Choosing The Best DAW To Record Your Music
When you decide to start recording your music, one of the first decisions you will have to make is the choice of your DAW.
“DAW” is an acronym for Digital Audio Workstation and refers to the software application you use on your computer to record music. Some well-known
DAW´s are Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase, Ableton Live, Reaper, Reason, Record and various others.
I clearly remember how confused I felt when I had to make that choice for the first time and doing a lot of research did not really help a lot. I spent weeks on various audio forums reading “What is the best DAW?” threads only to end up even more confused than before.
I found fiercely held discussions about 32 float vs. 24-Bit depth and their mathematical implications, comparisons of included sample library sizes and heated debates about what the current industry standard was.
To someone starting out recording this was clearly not helpful.
The first thing you have to realize is that there is no objective answer to the “What´s the best DAW?” question. It´s like asking a car dealer: “What is the best car?” He will reply: “The best car for what? For Formula 1 racing or for taking your family on a vacation?”
Even if you have decided on what you primarily want to use the car for, there will still be multiple good choices for, let´s say a family car…
So, there is no best DAW, but there is a best DAW for you at this moment. You might use a specific software starting out and it works fine for you, but when you have gained more insight into your preferences and your workflow, you might switch again. Don´t stress out over this - like everything else it evolves over time. I have probably used almost every DAW there is and after years I´m using the same for a couple of years now (which does not mean it can´t change again tomorrow).
Here are some quick ideas you can follow when first thinking about purchasing a DAW.
Clearly Define what you need
When you start checking various programs, don´t get lost in comparing the technical specs, because all the programs out there will do the job of recording just fine. Instead, the first step of choosing a DAW should be to zone in on what it is EXACTLY that you want to do with it.
Are you a classically trained musician wanting to record and compose music that can also be printed in standard notation? If so, you have to make sure that your DAW of choice has a good score editor. Reason, Record or Ableton Live, for example, don´t have score editors for standard music notation.
Do you want to use your DAW as a live performance tool on stage and use it as a live instrument? Ableton Live would be an excellent choice for that.
So, the first thing you should do is to create a list of absolute needs for working with a DAW.
Stay simple when starting out
Now you have decided on what you want to use your DAW for. The next thing is not to get too impressed by tons of features. Having limitless possibilities might initially sound like a good idea, but you will quickly realize that it´s just the contrary when when you´re paralyzed due to overwhelm and don´t get any music done.
What´s the use of a great DAW if you get lost in it´s features and never record any music? You can get into more complex features later, but for now stay simple and churn out music.
Don´t base your choice on things that can be added later
Don´t base the choice of your DAW on how much gigs of samples, software instruments or fancy plug-ins it has; these things can easily be expanded later by buying additional sample libraries, plug-ins and software instruments.
Again, more is not always better, because it greatly enhances the chances of you getting lost in a whole plethora of options.
Ease of use
A DAW ultimately has to entice you to be creative and make recording your music as easy as possible. If it´s doing the opposite by appalling you with dozens of editors that all do the same thing in a different way and cumbersome workflows that don´t make sense at all - it will no be inviting for you to sit down and record music with it.
The caveat is that you will encounter a steep learning curve when learning your first DAW and knowing what feels natural to you at this point is not really possible. You have to spend time with it, read as much as you can and see how you like it. For many DAW´s there´s a light or even a trial version which is ideal to get your feet wet without dashing out too much cash.
I started out with what in hindsight is the most horrible DAW I´ve ever worked with, because it made everything so much more difficult for me. You will most likely spend a lot of time with a bunch of different DAW´s during your recording endeavors and with each one you encounter, you gain more clarity on your preferences, which is the main goal; you want to get an insight on how you ideally would like to work. Don´t see this trial period as a waste of time - you´re gaining experience.
The best starting point would be to check out a DAW in depth at a friends place and have him show you around, to try out the interface etc…if that friend is already using multiple DAW´s, all the better!Check them out one by one. If you don´t have that option you could also watch some Youtube tutorials to check out the differences. Do I like the look of it?
I know this sounds ridiculous: Choosing a DAW based on how it looks?
Not as the only factor, but as an important one. Why? Because, if you work with it for hours and hours and totally freaking hate the way it looks - it will put you off and make it more difficult for you to sit down and make music.
It´s like choosing a guitar. Yes, ultimately the guitar is there to create the sound that we want, but don´t we also pay attention to the way it looks?
If it sounds right and looks beautiful it´s much more enticing to us, more inviting to sit down and play it.
Same with choosing a DAW, although the topic seems much less obvious in this case. Pay attention to the colors, the layout, the graphical user interface and ask yourself if you like the way it looks? Most likely you will soon find a DAW with looks that attract you.
These are some uncommon aspects you might consider, before choosing your first DAW. I wish you the best of luck on your journey!