What is a DAW ? Creating a track from scratch !

What is DAW

If you are thinking about becoming a music producer or you are interested in audio editing, recording or making podcasts, you probably came across the term ‘DAW’. But what is a DAW ? 

A DAW stands for ‘Digital Audio Workstation‘. It as a computer based software that allows you to produce, edit and record audio files.

DAWS are used by music producers to create songs, audio files and sound effects. They enable you to create a track from scratch and master them into a finished song!  They can be used for other purposes such as remixing, creating samples or sample packs, video editing or radio and video podcasts.

An amazing piece of technology within everyone’s reach!  

Although most DAWS have similar features, as you will find out later, your final decision on which one to go for will be based on different aspects. Your operation system, your preferences towards work flow, your experience (beginner or pro), how much you are willing to invest and your purposes. 

Everything has a price and nothing is less true in the world of Audio Production Software. But, the good news is that there is a variety of Free DAWS available and that the best DAWS will cost you less than 100 $ for a limited edition and offer you a trial period of 30 days.

So, without further ado, let’s dig deeper into the world of Digital Audio Software and let’s find out which one you should go for!

 

Just for fun…

If your only goal is to play around with sounds in your free time, you might not want to invest in expensive software at first. Maybe you don’t need all the features of more professional DAWS and you just want to keep it simple.

Free- or open source DAWS can be a good solution for you!

PROS

  • It’s free ! Obviously, this will be main reason to choose a Free DAW
  • Some ‘do’ offer great features and are suitable for producing, editing and recording
  • Great for limited use that don’t need complex features, like podcasts,..

CONS

  • Most of the free DAWS have limited functionalities comparing to ‘paid’ once.
  • They don’t support all file formats like OMF, AAF, WAV , MP3 or MIDI ( Musical Instrument Digital Interface) MIDI allows instruments and other devices to connect with each other.
  • Some, like Ardour, are not officially supported by Windows and most are not supported by both Mac and Windows
  • Most have no ‘Rewire’ option that allows you to connect different software and transfer data among related software.
  • Most of them seem to support VST plugins such as virtual synthesizers and samplers but not all of them does. Almost none support VST3 plugins.
  • Minimal customer support

Now if you are serious about becoming a professional music producer you might want to reconsider…

If you do want to start or work with free DAWS anyways, make sure to choose the best ones on the market.

In a related post, How to make music for free, I am giving you a list (with download links) to what I consider being the best free DAWS on the market.

Make sure to check it out!

 

Or are you taking things seriously?

Like you can see, I am not a big fan of free DAWS and this due to my personal experience with them.

Remember that, even if free or open source DAWS can offer great features, not 1 of your favorite music producers used a free DAW to produce their tracks! 

Honestly I don’t think you are doing yourself a favor by starting out with free DAWS. You will probably learn a few things, I don’t deny that but if you want to have all the keys in hands to become a professional music producer, you shouldn’t waste your time with ‘average’ when you can go for ‘excellence’.

Considering that even the most basic version of any DAW are an undeniable upgrade to any free DAW…

Do yourself a favor and go for the real deal right away!

 

Top 10 Audio production Software

Top 10 audio production software

 

What is a DAW? Let’s have a look inside 

Before we figure out which one you should go for, especially as a beginner, let’s have a look ‘inside the box’ and help you understand the basic features that all DAWS have in common.

I. Common features

Every edition of the DAW you will decide to buy, comes with a sound library, instruments, integrated plugins and FX .

How many will depend on which edition you are going to buy.  (The cheapest editions will have limited features compared to the ‘all in 1’ or ‘bundle editions’ )

  • Sound library: You can start making music right away with a variety of samples and loops that are ready to use like drums ( kicks, hats, claps, percussions ), bass lines, brass, synths, sound effects,strings, voices,  vocals,…
  • Instruments: Integrated, software instruments and synths.
  • Integrated Plugins and FX: Audio and Midi Plugins like Arpeggiators, Filters, EQ, compression, Delay, Limiter,…

 

II.The interface

What is a DAW

FL Studio interface

What is a DAW

Ableton live 9 interface

 

When the layout and functionalities of DAWS might be different for each one of them, all possess some basic settings.

