How to Pick the Best DAW Software for Your Recording Needs
If you’re a musician, you know the trials and tribulations of home recording.
We’ve come a long way from the 4-tracks that we used to use to get our ideas down with. It’s easier now than ever to get high-quality demo recordings done from the comfort of your home.
When you’re really good, you might even be able to release your home recordings, but a lot of that hinges on the DAW that you use. A DAW or “Digital Audio Workstation” is just a fancy term for the program that you use at your home studio.
ProTools has long been at the top of most people’s wish lists, but it’s expensive and it’s got a huge learning curve. Luckily, programs like Logic, Ableton, Reason, and FL Studio have made major advances to compete with ProTools.
Of course, the best DAW for you all depends on what your recording needs are. You shouldn’t spend hundreds of dollars on something if you’re just trying to make some bedroom demos. You also shouldn’t spend hundreds of dollars on something that isn’t optimized for the music you’re creating.
We’re going to help you figure which DAW you should get. Let’s get started!
Figuring Out What You Need
Choosing the consensus “best DAW” isn’t always the wisest choice. It’s going to depend largely on how much work you’re willing to put in after you purchase the program. If you want something simple, then you should stay away from some of the big names.
That being said, a few of the newer big names do offer simplicity as well as quality. They all bring something different to the table, which is why you should figure out what you need the program to do.
What Are You Trying to Accomplish?
Chances are if you’re making the financial leap to purchase a DAW, you know what kind of music you want to make. It could be guitar-based music, electronic music, orchestral arrangements with a MIDI controller, hip-hop, or any number of other things.
The style of music that you want to create is going to factor heavily into which DAW is going to fit your needs. If you’re a hip-hop producer, you’re going to need recording software that you can make beats on, something that functions well with synthesizers and drum machines, and something that has a large bank of patches.
Maybe you’re a singer/songwriter. In this case, you’ll need a program that integrates well with any recording hardware that you might have. Your recording interface has to function optimally with your DAW so that you can focus on getting your thoughts down and tracking.
Producers will need something that they can record on but also edit, mix, and master on. Not every DAW is going to have the same functionality when it comes to the technical side of home recording.
Have a good long think about what you’re actually going to be doing with your home studio setup. If you’re focused on doing a lot of the musical stuff on the DAW, there are specific programs for you. If you want something that records at a high level and is relatively easy to use, there’s something specific for you.
If you want something that does a little bit of everything, then there are one or two programs that do it all, but you’ll have to pay a bit more for their services. Now, let’s look at the different programs and what they do best so you can make your final decision.
The Top Programs Available
The following selection of programs is a representation of the variety that you see with DAW software. There are more out there at varying price points, but these are among the most popular.
Reason is an interesting program geared toward music composition and beat production. Before a few upgrades made it a viable standalone DAW, Reason’s main feature was that it integrated very nicely with other DAW’s, which it still does.
Why would you want to combine DAW’s? Because Reason has an incredible suite of sound patches and the interface looks like a studio rack. It’s a great option for a beatmaker or producer that wants to collaborate with musicians.
Most of you have probably tried out the free version of FL Studio before. The FL stands for “Fruity Loops” and that’s exactly what it does, creates loops.
Guitar players should stay away from this one, it’s geared towards DJ’s, EDM and hip-hop producers. It’s got a lot of automation possibilities and an easy to look at interface for beginners that don’t have a ton of experience with home recording.
FL Studio is one of only a few DAW’s that offers lifetime updates. Once you buy this thing, it’s yours. This goes against the grain of most other DAW’s that offer subscription-based services.
Ableton has really taken the recording, mixing, and arranging world by storm. It was initially designed as a tool for live performance, hence the “Live” part in the title.
This is an incredible little program that has revolutionized recording and songwriting. Instead of traditionally recording parts of a song in succession, you can record short “scenes” and arrange them to make your piece.
Once you’re done, it really does work well as a live tool, as you can trigger different parts of a song at different times. It’s more compatible with specific hardware, so look into this before you buy your next MIDI controller.
Ableton is great for musicians of all kinds, but you’ll have to get used to the two-tiered interface that it uses.
Avid Pro Tools
There’s not much more to say about Pro Tools that hasn’t been said by other publications. It’s a powerful DAW that most professional recording studios use. People go to school to learn how to use Pro Tools, though, so know what you’re getting yourself into.
This is the industry standard and you’ll pay the price for that luxury. However, if you’re willing to put your 10,000 hours in and invest in other high-end pieces of gear, then there’s no reason that you can’t master Pro Tools and become a legit producer.
Apple Logic Pro
Logic has been nipping at the heels of Pro Tools for a number of years now. If you have an Apple device, then Logic will look a lot like Garageband. It functions in the same basic way too, except it’s far more powerful.
Being an Apple program, you can’t get it on Windows, but any audio interface that is compatible with a mac will work with Logic. It’s relatively easy to use, it has a huge bank of sounds, and because it’s become so popular, you’ll be able to find a lot of other musicians to collaborate with using Logic.
Logic is a great all-around DAW, but it’s a favorite among songwriters because you can quickly get the skeleton of a song done for a demo, then expand it to become a releasable recording later on. It’s fairly priced when compared to the competition and like FL Studio, when you buy it, it’s yours for life (or your computer’s life).
Get the Best DAW For You
Choosing the best DAW for your needs comes with time. Most, if not all of these programs will offer free demo versions so you can spend some time getting to know the software and how it functions. You don’t have to rush into anything.
Use this guide to match your recording style with the program that can handle what you want it to do. There’s something out there for everyone and that includes you.
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