What if you could find your perfect DAW Soulmate?
image: Ali Yahya
DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation and is basically software that you will use to record audio and create music through virtual instruments. There are many DAWs. Some of them are very basic, easy to use and free, and others are complex, expensive and complete war-machines.
Learn What to Look For in a DAW
- Pro Tools
If you’re serious about music you might want to get started with some of the most professional music producing software out there and there is no doubt that Pro Tools is still the industry standard in all major music studios in the world. Eventually you will bump into it for sure. The problem is that it is so vast and includes so many features that it makes it quite pricy, they offer an affordable monthly subscription but the perpetual license is very expensive. On top of that, it is such a complex software that it will take you years to master it properly to actually take full advantage of, so if you’re not planning to be a mixing or mastering engineer maybe Pro Tools is not for you (yet).
- Logic Pro X
In my opinion one of the best and easiest ones to learn is definitely Logic Pro X. It includes a vast amount of sounds, loops, fx and virtual instruments for a relatively low price of $200. It is a one-time purchase and you will get lifetime updates on the new versions, for software that is already an industry standard by many musicians, producers and composers all over the world. It does come with a limitation that might be a deal breaker for many… YOU NEED TO OWN A MAC. It just won’t run on Windows or Linux and that alone makes it more expensive if you don’t have one already. (I personally don’t love it, but I’ve seen how easy it is to new users to learn and that’s why I strongly recommend it)
- Other Widely Used DAWs
Other options include Cubase, Studio One, Ableton Live, Reaper, Reason, FL Studio and even Digital Performer if you want to get into film scoring. All of these are professional software that professional musicians understand and widely use around the globe, so any of them would be a fine addition to your workflow and they are also pretty much priced the same ($300-$500) except for Reaper which is an open source software so it is priced around $60 and you can use it as a trial for a long time. Every one of them has their own perks and I advise to watch videos on YouTube about their workflow differences. All of them offer free trials, so you can download each one of them, try them for a month or two and then decide if you want to invest in them.
I do have to make a separate but special mention to Soundtrap. It is a web-based recording software where to collaborate in real time from anywhere in the world. They offer a 1-month free trial and then you can do different types of memberships starting with $7.99 a month billed yearly. It’s definitely a piece of software worth checking out for the social distancing times. Other web-based DAWs include BandLab, Amped Studio and Soundation, which are free software but they do have some limitations, so make sure they have what you need.
- Free DAWs
Now, if you really want to save don’t worry because there is a way. Starting with Reaper (which is not officially a free software but almost is) there are many other DAWs that would not cost you a dime and would still be good enough to collaborate and send your stems or your ideas. A good example is Waveform Free which is one of the best ones, it has a unique workflow easy to learn but a little far from the other big players. If you’re on Windows, then Cakewalk is a great choice, is a fully functional DAW for free. Soundbridge, LMMS, Podium Free and even GarageBand would be more than enough to record your part and send your audio without spending a dime.
- Plug-Ins/Sound Libraries
Plug-ins are the other kind of software you may need. Plug-ins are additional effects, sounds or instruments that you can apply inside of your DAW. There are thousands of options some expensive some cheap, but most of the DAWs include their own and usually those will be enough to start with. If you’re only sending stems you may need to send them without any effects at all, but if you’re already producing or co-producing you will want to start using some pitch correction, reverbs, eq, compression, virtual instruments for new sounds and you will have to put some money into it. I would recommend starting with Waves, they have very affordable mixing plugins and you can start building your rack with one effect at a time if you can’t afford a bundle. Virtual instruments are also too many to count, but one of the must-haves is the Komplete bundle by Native Instruments, it is expensive but completely worth it, get the smaller version for about $200 and then upgrade every Black Friday, half price. A good thing is that there are many free instruments out there, you just have to keep a keen eye for these generous websites and hunt them down.
Be careful not to fall into the rabbit hole because it’s quite easy to just start buying a bunch of plugins you will never use and waste a lot of money, read a lot and learn to identify which ones are necessary to your workflow. With that I leave you to start evaluating software and find your soulmate DAW.
Article by Chipi
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