What will change is the work flow and interface. At the end most DAWS will offer the same features but in different shapes and forms. Some are more user friendly than others and will be more easy to use for beginners (but more on that later).

In the first picture of the Ableton live 9 interface you can only see the session view, though you can toggle to another screen that will be an arrangement view. On FL Studio, there is only one screen for editing and arrangements.

Basic transport controls

  • Play & Stop button
  • edit/ create
  • Record
  • Save
  • Export track
  • Tempo ( BPM or beats per minute)
  • Metronome
  • Volume knob
What is a DAW

Logic pro contol settings

What is a DAW

FL Studio control settings

What is a DAW

Ableton live control settings

 

 

III. The  Mixer

What is a DAW

FL Studio mixer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An audio mixer will bring all the parts of a song together and process them so that the song blends together.

A mixer is divided in 2 parts. The channel strips and the main output section. Each Channel strip is divided in control groups with knobs and faders.

  • Sections of a mixer: 
  • pre-gain: First input of the signal
  • The insert : Is used for dynamic processors
  • EQ section: Adjusts high, low and mid frequencies
  • Aux section: Used for processors, monitors and live recordings
  • Pan section: shows which side the sound will go ( Left or Right or mix )
  • Fader: Adjust the fade of the the volume
  • Bus: Gives you options on were the out put sound will be transfered too. The main output or sub groups

 

Nope, I am still confused…

I gave you a summary of the basic settings that all DAWS offer but the truth is that it is much more complex and that is because each DAW has it’s own specificities, instruments, Plugins ,… 

Because images speak better than words!

Let’s have a look at all the features that a DAW like Ableton and FL Studio has to offer.

What is Ableton Live? 

 

FL Studio 12 Launch video

!  As an example, I am focusing on FL Studio and Ableton because those are the DAWS that I am used working with. I also use Logic Pro too for mastering.

! Many other DAWS in the top 10 Audio Production Software , like Reason, Cubase and Pro Tools have those same features though . I am not trying to convince you to go for FL Studio or Ableton live and should make an opinion of yourself by trying them out!

 

Which one to choose as a beginner

The truth is that there is not something like the best DAW like some people tend to make you believe . Why is that anyway that everyone claims that HIS DAW is the best… really, it’s not! What will be the best DAW for Pete, won’t necessarily be the best DAW for Paul.

Only your personal experience will matter. Some people will like Ableton over FL Studio because of it’s workflow but others will prefer FL Studio because of it’s simplicity.

I started making music with FL Studio. What I liked is about FL Studio is that you can start making music right aways and that it is fun to use.

What looks a bit like a child’s toy is in fact a powerful music production tool but more accessible than other more complex DAWS.

Some say that FL Studio is an EDM or BIG Room producers DAW. That might be true and it it is overall more used by EDM producers probably because of it’s integrated plugins and because it is easy to make beats.

FL Studio would be a great choice for beginners on Windows!

Later, I switched to Ableton Live. Not because I didn’t like FL Studio but because I went for a Mac and that FL Studio only has a beta version on Mac (which in my opinion lacks features form the original edit)

Ableton live might be a little bit more complex at first side. I could find my way quite easily because I had experience in using a DAW but the interface and work flow are completely different.

As a beginner every DAW will seems complex at first and you will eventually learn how to work with it .

The best thing is to do and what I would recommend, is to try out the trial versions of different DAWS and see which one you prefer to work with.

 

Conclusion

As a musician your DAW will be your most important tool. So make sure to go for the right one!

Now that you understand more about ‘What is a DAW’, the free and paid options that exist, the common features that all DAWS possess and what aspects make a DAW unique, the only thing left is for you to choose your DAW.

The best way to know exactly which one to go for, is to try it out!

Evaluate different DAWS according to your needs

Analyze the different specifications of each DAW and…

Experiment ! 

 

 

Any questions? angelique@children-of-the-electronic-revolution.com

 

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About the Author Angelique D.

My name is Angélique. I am a full-time music producer and blogger.I created Children of the Electronic Revolution to give you all the tools you need to help you become the successful music producer you dream to be !

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