Digital Audio WorkstationWhat are DAWs? And what is the Best DAW for beginners?
I got that strange look from my wife when she read the title. DAWs are Digital Audio Workstations (DAW). DAWs range from the massive, very expensive recording equipment to the FREE and simple that offer the basic recording and editing capabilities of multiple tracks. My first DAWs was Audacity, which I still use. In this post, I’ll cover some of the equipment used in the Best DAW For Beginners and some of the equipment I used in the beginning.
My Musical Beginning
I have been a singer-songwriter since the ’60s and have had various experiences with multi-track recording. My first attempt was a cover of the Beatles’ “Nowhere Man”.
Impressed with the elegant simplicity and power of the vocal harmonies and the eloquence of the lyrics, I recorded my own tribute version in the bathroom of my freshman dorm room at Mackinac College on Mackinac Island, Michigan in the fall of 1966. The acoustics were perfect.
I played a Sunburst Gibson Acoustic Guitar my mother had bought me new in 1963 when she saw I was finally serious about learning to play a musical instrument. I had thoroughly calloused my fingers learning on my first guitar, a gray and black acoustic Silvertone with high strings, and a split almost all the way around the bottom of the shell and no case or strap. But I could strum out a recognizable version of almost any song I heard that had less than seven or eight different chords.
We lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan, so Gibson was the guitar of choice. My first wife smashed it in the driveway one day while I was at work in the late ’70s. She told me she felt I loved it more than her. She was probably right. It was that day I realized the fact that we were not destined for a long future together.
Best DAW for Beginners
My version of “Nowhere Man” was recorded on an AMPEX (Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording) suitcase stereo reel-to-reel tape recorder with a small hand-held black plastic microphone. I sang the melody to the rhythm guitar, then bounced the first harmony, then the second and lead guitar using the sound-on-sound feature. I thought it sounded great and I was really proud of it, but I was too shy to play it for anyone, except maybe my friend, Tom Houghton, our resident photographer geek. We were geeks way before being geeks was cool. Tom, who is now a famous cinematographer for the TV show Elementary and others.
My later adventures included recording my first composition… “I’ll keep trusting you, Lord”… In my cousin, David (Keys) Johnson’s 16-track studio in Austin, Texas. My baby sister, Anita, sang harmony. She couldn’t carry a tune when we were little but grew up to sing like Phoebe Snow… (Knocked me out!)
The Early DAWs for Beginners
When I started trying to sound sketch demos of my songs, I set up a home recording studio with a 4-track TASCAM PortoStudio Cassette Recorder. I still like to listen to those recordings so I have managed to keep a cassette deck that still plays, barely. I captured many original songs and a few cherished covers. In the ensuing years, I upgraded to an 8-track Tascam recorder, (at that time cassette recorder) then a Roland VS-880 hardware digital recording workstation before I temporarily burned out my enthusiasm for songwriting and recording and just focused on building a sales and marketing career.
My first personal experience with Digital Audio Workstations – recording software was when, after not playing music for about fifteen years, I got the bug again, when I recorded a couple of cover CDs as rehearsal demos for a talent contest our marketing company sponsored as a team-building exercise. I asked my new friend, who was a Guitarist and Bass Singer at Country Tonite in Pigeon Forge to help me record a demo of a song I had written named, “Hiding In Plain Sight”, which you can now get on iTunes.
He used ProTools and it was fascinating to watch him teaching the soundboard operator, how to use it. In my attempt to remix the raw demo at home, I downloaded a free version of AUDACITY, a Digital Audio Workstation ProTools clone. With a considerable learning curve, I found I could make the edits and additions I wanted, along with the mixed demo. My friend had graciously provided me with all the individual tracks of WAV files on a CD. Including the Bass and Rhythm guitar tracks, a stereo drum track, the keyboard tracks, the vocal lead and harmony tracks, and a lead guitar track he, himself, had played. The ProTools featured here is about $600, but they have several other versions as low as $100.
Digital Audio Workstations
After learning to create or download drum tracks to build my demos in my FREE DAW, Audacity, I began to increase my songwriting output. This hit a snag when I tried to use my AT3035 Cardioid Condenser microphone I got for my Roland VS880 on my laptop computer, so now I use an MXL Mics 770 Cardioid Condenser Microphone. I needed a USB Sound Card Interface. I decided on the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, another DAW, but not FREE, largely because it came with a free trial version of ABLETON Live 9, which has been upgraded to ABLETON LIVE 10. WOW… WHAT A BEAST – that DAW!!!… I mean the ABLETON LIVE 10.
Check out this Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Suite
I have barely scratched the surface of what it can do… Non-Destructive editing (time-stretch a cut clip to include what you accidentally cut off)… tuning individual notes by pitch-shifting by semitones or cents… warping wave file speeds without changing pitch… auto-syncing wave files of different speeds… Digital effect manipulation. Just to mention some of the capabilities.
AND in addition to the “normal” ARRANGEMENT mode that looks like ProTools with horizontal time-scale synced wave or digital signals stacked like tracks of long recording tape that scrolls by on the screen… there is a SESSIONS mode of the same tracks arranged like a soundboard… tracks vertical and side by side. They don’t scroll while they play. They just sit there with gauges and controls and switches for you to monitor, adjust, mix, start or stop as they play or loop as a recording or live performance… Phenomenal!!!
Not to even mention the mind-blowing level of access to digital sources of sounds and controls…
Sometimes, I have to struggle to shut it down to go to sleep…
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software has revolutionized the music production and recording process. It has made the recording available to the home studio owners. No matter what type of recording you are doing there is a digital audio workstation perfectly suited to your requirements. There are many different types of recording software to choose from for Mac-, PC- and Linux and in any price range and functionality.
by Larry S. Warfield, LarrySWarfieldMusic.com