, colourise and rework the interface as you like.
Though Storyteller OTR is logically laid out, its complex structure will take some time to master. Forget any expectation of having your complete orchestral template up and running immediately out of the box. You will need to dedicate some serious time to the manual will constructing your masterpiece.
Reaper alone is a tricky piece of software if you are new to the workflow. Fortunately, the rather humorous manual for OTR is excellent, and if you take time to watch the multiple online tutorial videos you should be up and running with the very basics quickly.
What takes time is setting up each and every instrument you own in a coherent way. You will need to identify every individual instrument in your collection, each patch or articulation, are you happy to use key switches or would you prefer individual articulations, the basic processing or effect that you would like to preset – this all takes a lot of time to work out. Even on a modest orchestral template, you could be looking at well upwards of 100 individual elements in your template and probably a lot more.
Of course, this is all in aid of accelerating your future projects. Once you have everything locked down and set up the way you like, it is simply a matter of loading the required project template each session and you are set to go. But in the early days, you can look forward to a lot of arranging, inserting, colour coding and renaming.
Creating project templates is not as painful as it sounds. Storyteller OTR comes with a handy library builder template and much of the instrument building can simply be copied/pasted and duplicated as you go, requiring only slight modifications to outputs or MIDI inputs. Also, I found once a project template is complete adding more instruments to it on the fly during daily composing is very simple since everything is separated out into categories.
Storyteller OTR includes a bunch of handy life hacks for MIDI editing I’ve found invaluable. Using the MIDI Warp and CC tools for creating organic curves on velocity or other MIDI cc elements is a breeze. Again, this is nothing Reaper can’t already do in its native form – it is just that OTR provides simple tools for you to use in a more convenient manner.
A couple of Reaper quirks should be mentioned. Storyteller OTR natively runs in 48k sample mode, which was a major pain for me as all of my writing I do is 44.1k. Reaper is set up in a way where the project can request a specific sample rate different to the hardware interface, which is troublesome when the system device is set to 44.1k and the project is trying to load 48k – my Focusrite interface has issues swapping on the fly and tended to just crash, requiring system reboots.
Track templates are frustratingly easy to overwrite by accidentally saving the wrong element of a template. By this I mean you might have a large track template with multiple instances and articulations laid out. You need to save the root track as the template, not accidentally one of the sub-tracks, which will overwrite all of your hard work with empty data. And yes, I’ve done this a few times.
I found the default toolbars overwhelming and requiring as much searching as the default menus. Fortunately, these are all simple action macro commands and it is very simple to create your own custom toolbars. Please just remember to save, save, save – Reaper will not carry your changes over if you swap themes. Again, this is something I found out the hard way.
One of the major problems of running a large orchestral template is the system DSP requirements. Even with a massive VSL networked system, you will soon run out of processing power if you continue to just stack up virtual instruments.
Storyteller OTR’s core feature is the ability to activate and deactivate instrument tracks with the push of a button. This means it’s possible to make huge sample library templates with many hundreds of VI’s inserted in deactivated mode until you need them, effectively using no system resources.
One of the nifty ways OTR (and of course Reaper and most other DAWs on the market) circumvent much of the processing power required to run multiple VI’s is by “freezing” tracks. This is a method of bouncing down MIDI tracks to wave but retaining the original MIDI data so you can “unfreeze” and continue to work on the arrangements.
The idea is once you’ve finished working on your track’s MIDI or track effects, simply freeze it down to a wave file and disable the effects to regain the DSP. Storyteller OTR has a handy “Freeze” button which will automate the process – click it to freeze just the MIDI or shit-click to freeze the entire effect chain as well. You will see a nice big snowflake icon indicating the track’s status. Unfreezing is a simple matter of clicking the “Track Unfreeze” button to restore to its original state.
With this process of activating, deactivating and freezing tracks you can create huge projects and still retain the ability to unfreeze and edit the original MIDI arrangements as you need. Even a modest system is capable of running many hundreds of wave tracks.
Again, and this is not unique to Reaper, Storyteller OTR just provides the tools right up front as an integral part of the orchestral template layout. You are not meant to freeze tracks once you start hitting CPU limits: you are meant to freeze them constantly as you work. It should be part of your muscle memory to finish editing the MIDI, and then freeze.
