It’s easier than it’s ever been to create music. Anybody with a laptop has a studio at their fingertips, and it’s possible to go from the bedroom to a world tour, something that didn’t used to be possible. This article will look at the music software called a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) that artists and producers are using to launch their careers, and discuss some differences between them to help make the decision easier. There’s many different DAWs out there, but in this article we’ll discuss iPhone/iPad apps, Pro Tools, Logic Pro X, Ableton, and FL Studio.
Even without a computer, it’s possible to create music with a phone or iPad. From slimmed down versions of full DAWs, such as FL Studio Mobile, GarageBand and iMaschine2 to imitations of synths and drum machines such as iElectribe by Korg and Animoog by Moog. Lots of sampler apps also exist, with a personal favorite being Samplr, which is an app worth buying an iPad for. Some of these apps allow you to arrange a full song, and some even have the capability to export what you’re working on to the computer to continue working. They’re also lots of fun for making music on-the-go.
Pro Tools is the industry standard for recording studios, and for good reason. Managing big sessions and recording lots of instruments at once is a breeze. Editing and mixing is also extremely easy in Pro Tools, and is it’s strongest use. The name also carries a lot of respect, as it’s associate with top tier, professional users.
Pro Tools isn’t generally the DAW producers favor. Managing midi and virtual instruments is somewhat cumbersome in comparison to other DAWs. Lots of people work in other DAWs and then bring their music into Pro Tools to mix and master.
It should be noted that Pro Tools also requires a USB dongle to be plugged in for the DAW to work, and if you lose that dongle, it’s an expensive and lengthy process to get a new one. Pro Tools retails for 600$, which makes it one of the more expensive DAWs.
Logic Pro X
Only available for Mac operating systems, Logic is a very popular choice among engineers, producers, and musicians. All mac computers come stock with GarageBand, which is the ‘light’ version of Logic, so it’s a good way to get an idea for how it works before buying it.
Logic is a well rounded DAW. It handles recording, editing, mixing, and midi extremely well, although it’s slightly slower to edit with than Pro Tools. It has the ability to create ‘folders’ of tracks so that you can group and manage them together, making it easier to keep a session nice and organized.
A unique feature to logic which many producers may find interesting, is it’s ‘varispeed’ function. The varispeed function allows the daw to playback the entire session at different speeds and/or pitches. This is extremely useful if a singer needs the song to be in a different key and you want to hear if that key works better for them, or sometimes slowing/pitching down an instrumental can yield cool results.
Logic is able to be downloaded off the app store, doesn’t require a USB dongle, and costs about 276$, making it a convenient and cost effective choice. One of our main producer/engineers Dan uses a combination of Logic and Pro Tools.
Ableton has really taken off in recent years, being a go-to DAW for producers, DJs, and musicians who want to create faster, and play live. Ableton is geared towards production and live situations, but can still work fine for engineering and technical tasks, although less so than Pro Tools and Logic.
Ableton handles midi extremely well, offering many creative ways to manipulate it. Ableton is also great at pitch shifting audio, offering real time pitch shifting with several different algorithms, something both Logic and Pro Tools can’t do to the same degree without degrading the quality. Most DAWs have ways of organizing drum samples intro instruments so they are easier to recall and use. Logic has the EXS24 sampler which is great, but Ableton’s Drum Rack is incredible. It’s as simple as dragging and dropping samples onto the pads, but can also be customized like no other.
One of Ableton’s flagship features and fairly unique to itself, is it’s ‘session view’. The main screen of most DAWs is the ‘Arrangement’ view, where you see the song from left to right, but session view is a way to organize ideas without them necessarily being in any predetermined order. Mikey likes to use Ableton, because it suits his focus on production and songwriting. Ableton Intro is available for 79$, Ableton Standard for 359$, and Ableton Suite for 599$, each with varying levels of fx and instruments included.
FL Studio is a hugely popular choice for many producers. Recently being made available on Mac, this DAW has become a staple for producers. Admittedly, it does lack in the mixing department, but that doesn’t mean many artists haven’t gotten incredible mixes out of it. It’s closest comparison is Ableton, and is relatively user friendly.
Ableton has a ‘pattern mode’ which is similar to Ableton’s session mode. This allows the user to sketch out ideas and sections without having to have them in context of the rest of the song. Ableton also has the unique ability to slide between midi notes, which is how lots of producers who use FL Studio are able to achieve their 808 sound.
FL Studio has four different options ranging from 99$ to 899$, with each more expensive option having more features included in it.
There’s many many other DAWs and ways of creating music. Hardware samplers and hybrid systems like Maschine are becoming increasingly popular, with our own Mikey and Tayo both being Maschine users. Other notable DAWs such as Reaper which Tayo uses, Reason, Cubase, Bitwig, Nuendo, and many more. Lots of audio interfaces and pieces of gear come with a ‘light’ version of a DAW, and many companies offer 30 day demos of their products to make the choice easier. Choosing your DAW isn’t the most important decision you’ll make, but it is important to consider what you’ll be using it for, what those around you use, and how much you’re willing to spend.
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