Beginners DAW – Quick Thoughts

The marketplace foe DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) has become so crowed with lots of really good software. For the beginner, this will be overwhelming. Of course they all come with free or trial versions, but you could spend a lifetime trying to find the best choice.

Optimizing your buying choice could be a major waste of time. These products are very complex and even if you are just watching YouTube videos you could be spending a lot of time trying to figure out whats best. This posting is to just give you a very quick, highly likely to be a good starting point.

One item to think about up front is how you plan to use the DAW. There are 2 somewhat different uses. In real life, people will use the DAW system for a mixture of these, but some DAWs are better suited for one use case over the other

  • Real: Recording and Mixing Real instruments – This is more the old school record a band on multiple tracks and “cut” a song. Here you need to have recording and editing ability, but do not need much in the way of synthetic music (instruments, loops, clips).
  • Virtual: Electronic Music Creation: At the extreme, this is the production of completely electronic music. You will need good control over synthesizers, drum machines, and electronic instruments.

In both the use cases describe above, you do need editing and effects that you will want to apply to your masterpiece.

Mac Users

All Macs come with GarageBand installed. This is a phenomenally good product and also has a nice progression to a very professional product Apple Logic Pro (~$200). This is an excellent starting point. But, your work will be limited to the Apple world. There is no PC version of GarageBand or Logic Pro.

If you are a Mac user, but not really an Apple Fan Boy/Girl, then my next choice would be to use the DAW tools from Presonus, the “Studio One” lineup. They have 3 primary versions and have upgrade paths that allow you to increase the power of your DAW as you need it. The high-end product “Studio One Pro,” is a completely professional offering that is highly regarded and widely used.

  • Studio One Prime: Free – This free offering is very feature-rich and could be all you need. It is not a time-limited trial. Unlimited projects. Unlimited tracks with each project. No nag screens. A generous selection of instruments and effects. The biggest shortcoming is that you will not be able to install 3rd party plugins, like instruments or effects available on the internet.
  • Studio One Artist: ~$100 With this version, you get more instruments and effects included and the ability to add many more that you can find for free on the Internet.
  • Studio One Pro: ~$400 This is everything. Top of the line. Gigs of samples including loops, instruments, and effects. Also, it has high-end features that I have not even figured out including Mastering Section, Pipeline XT, and pitch correction.

PC Users

First of, my condolences! Well, just kidding as my son tells me that PC are way better than you used to be.

Here I will mention 2 options. The first is the Presonus Studio One lineup mentioned above. It runs on the PC as well as on the Mac. An excellent choice.

If you’d like a bit more for free and do not plan to become a recording professional, the BandLab Cakewalk, is a highly regarded, community-supported DAW. It is very easy to use, has great community support (including active development), and has more than enough features for all but the professional crowd.

If you’d like a bit more for free and do not plan to become a recording professional, the BandLab Cakewalk, is a highly regarded, community-supported DAW. It is very easy to use, has great community support (including active development), and has more than enough features for all but the professional crowd.

You can tell by activity in their forum that this product has a lot of users and a strong following. But, I’m also a bit concerned, because I could not figure out the business model and see that the product has an interesting history and there is no clear statement about why BandLab is supporting this product.

Conclusion

I hope these quick thoughts on a Beginner DAW setup is valuable. I wrote this to document my findings as I tried to help out a friend getting started. Best of luck.

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