DAW DizzinessDec 09, 2021
◀️ 🔼 🔽 ▶️ Which Way Is Up?
DAW – Digital Audio Workstation – Computer-based software that records musical sounds to be played back for the sake of commercial consumption (yes, that’s my own definition of a DAW 🤓).
A DAW, is a DAW, is a DAW. The concept is the simple – record sounds and musical ideas into a digital medium which can then be tweaked, edited, played with, processed and played back at the stroke of a key.
If you’re wondering which DAW is the best, the truth is, there is no such thing as the “best” because it all depends on what you’re using it for. It can be extremely daunting choosing the right DAW for you. Therefore, I have the following recommendations:
Beginners Start Here 🔽 🔽 🔽
If you're a complete beginner, start with Garageband by Apple. It’s super intuitive interface and layout makes for a user-friendly experience that won’t leave you frustrated – but rather, excited to continue on this journey. Each track has a little icon of an instrument and the program itself walks you through the recording setup process with pop-up windows to get recording quickly!
If you’re a DJ with some music knowledge, or of the “pro-musician” breed already, Ableton Live offers some really fun features – especially for live performances. With its proprietary WARP feature, it can literally time stretch any loop, sample, or midi phrase to fit into any BPM. For example, if all of your track stems are at 100 BPM but you’d like to boost the tempo during a live performance, it’s easy, just change the BPM in the system and it does it automatically for you! You can now play over those loops without having to worry about the pitch being off, or awkward timing. That’s all taken care of internally, inside the software!
Ableton also has a linear editing window which operates like most other DAWs and can be used for any type of recording session. However, I think the live element of the program is what really makes Ableton stand out amongst the other DAWs.
Music Producer / Beat Programmer
Logic by Apple is the most “logical” place to dive in if you’re already an accomplished musician with some decent computer skills – or if you’re a legitimate “beat maker.” If you purchase a Mac, you can add-on the Logic Pro and pre-install it for just $200. If you plan on doing any keyboard programming, Logic was initially designed for this. Because of the proprietary connection with Apple, the interface is very user-friendly and basically an extension of Garageband. Think of it as a “Pro” version of Garageband. You can also score to picture, mix, and master.
Pro-Level Producer / Mix and Mastering Engineer
I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it – ProTools is THE most common DAW that you will see being used in commercial studios across the globe, period.
Why? Not to get too technical but the DSP power and AD converters that were initially in ProTools were of superior quality. Now before you try to sue me in a court of musical law, hold on for a minute. Yes, there are other companies that have amazing AD converters and DSP power as well, and perhaps there are some even better than ProTools, but ProTools is the industry standard. There is something about the way Pro Tools treats audio that is just magic! There is an audible difference between Pro Tools and all the other DAWs.
Am I biased? Perhaps it’s because I’ve been a devout Pro Tools user since the mid ‘00s. However, my first DAW was Digital Performer, simply because my friends were using it and it was popular back in the day. Part of choosing the right DAW is compatibility and the ability to collaborate. You’ll hear me say it quite often – It’s always best to learn from watching someone else do it – There’s no substitute for real-world, hands-on experience.
Of course, I’m also pragmatic in that I’ve learned Logic and Ableton Live as well. Why? Because I believe it’s best to have a basic working knowledge of several different programs to serve a client in any capacity. In other words, if a client is working in a Logic session but the session is intricate and would take a lot of time for them to burn stems, (more on that in future blogs), they can simply send me their Logic session and I can record my parts and send back the same Logic session, no problem. Additionally, I like to stay up-to-date on what’s going on in our industry so as to not get “left behind.” Music tech is an ever-evolving game.
Computer System For The Masses 💻 ⌨️ 🖥
Perhaps the most important question to ask yourself is – what type of computer system do you own or plan to use for your home studio rig? I recommend Mac, only because I’ve been using them since the early ‘00s and they have been reliable and very user-friendly. However, I will say that in the late ‘90s, when I was in transition from PC to Mac, it was a little bit of a struggle at first – mainly due to all of the different shortcut key commands, and the overall screen layout, etc.
Go Forth and Pick One! 💡 1️⃣ 💻
Although I have told you about my multi-use of several DAW’s, I strongly urge you to commit to one and get really, really, really good at it. Learn all of its native shortcuts and nuances. This will help build confidence in your recording endeavors and give you bragging rights once you’ve mastered your DAW of choice. Imagine being the person that can swoop in to save the day for those technically challenged moments that your friends might have!
Digital Performer - Performance playback, home recording sessions,
midi programming, film scoring
Garage Band - Recording demos, rehearsal recording sessions, entry-level producing
Ableton Live - Performance looping/playback, home recording sessions,
Logic Pro - Performance playback, midi programming, home recording sessions, film scoring, mixing
Pro Tools - Performance playback, commercial recording sessions, home recording sessions, midi programming, film scoring, mixing, mastering
Here’s a list of DAW’s that I found on a quick 30 second search:
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