Choosing a DAW, is hard. It's a decision that will stay with you for years. With the astounding number of options available, it's not surprising that many people deliberate this decision for weeks.
But you shouldn't. The important thing here is to make a decision—fast—and run with it.
In this tutorial, you'll learn how to find a DAW that's right for you, without wasting time and effort in the process. This will allow you to start doing what you love—writing, recording and mixing music—rather than spending hours trawling the internet searching for the "perfect" DAW.
A DAW Explained
Before deciding which DAW is right for you, you need to understand what a DAW is, and what it does. DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation. It's a piece of software deigned to help you record and manipulate audio—literally, an audio workstation.
You'll need to use a DAW if you want to:
- Record multiple channels of audio—for example, multiple instruments or overdubs
- Edit this audio—removing and re-arranging sections, or adjusting timing and pitch
- Balance these multiple channels together to create a final stereo audio file—otherwise know as mixing
To put it simply, if you want to record any audio on your computer, you need a DAW. If you only want to make simple edits to a single mono or stereo file, you could use a basic editor like Audacity. But in any other situation, a DAW is what you need.
All DAWs Sound the Same
There is a common misconception about DAWs. Some people seem to think they sound different. Let me make something clear: in essence, all DAWs sound exactly the same. The DAW itself won't have an impact on the quality of the audio.
The vast majority of modern DAWs come with a full range of stock plugins—enough to finish a mix to a professional standard, if you know how.
So, while all DAWs inherently sound the same, they all come with plugins that sound different. This should be one of your considerations when comparing DAWs. Personally, I believe Logic Pro X and Studio One come with the best range of stock plugins.
But, ultimately, the differences are small. Any modern DAW will come with plugins that are sufficient for producing studio-level mixes. It's not the gear that matters, it's how you use it.
Different DAWs, Different Genres
Many DAWs are designed to suit certain genres. For example, Ableton Live is geared more towards electronic music production.
This should be another consideration when picking the right DAW for you. But no DAW is designed with one genre in mind. You can still produce EDM in most DAWs. Each DAW has its strength, and that's what you should consider.
You Don't Get What You Pay For
Some DAWs can cost you upwards of $600, while others are free. If you are on a really tight budget, many DAWs have a free version with limited features. This is also a great way to try a DAW before you buy it.
But once you get into the paid area, cost shouldn't be a discerning factor. In fact, most of my favourite DAWs are highly affordable.
At the time of writing, Pro Tools will cost you $599, whereas Logic Pro X will cost you $199.
I recently made the switch from Pro Tools to Logic Pro, choosing the cheaper option. Yet I find Logic Pro better suits my needs, and for beginners, it comes with a better range of stock plugins.
Don't be turned off a DAW just because it costs less, and don't spend a fortune just because you feel you should. With DAWs, you don't necessarily get what you pay for.
How to Make Fast Progress
The key to reaching pro mixes in less time than it takes most people is focus.
It's easy to spend a lot of time deliberating the unimportant decisions: which DAW to use, what gear to buy, which plugins to download, what mic to buy next. But you make fast progress by focusing on what matters: your skills.
Which DAW you chose is not a make-or-break factor. Every moment spent deliberating this decision is a moment that could be spent honing your skills, learning your DAW, and getting confident at mixing.
Spend some time researching the different DAWs, but don't get stuck here. Make a decision fast, and stick with it. Once you have picked a DAW, definitely don't change—unless you have a strong reason to do so.
If you aren't happy with your first mix, don't panic. That's totally normal. Don't blame your DAW. The issue isn't the software. You just need more experience. Keep this fact in mind, and you are well on your way to achieving the sound in your head.
My 2 Favourite DAWs
Now, with all of this in mind, here is a quick run down of some of the best options out there.
Logic Pro X (Mac)
Throughout most of my professional career I used Pro Tools, as most professionals do. But I have always used Logic Pro X for my own music, and over the last couple of years it has become my go-to DAW for client work too.
It's well-rounded, it comes with great stock plugins, and it's a joy to use. Whether you work with rock music, electronic, or anything else, this is my first recommendation.
Studio One (Windows & Mac)
One major downside of Logic Pro is that it only works on OS X / macOS. If you are on Windows, my next recommendation is Studio One. Like Logic Pro, it's a great all-rounder, comes with an incredible range of plugins, and is easy to use.
If you take just one thing from this tutorial, let it be this—it doesn't really matter which DAW you use. The important thing is to commit. Don't spend too long on this decision. Make a choice, and start making music.
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