If you’ve read any of our previous blog posts, you may have seen that we’ve mentioned DAWs several times. If you aren’t familiar, DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation – In this post I will talk about a few different ones which may help you decide which one is best for you.
The first DAW that many people encounter is Garageband. This is an Apple exclusive software that can be downloaded for free on Macs. It comes with some different instrument sounds and sample loops that are royalty-free (pre-recorded audio, usually 4 bars long, such as beats or chords) that you can use to inspire your writing. There is a musical typing function which basically means that you can play and record an instrument using your computer keyboard rather than having to hook up an external piano keyboard or pad. You can record audio into it such as vocals or guitar, however this does require some equipment such as a microphone and interface. It does not have as many features as most other DAWs however it is a great place to start if you are a songwriter or looking to get into production.
Logic Pro is a more advanced version of Garageband and is another software that is exclusive to Apple. Logic is not free and will set you back around £200 (students can get a discount). This DAW is widely used among many professional producers and songwriters – again it comes with different instrument sound packs and Apple Loops, more than Garageband. The musical typing function also exists in Logic for playing MIDI instruments without an external keyboard. Again, audio recording can be done and is a similar process to that of Garageband. Editing takes is easy since you can record multiple takes of the same part over each other and it will then automatically create a playlist for you where you can decide which part of each take you want to use. You can also adjust the timing of your audio to fit the tempo of your track using Flex Time which can be an invaluable tool if you want your music to sound tight and together – however if you move the audio too much, it may add some odd noises (artefacts) to your audio.
Some people also use Logic to mix their tracks. This is the stage where the volume levels of different instruments are balanced so that you can hear everything in the amounts that you would like to, effects such as echo are also added and the song ends up sounding close to something that you would hear on a streaming platform or the radio. You can do all of this in Logic and it can sound professional – although personally, I use Logic for writing/producing and then move the audio over into Pro Tools for the recording and mixing stages.
Pro Tools is the most commonly used DAW in professional recording studios. It is recognised as the industry standard and generally seen as the best DAW for multi-tracking (recording multiple sound sources/instruments) and editing audio. You can get Pro Tools on a subscription which may be more affordable to many than buying it outright. I personally find Pro Tools not very user friendly for the writing and producing stage, although many people use it for this purpose. You can use virtual instruments however you do need to plug in an external keyboard or add individual notes with your mouse since there is no musical typing, and there is less variety in virtual instruments than there is in Logic. Recording is what Pro Tools is best known for since you can record hundreds of tracks simultaneously. It can be used in any recording situation, whether you are doing one instrument or a full orchestra. Editing on Pro Tools is intuitive and you can easily combine all the best parts of different takes with the playlist function. There are many other things that you can do on this software, such as edit the timing of your audio so that it fits the tempo of your song with either beat detective or elastic audio – these run the same potential risks as the time editing in Logic but are great for minor fixes. There are stock effects that also come with Pro Tools such as compressors, EQs, reverbs and delays that can be added to tracks while mixing. Pro Tools is excellent for mixing, the separate mix and edit windows mean that you can have large faders that are easier to fiddle with than those on Logic.
There are many other DAWs that I haven’t covered such as Cubase, Ableton and FruityLoops (some of which I haven’t tried myself!), there are many tutorial blogs and YouTube videos to help you learn how to use DAWs and the features of them. Picking one to use really comes down to your experience level and what you intend to use it for – whatever your aim is, there will be a DAW for you. Happy creating!
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