What's the Best DAW Software for Me?
Itching to produce your own music with your computer? The first thing you’ll need is DAW software (Digital Audio Workstation), which you’ll be using to record, edit and mix audio and MIDI just like professional producers do. In this Gear Guide, we help you make your DAW choice by answering various frequently asked questions. If have any other questions, feel free to reach out to us!
1. Why Go For DAW Software When There are Other Options For Music Production?
DAWs aren’t the only way to write and produce music, but if you’re working on a computer, it’s the go-to option. For not all that much money, you can buy an extensive DAW, and much more can be found in the huge range of DAWs and expansion software available.
2. What Can I Do With DAW Software?
Pretty much everything: from simple singer-songwriter-style songs to film score productions, and from trance to string ensembles. In most cases, you can use them to create sheet music, which is great if you’re part of an ensemble, and videos can be loaded in so you can see what your track ‘looks’ like in a film, tv, commercial or company video. Most DAW packs are fairly ‘generic’, meaning that they can be used for any style and aren’t limited to a specific genre. As such, the decision to pick a certain DAW mainly depends on whether its workflow matches your way of working.
3. Are DAWs Expensive?
It’s really not too bad. Most DAWs are available in multiple editions, with the expensive and complete editions costing several hundred pounds, while the cheaper versions go for under a hundred. What’s more, various USB/MIDI keyboard and USB/MIDI controllers come including basic DAW versions, giving you the most important thing needed to produce music. If you already know you’re going to be making big and complex productions, don’t hesitate and go for a complete edition.
4. I Keep Hearing About Ableton Live. What is it?
‘Live’ is the name of a DAW pack developed by a company called Ableton. Live is an outstanding example made for EDM, and more specifically, live performances. In the software, blocks with music-based data such as drum blocks, bass blocks, chord blocks and melody blocks are placed on a grid to put together a complete track. What’s great is that there are lots of Ableton controllers on the market to ‘trigger’ these clips, giving DJs and producers new ways to throw live shows.
5. What Are Virtual Instruments, And Do I Need Them?
Virtual instruments are things like pianos, synthesizers, samplers and more in software-form, called instrument plug-ins. Besides these, there are also effect plug-ins, and one of more of these plugins can be used in combination with your DAW. If you work exclusively with plug-ins, this is called ‘in the box’ producing since, from the first note of your mix to the last, the entire project takes place only in your computer. Virtual instruments have surpassed hardware synths in terms of quality and quantity, which is why most producers work largely with software-based instruments. The most popular plug-in format is VST, and if your DAW supports this, you’ll be prepared for anything. Other formats are AU (Apple computers) and RTAS (Pro Tools), but you’ll find most plugins are available in all three formats.
6. I Can Still Continue Using My Hardware Synths, Right?
Definitely! There are loads of producers that control modern analogue synths via MIDI, that’s no issue for DAW software these days. The only requirement is a connection between your computer and your synthesizer(s), which used to be MIDI, but nowadays, is often a USB connection. To give your computer traditional DIN-MIDI inputs and outputs, a MIDI interface is required. More high-end external audio interfaces usually have one of these MIDI interfaces built in. Also, if you’re working with hardware only, meaning no virtual instruments and effects, you don’t need a fast, high-end computer either - even the computers in the ‘80s were able to handle this.
7. I’m Hearing a Lot About Pro Tools. What is That?
Compared to DAWs like Cubase, Sonar, Ableton, FL Studio, Studio One, Reason, Mixcraft and Bitwig, Pro Tools is the odd one out. The possibilities are comparable, but the biggest difference lies in professional use. Conservatories and film schools like working with Pro Tools, especially because a big part of the music industry does too. If you bring your mix into a big studio, chances are you’ll hear: “Can you get us a Pro Tools version?”
8. I’ve Come Up With a Melody. Can My Computer Make the Arrangement for Me?
A well-known software pack called Band in a Box is specialised in this. All you do is enter a melody and a matching chord, and the software will rearrange recordings of real instruments. It’s kind of like keyboards do. While regular DAW users will want to control every facet of their project, BiaB-users have a completely different goal: simply entering a melody, having the arrangement made, and done. The results are remarkable, but if you prefer to keep full control, you’re best off with a ‘normal’ DAW.
9. What Do I Need to Run a DAW?
A fairly new computer. If you’re looking to record a couple of tracks, say, guitars and vocals, or to use only a few, relatively simple plugins, any average modern computer will do. But as soon as you start working with multiple effects (reverb, compression, etc) on multiple tracks at the same time, the demands add up rapidly. You’ll need fast, multi-core processor, lots of memory (at least 8GB) and a fast hard drive, preferably an SSD. Most DAW software runs on Windows; OS X is also often supported.
Many producers have an external audio interface that they use to connect microphones, guitars, headphones, speakers and similar gear. The inputs and outputs of audio interfaces simply offer noticeably better sound quality than those of most laptops and computers.