DAW is an acronym that stands for Digital Audio Workstation – otherwise known as the software that audio engineers, producers, and designers use to record, manipulate, and synthesize sounds and music.

What Features do DAWs Have?

DAW features can range from very basic to highly complex. However, there are some features that most audio folk would consider standard for a modern audio workstation. All DAWs can record, process, and manipulate audio, and most of the DAWs out there also allow for the input of instruments and MIDI devices. Many DAWs also support plugins ranging from virtual instruments like synthesizers to tools like Equalizers and Compressors. All of this means that an audio producer can have an entire studio worth of sonic capabilities packed into one lightweight piece of software.

Why Do I Need a DAW?

Nowadays, digital audio workstations often substitute the traditional studio thanks to their accessibility and wide range of features. This means that anyone with access to a computer and a decent set of speakers or headphones can start making, mixing, or mastering their own music. DAWs also allow you to do a lot more than just music production, making them the true winner in modern-day audio creation and manipulation.

How to Choose a DAW?

There are many DAWs out there, so how do you decide which one is best for you?

Top 3 Free DAWs

A great place to start if you have never touched a digital audio workstation before is one of the free options before you dive in too deep (some DAWs can get pricey!).

Audacity: Audacity is great for those seeking to do simple recording, editing, or mixing.

Cakewalk: Cakewalk is fully-free and fully-featured but is sadly only for Windows users.

Garageband: Fortunately, Mac users aren’t left hanging. Most Mac computers come stock with Garageband – another free audio workstation capable of most sonic tasks.

Top 3 Paid DAWs

Reaper: Reaper stands out as one of the best Paid DAWs not only because it’s only $60 but because there are zero limitations, meaning any audio professional can accomplish their project with Reaper.

Ableton Live: Ableton Live is well known for its unique system that can be used for live music performances. On top of that, they have some of the best stock plugins out there.

Pro Tools: Often considered the ‘industry standard’ for those in music and post-production, Pro Tools is one of the most robust audio editing suites thanks to its native recording abilities and layout.

DAWs With Special Features

Of course, some audio workstations excel in certain areas.

Ohm Studio: Ohm Studio is the first real-time collaborative pro DAW. Start a project, invite musicians and make music together.

Adobe Audition: Audition is an excellent offering from Adobe that makes up for what it lacks in features with its compatibility with the rest of the Adobe suite. Thus it is an excellent option for video producers who need a streamlined way of editing their audio.

Reason: Reason makes its way onto this list for its modular and CV capabilities. With a plethora of synths available, this DAW is great for the ultra-creative musician. Don’t forget to double-check your computer specs before diving into a DAW. Most modern machines are more than capable of running these workstations but better safe than sorry!

Free DAW vs. Paid DAW

You may ask yourself, “Should I pay for a DAW?” and the answer can vary heavily depending on your audio needs. Start with analyzing your potential uses, and then compare and contrast the features of several DAWs. If you’re just starting, it’s best to side with something free to get your feet wet and learn what a digital audio workstation is all about. When it comes to free DAWs, the winner is Audacity, thanks to its simple UI and limited recording ability – allowing newer producers to explore audio before diving too deep. For professionals, most tend to lean towards DAWs like Pro Tools, Adobe Audition, and Reaper because of their fully-featured capabilities.

Best DAW for Beginners

FL Studio: FL Studio (formerly known as Fruity Loops) is the best choice for musicians and audio professionals that want to wrap their heads around the basics and work their way up to the more advanced features of a DAW. The software has everything you need to get started with recording or editing audio. It features very visual workflows and stock plugins that will allow a beginner to understand how audio works and how the techniques applied will affect the outcome.

How Does a DAW Work?

Once you’ve narrowed down your desired software and installed all of your plugins and drivers, you can begin to see for yourself how most audio workstations operate. The computer will serve as the bridge between your audio interface and the software, and the interface will allow you to then both record audio and process it for playback. Most of the time, the next step would be for the artist to record on to a track (or multiple tracks) and then edit the audio afterward to their desired result. After that, it’s rinse and repeat with recording, manipulating, processing, and mixing your audio until you have a song! Ultimately, the best results are more dependant on the driver than the car. To truly master your producing ability, you need to put in the time no matter what software you choose. The DJ/Producer Rezz is an excellent example of someone who weighed the options, put the time into learning their software, and made some incredible music. If you lust to have your tunes heard, you must first master your DAW.
Original article written by Tyler Shields