Updated · Dec 03, 2022
What is DAW? [A Beginner-Friendly Guide]
Updated · Oct 16, 2022
So, you want to start making music.
But where do you begin?
Enter DAW. It is the essential application software for all sorts of music-related development. Nowadays, millions of artists around the world use it for sound recording and producing.
But what is DAW, and what is it used for?
Let me explain.
What Is DAW?
First things first - what does DAW stand for?
It means Digital Audio Workstation. It is software used for music production. That includes processes like recording, editing, and mixing.
You can connect a musical instrument to it, record with a microphone, or make use of virtual synthesizers. The choice is all yours.
You can edit what you’ve recorded and apply all sorts of sound effects to create a true masterpiece. When you’re done, you can then export your creation to an appropriate file format.
Whether you’re an aspiring up-and-comer, or a professional producer, a digital audio workstation program is an artist’s most useful tool. Each DAW software has its own learning curve, degree of difficulty, and list of features.
Depending on your operating system, experience, and budget, your ideal DAW may differ.
But here’s why it’s useful:
What Can You Do With DAW?
Each audio production software is a little bit different in terms of what you can do with it. But the basics of what you would need to make music are covered by most DAWs. Certain programs specialize in singular aspects of the production cycle. LANDR, for example, is used primarily for mastering tracks.
Here are some of the things a DAW music software would allow you to do.
Let’s start with sound recording. There are several ways to go about this. Remember, many DAWs are intended to be professional music software, so you have lots of options.
You can connect your musical instruments to your computer and record directly into the software. You can do this using a USB adapter that plugs into the output of your instrument. The sound will then be played back exactly as if played through an amplifier or a loudspeaker.
Now you’re probably thinking:
What about something like an acoustic guitar?
It’s also an option! Simply plug in a microphone, and the software will pick it up. The tracks can be recorded in either mono or stereo, depending on your needs.
But even if you have no access to any musical instruments, you are still covered. Most tools have MIDI support, which means you can use them to create digital music. Using a software synthesizer, it is possible to make awesome beats with no need for expensive gear.
While in the process of recording, a DAW will allow you to use all kinds of effects to achieve the best sound. You can manipulate the sound from your instruments with reverb, delay, equalization. The solution can even emulate a guitar amplifier if you don’t have one.
And it doesn’t end here!
Most DAWs allow you to use third-party software for making music.
What does this mean?
Say you have a separate program that allows you to apply sound effects to your synthesizer. What you can do now is connect that program to your digital audio workstation software. This will allow you to use your effects program from within your DAW, and utilize it in making music.
You can also use DAWs to take advantage of external sound libraries and samplers like Kontakt. This way, if you don’t have access to the specific instrument your song needs, you can make use of fully interactive tools that sound true to life.
Simply put, DAWs are so useful because of their modularity. They have endless lists of plugins and effects from which you can pick and choose what works best for you.
Sound editing may seem a bit intimidating at first. But have no worries, editing is what DAWs do best.
Once you’ve laid down your tracks, the program can help you edit the sounds together and turn them into a real song.
A typical DAW music software has an intuitive user interface. Moving the audio waveforms around is as simple as dragging and dropping wherever you need them.
What’s more, you can manipulate the tracks however you see fit. Need a recording to be louder on the right audio channel than it is on the left? Or maybe you want the track to smoothly fade in? You can easily do all these things by simply turning a virtual knob.
The neat thing is, what would normally take hours to achieve on a traditional tape recorder, a DAW allows you to do it in seconds.
Need to adjust an audio track’s lower or higher frequencies? Digital audio workstation programs come with an equalizer suited just for the task.
If you have recorded a musical pattern, you can simply copy and paste it repeatedly to effectively loop the track.
Best of all:
If you find that your tracks are too long, this is easily fixable. Or maybe there is an outtake that got caught in the recording. A DAW software allows you to take those tracks and edit them however you wish.
You can cut the track to get rid of the undesirable part that doesn’t sound as good. It’s also possible to shorten or lengthen them to make them fit in with the rest of the music. DAWs even allow you to slice one audio track into two separate ones.
Mixing and mastering
Now, everyone knows mixing can be hard.
The good news is, modern music production workstation software makes it easier than ever to mix your tracks.
Once you’ve laid down all of the sounds, you can then link each instrument to a different audio channel. This will allow you to take advantage of the mixing console and manually adjust the levels for each separate instrument.
It’s true that you need a good ear for mixing. But with lots of listening and trial and error, you can achieve the best results. Remember how DAWs are heavily customizable? You have the option of installing external audio mixing plugins and really do things your way.
The same goes for mastering. Digital music production has almost endless options on handling it. Whether you prefer the integrated features native to the program, or third-party software, DAWs have you covered. You can even install applications that master your song automatically.
Nowadays, the number of digital recording software out there is incredibly vast.
Whether you’re an independent musician or an industry professional and also regardless of the genre you want to create, there’s a tool for you out there.
But how can you pick the right one?
