DAW-Choosing-Guide

Let us first understand what a DAW is, DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation. It’s essentially a software program that lets you access, record, edit and playback audio. Different DAWS serve different purposes and each has its own set of pros and cons. Today we will discuss some of these software and which one you should choose if you’re starting your career in the field of sound. Working in the field for over 10 years and slightly dabbling into all these software I have a fair understanding of the usability and functionality of each of these software. 

Digital Audio Workstation is essentially a software program that lets you access, record, edit and playback audio. Different DAWS serve different purposes and each has its own set of pros and cons.

Choosing a DAW is a very personal approach and what might work for me might not work for you. Every DAW has a different workflow, I/O and capabilities that make it ideal for certain applications.

Pro Tools:

This is my DAW of choice, primarily because of two reasons. I started out using Pro Tools and got really comfortable with its shortcuts, layout etc. and because my work is mainly deals with recording, editing, mixing and mastering, Pro Tools is my go to software. If you want to build a career in the field of audio engineering knowing pro tools is a must. Why? Because almost every studio functions using Pro Tools, it has practically become the industry standard. You don’t want to record drums in one software and then move to another software to record the vocals. Although Pro Tools is very effective at doing the simplest things, it still lacks a lot of capability in terms of its stock features as well as functionality when it comes to programming and working with MIDI. Another reason where pro tools stands out from the rest is its functional capability to work with video. Almost all film sound work happens on pro tools. It can very easily be used to work in surround as well.
Pros Cons
Easy and Intuitive Layout Expensive
Regular Updates and Fixes Not good for working with MIDI
Commonly Used in Studios Not many inbuilt Sounds
5.1 Flexibility Inferior Instruments
Easy to Manipulate I/O CPU Intensive

Logic Pro X:

I personally haven’t used Logic as much as Pro Tools, but this is one of those DAWs that’s starting to grow on me. I’ve seen most Musicians and arrangers fall in love with this software because of its simple layout when it comes to working with MIDI. Load up an instrument from the left and play a few notes on your MIDI controller and boom! The fact that students from our academy were able to create a song from scratch in logic without any external guidance is a testament to the ease of understanding this software. The newer version X is more like an advanced version of Garage Band. However, this software falls flat when it comes to editing. For someone like me who comes from using Pro Tools, it just takes too much time to edit in Logic. Imagine a client breathing down your neck and you taking an hour to edit vocal takes, nope. Bring me Pro Tools. The shortcuts on Logic are a little hard to understand and get behind, again maybe because of my love hate relationship with pro tools but even after months of working with this software they still don’t seem intuitive. The MIDI layout and ease of use makes up for all the cons though, so if you’re looking to create a song in MIDI and arrange music, then logic is your best friend.
Logic Pro X DAW
Pros Cons
MIDI Functionality Inferior audio editing capability
Great Stock Sounds Only on MacOSX
Complex to use for Film

Ableton Live:

This is one of the fastest growing DAWs today. It might just overthrow Pro Tools in the near future. By far Ableton is the most superior workstation when it comes to music production, hands down. With its unique arrangement and session views it lets users easily navigate through a session. The DAW also comes in with some amazing stock sounds, and you can practically start creating music straight out of the box. Another advantage of Ableton is its flexibility when it comes to working with their hardware like Ableton Push 2, which makes it extremely easy to use it live as well as create music on the go. It also has some amazing third party plugins like Max4life etc. that make it extremely easy to work and gives you the capacity to do things like on the go Audio to Midi conversion etc.
Ableton Live DAW
Pros Cons
Quality Sounds Out of the Box Hard to use for Post Production
Great Design
Not CPU Intensive
Easy to use with controllers

FL Studio:

Similar to Ableton, a lot of music producer rely on FL Studio for Music Production. In my opinion FL always felt a little game-ish to me. FL was the first software that I ever encountered, working with the MIDI Roll, it was fascinating to program drums in this software. But now if you ask me I can understand why it has so many enthusiastic users, it has a lot of stock sounds like the other DAWS mentioned above and you can get right to making music straight out of the box. If you’re looking to make beats and straightforward Electronic Music, this is your go to DAW.
FL Studio for Music Production
Pros Cons
Easy to Use Can’t be used for Mixing and Post Production
Great Stock Effects Can’t be used for Recording

Steinberg Cubase:

This software as the name explains is made by the engineer Steinberg and is a widely used software both in music as well as post production environments. This software is extremely seamless and has an intuitive workflow as well, this software is widely used in a lot of studios as well. If you’re interested in recording, mixing, mastering and post production then this is a software that you can consider. It’s similar to Pro Tools in some ways and is equally flexible. One downside of working with Cubase is that it doesn’t come with the same sounds that you hear from logic or Ableton and it would take a lot of third party plugins and instruments to get that sound from this DAW.
Pros Cons
Clean looking UI Hard to learn
Great Features and Tools Doesn’t come with a lot of Instruments

Reaper:

I have an interesting story to tell with this software. We were once tasked with the job of doing a live multi-track at one of the biggest events in the country and we were recording through UB MADI. We were using Pro Tools but as it turns out last minute pro tools refused to record more than 64 tracks simultaneously because you need a pro tools HD system to be able to do that. Thank god for reaper, using my phones internet we were able to download and use reaper to record. It took us exactly 5 minutes to download and install and start the recording. This DAW is a lifesaver. It is extremely light, easy to use and has a robust engine. The best thing about this DAW is that it is absolutely free to use! You can trial this for 21 days and if you want to purchase it post that, the copy costs very little money. This DAW can be used for recording, mixing and even editing. It also has a feature called Real-script that lets you customize all kinds of layouts and interface look and feel.

Reaper-DAW
Pros Cons
Regular Updates Hard to learn
Customizable Doesn’t come with a lot of Instruments
Cheap

Presonus Studio One:

Even though Studio One might not have the same history and might not be as well-known as the other DAWS on the market, it’s an amazing software that is packed with a bunch of features that not many other DAWs have. This is a great software for musicians and engineers to record and produce tracks quickly. Though again, I wouldn’t really use Studio One specifically to Mix and Master or even for film post production. But if it comes to songwriting and putting down parts together, it’s a great software. This software has an amazing feature called the chord detector, which can find the exact chord of any audio that goes through the detector.
Pros Cons
Features specifically for Songwriters Uncommon in studios causing compatibility nightmares

Summery

Apart from the ones I spoke about, there are a number of other DAWs out there. Now the question of which DAW one should use is a personal one. My approach would be to get some hands on experience on one of these DAWs and see if it works for you or not. Unlike other engineers today, I didn’t have too many options when I started out, so it was an easy choice since the decision was made for me. In my opinion, one should identify the tasks one wants to execute from a DAW. 

Do you want to produce music? Or do you want to be able to record, mix and master? Or do you want to work on Film sound? Once you narrow down which of these tasks you expect your DAW to excel at, you can then make your decision based on the aforementioned list. Again, another common mistake I see a lot of students make is that they are masters of none!

Instead of trying to get to know a little bit about all of these DAWs understand how one DAW functions so comprehensively, that it becomes an extension of you, almost like an instrument.

Imagine a client sitting next to you, you’re sitting in the engineers chair and the client wants the track re-arranged. You should be quick enough to understand what the client wants and execute it quickly without wasting any time. The quicker you are the more time the client saves, and the more likely he is to call you in for another session.

So to summarize, find a DAW that works for you and learn it inside out. Practice it like a musician practices his instrument and you’ll be on your way to becoming a competent audio professional.

Get in touch!

If you guys have another other questions you would like to shoot at me, just shoot me a mail at ronak@gray-spark.com.
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