There are a lot of DAW’s out there and they all provide the same tools in different formats. With all major DAW’s you can basically create a song from scratch and do all tasks associated with music production: recording, editing, arranging, mixing and mastering.
I think it is safe to say that you can make professional sounding records with any major DAW. So why would one be better then another when it comes to electronic music production? Well, defining the boundaries of electronic music production versus music production, in general, is a topic that could entertain long and pointless discussions but I think at the end of the day you could define electronic music production as the field of music production that mainly revolves around working with electronic instruments and samples rather than live instruments. Which means that the best DAW for electronic music production should be oriented toward this goal.
In this article, we will try to first determine what the most important tools are for working on electronic music and why one DAW is better than another.
What To Look for in the Best DAW For Electronic Music?
Basically, when you work with electronic music the main things you do are sequencing beats and synthesizers, creating and editing samples, creating and building on top of loops and then arranging, processing and mixing that into a song using all sorts of editing tools, processing tools, a mixer and effects. That’s a very rough description of it but it is quite accurate. So I think it is safe to say that the DAW we are looking for has to be a very powerful sequencer, it also has to be able to easily create loops onto which you an add/subtract layers of synthesizers, percussion, vocals or whatever kind of sample does not fall in those categories and it also has to be very good at processing, editing and working with effects. You might be thinking “well, they all can do that”; and that is totally true. You can do all that and a lot more in all major DAW’s like Pro Tools, Cubase, Ableton, FL Studio, Studio One, Logic, Sonar or Reason. In fact you will find that electronic music producers use all of these DAW’s and not just one in particular.
However, some of these popular platforms have been specifically designed for the electronic musician. I will give you an example to clarify myself. Pro Tools or Cubse, for example, have two main windows: a mix window and a timeline/edit window. One allows you to mix and one allows you to see the audio or MIDI you record and edit it and arrange it across a linear timeline. Both also have a window that allow you to edit MIDI information so that you can sequence virtual or hardware electronic instruments – however this is not a main window, you only access it when you have to do some editing.
In Ableton Live, even though you have a view that’s called the Arrangement, where you can place clips across a timeline, the main tool you use for creating and experimenting with your clips is the Session view which enables you to play any clip in any time regardless of any timeline – which can be quite handy when experimenting with samples and bits and pieces rather than dragging them across a timeline. FL studio’s most relevant window is the sequencer; you can drag and drop samples and then choose sequencer steps to trigger that sample. Of course you can also arrange the sequences in a timeline to form a song but the most time you will be spending in FL will be sequencing ideas. So, even though you can do the same tasks both with FL studio and Cubase, for example, it is more intuitive to create a complex sequence containing all sorts of samples and instruments than in Cubase.
The Best DAW for Electronic Music Production
So which DAW provide us with the most ergonomic and creative tools for the creation of electronic music? I think the answer is plural rather than singular. I think that there are three DAW’s out there that are really well thought out for the electronic music producer and those are Ableton Live, FL Studio and Propellerheads Reason. Let us take a look at each one:
Ableton Live Review
Ableton Live is by far the most popular DAW for electronic music producers, DJ’s and live performers who have samples and electronic instruments as part of their live show. It is not an expensive DAW and it is quite easy to learn for anyone, with or without previous experience. The clip sequencing is one of its most powerful creative features – it is just so inspiring and intuitive to be able to trigger clips on top of each other to see what goes well where without having to drag clips across a timeline. Another feature that makes it so popular is just how easy it is to take your finished song from the studio to the stage. It has really cool live performance workflow and it is no wonder that it is so omnipresent on stages everywhere.
It just keeps playing everything in time while you can be focused on playing instruments or triggering clips or messing with effects. The standard version of Ableton Live comes with 11 GB of samples and sounds, 3 instruments and 38 effects and signal processors – which is a pretty great deal.
FL Studio Review
In a way, I see FL Studio as the underdog of electronic music production. Most music producers do not consider it a professional DAW and I do no really understand why. It has a very straight forward approach to making music – just dragging and dropping samples and instruments into a sequencer and then it is all about being creative. It is most popular among hip-hop and dub-step music producers because it is so easy to program beats with the powerful sequencer. One thing I like is that you can take any menu or toolbar and just throw it anywhere you want it on screen, which is pretty nice. Also, the fact that it is pretty cheap compared to all other DAW’s, with free lifetime updates and support is not bad at all. Biggest disadvantage? Windows only
Some might find Reason a bit intimidating at first because of its intricate interface. However it is easy to learn how to use it, easier than it seems anyway. Its most powerful feature in my book? The rack. Even though you can find the typical DAW windows like the mixer, the arrangement window and a browser, the rack is where the magic happens. The rack is full of awesome instruments and effects modeled after real hardware and you will find that it looks like real hardware too – with inputs and outputs and funny looking cables that connect one rack unit to the other. It might seem messy and weird at first but it is very intuitive once you get the hang of it.
Most Reason users love it for the quality of the instruments and the effects – and you get a lot them. The drawback is that if you like some third party plug-ins you won’t be able to include them in Reason as the only processors/ instruments you can use are the ones in the rack.
My biggest recommendation is to try before you buy. Most DAW manufacturers have a demo version for people to try. Tinkering with the demo will probably tell you a little bit about whether you are going to like the program or not. Overall, we highly recommend choosing from the best DAW for electronic music production outlined above.