Here are three of the most popular DAWs to start you off.
This is probably the one most people are familiar with. Originally called FruityLoops, FL Studio is the DAW with the most mass appeal. This is thanks to its notorious simplicity and ease of use.
The beauty of FL Studio is that it comes with lots of pre-installed virtual synthesizers. This means you don’t need much to start making music with the program. You can use the available plugins to either select from lots of pre-made sounds or create your own from scratch. It even has a built-in sequencer and electronic drums.
This capability straight out of the box is why FL Studio is one of the most popular programs to make music with.
This DAW is a powerful tool. It has support for a MIDI controller keyboard, and you can import external samplers and plugins.
Turns out, many famous musicians use it for their music production. Among them are Deadmau5, Soulja Boy, Martin Garrix, and Avicii. If you are looking to get into making DAW music, FL Studio is an excellent starting point.
Avid Pro Tools
Now we are headed into more professional territory.
Most musicians out there are probably familiar with Avid Pro Tools. It has quite a reputation. If you are looking for a prolific DAW for Windows systems, you just found it.
Avid Pro Tools, however, is a little bit different in terms of functionality. For one, it actually allows you to edit videos.
Yes, video editing with a DAW sounds odd, but for those who need it, it is a welcome addition. Its capabilities are fairly rudimentary, but if you need to quickly edit audio and a video file together, it works.
You see, Pro Tools is considered professional music producer software. As such, it features a wide variety of features. For example, the pencil tool allows you to manually draw your waveforms and MIDI notes. And with the trim, you can shorten and lengthen your tracks.
The fact is, the average professional record producer has at least tried Pro Tools at some point. Some famous musicians who use this DAW include Kanye West, Rick Rubin, and Danger Mouse. That’s quite the lineup.
Best of all, Avid Pro Tools has a 30-day free trial. So, if you are looking for a free DAW to dip your toes into, this might be a good option. Just beware, the learning curve is a bit steeper than other starter audio editing software.
Developed by Apple exclusively for macOS, Logic Pro is yet another industry standard DAW with a huge fanbase. What’s more, it is widely used in the professional sphere too, much like Pro Tools.
As a result, some consider this the definitive Mac digital audio workstation. And it’s easy to see why. Similar to FL Studio, Logic Pro comes with a selection of electronic musical instruments and synthesizers included. Of course, it also has MIDI support so you can unleash your creativity.
But why bother with Logic Pro over anything else?
This powerhouse of a DAW has features that you won’t find in any other program. An example of this is Smart Tempo. This feature analyzes your recording and automatically assigns a tempo to it. No more endless clicking trying to find that perfect speed.
What’s even cooler - Logic Pro can automatically add drum tracks to your recorded instruments. Obviously, this is not meant as a replacement of actual drums. Instead, it acts as a placeholder for until you decide to add the finishing touches.
No wonder that Logic Pro is considered one of the premier digital audio workstations for Mac.
What is a DAW?
Simply put, a DAW is an all-in-one workstation used in all steps of the music production process. You can record, edit, mix, and master all in one place.
A DAW can be used to record real musical instruments you have. That works either by connecting them straight to your computer or through a microphone.
If electronic music is your forte, you can use custom plugins and virtual synthesizers through MIDI. If you want to produce soundtracks, you can make use of a third-party sampler and sound library.
Where digital audio software really excels is their customizable capabilities. Most DAWs support third-party plugins and add-ons.
And the best part?
There are so many different DAWs out there, it is guaranteed you will find something that’s right for you. Regardless of your operating system or platform, the choices are vast. There are even some digital audio workstations offered for free!
Are you ready to embark on your DAW journey?
What does a DAW do?
In a nutshell, it is a program for making music. Whether it’s recording, audio editing, mixing, or mastering, a digital audio workstation, or DAW software, assists with all that. Most professional musicians and record producers use DAWs as part of their production process.
What is the best DAW for beginners?
That depends on your scope.
If you’re looking to play around with a simple program for sound editing, Audacity is great. It is also free. However, you might be looking for the complete package to create full songs. In this case, FL Studio often serves as a great introduction to beginners.
Is GarageBand a DAW?
Yes, GarageBand is a DAW. Perhaps it is one of, if not the most well-known digital audio workstations, due to its casual target audience. On the other hand, this also means it would be difficult to use GarageBand for any sort of serious music production.
What is an example of a DAW?
So, what is DAW?
Generally speaking, it is any software that allows the user to record, edit, and produce audio files. Some examples include more widespread programs like GarageBand and Audacity. Others are more oriented towards professional musicians like Avid Pro Tools, Logic Pro, and FL Studio.
Deyan has been fascinated by technology his whole life. From the first Tetris game all the way to Falcon Heavy. Working for TechJury is like a dream come true, combining both his passions – writing and technology. In his free time (which is pretty scarce, thanks to his three kids), Deyan enjoys traveling and exploring new places. Always with a few chargers and a couple of gadgets in the backpack. He makes mean dizzying Island Paradise cocktails too.
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