Creating track templates.
The one area you will spend most of your time moulding Storyteller OTR to fit your workflow is creating custom track templates.
A track template is basically a pre-configured snapshot of a VI, FX chain, external synth patch – pretty much anything. So, for instance, a typical track template might contain a copy of Kontakt with Spitfire Audio’s Chamber Strings inserted, the violin patch with staccato articulations, Decca tree mics at 50%, close mics at full, all routed to a hall reverb.
Also, a track template is not necessarily limited to a single instrument. In reality, mostly you will be creating multi-instrument patches, or more likely, multi-articulation patches. For instance, you might create a similar Spitfire Audio track template that has each and every articulation prepared. This means you can simply activate a specific articulation on the fly as you need instead of wasting resources and RAM loading the entire patch. Create your piece, freeze the track and disable the VI.
Alternatively, you might decide to create a track template that includes multiple instruments, each with their articulations loaded and ready to go. This way you have quick access to all of the similar instruments, each with all of their individual articulations loaded and ready to play.
I found creating external synth patches for my Yamaha MOTIF and Roland Jupiter synths very rewarding. In essence, you have a custom synth library where you can create specific patch calls, preset FX, levels, filters, ADSR – anything you want, all set up ahead of time as track templates. Of course, you don’t need to freeze external synth so the more you create outside the box the less your PC needs to stress.
So I hope you can see now how using this method of presetting individual VI’s into larger project templates and freezing as you go along allows you to load, and more importantly, run massive orchestral sessions without glitching, even on modest systems.
This takes time – so be prepared. You will spend a week setting things up just right, tweaking this and that, changing track labels, mucking with colours – all that stuff. But once you’re locked in, you can forever get on with just writing music and ignoring the tech.
While there is no ‘magic’ going on here, there is nothing you cannot already do with a standard installation of Reaper and plenty of Walter code and scripting knowledge. All Storyteller OTR does is combine all of the essential and often hidden features of Reaper into a sensible and well-designed layout. But that really is the thing, as presumably not many of us are code and scripting gurus.
Storyteller OTR has curated every conceivable tool and preset routing configuration with a bunch of cleverly scripted keystrokes so you don’t have to. If you were thinking of attempting to hot rod Reaper and do this all yourself, I can guarantee you will take one look at the source code and go cross-eyed. Sometimes it’s better to just pay the experts to do it properly so you can get on with life.
Storyteller OTR ultimately is a celebration of Reaper’s flexibility, specifically for media composers. Reaper has such a small processing footprint and a mind-boggling number of features and customisable theming choices. Nothing else really comes even close.
Of course, it is a brand new platform for some who might be reluctant to jump ship from their current DAW, but since OTR really is specifically designed for orchestral templates there’s no harm in running multiple instances of Reaper in dual mode with your current DAW – one as your daily editor, the other as your orchestral template. The OTR version is so very different in both its workflow and layout to the standard Reaper that it really should be viewed as a totally separate stand-alone orchestral template platform.
If you are traditionally quite inconsistent with your track naming and layouts you may struggle with the fundamental need to follow the core naming structure. Storyteller OTR relies on a very regimented workflow that can feel a little confining. It can be a chore to check all the right tracks are in the correct categories, but as with all good life lessons, perseverance is rewarded tenfold.
Out of the box, OTR is a deep and complex platform that requires time to work out, sort and filter into a comfortable environment. You can look forward to many hours creating track templates for your favourite sampler patches, synths and, in my case, specific patches for all of my external keyboard synths. But for the first time, after all that hard work is done, you will have available at a moment’s notice presets for every single patch, instrument, articulation and FX chain in your studio.
Not only is this empowering, but the freedom to just relax, forget about the technology and write music is phenomenal.
Even if you don’t own Reaper, the cost of OTR and Reaper together as a bundle is a bargain basement when compared with the cost of any other pro-level DAW on the market, and the workflow benefits are quite simply outstanding.
If you are a media composer using Reaper, this is quite simply required buying, no questions asked. If you are using alternative DAW platforms you now have one of the strongest reasons to consider making the swap to Reaper. Storyteller’s OTR has successfully converted Reaper into the best orchestral template platform on the market, period.
For full details and ordering information please visit the Storytellers website www.otr.storyteller.im
Updated August 2022