The future of music

What Is a Daw? A Guide to Digital Audio Workstations

July 27, 2023
what is a DAW?

If you’ve ever wondered what a DAW is, we’re here to help!

It can be tough to know where to begin, so this article compiles all of the information out there in one easy-to-read page.

In this article we will walk through what a DAW is, why they were created, what they can do, how they work, the different types, and finally how to choose the best DAW for you.

By the end, you’ll feel confident to try it out for yourself.

What Is A DAW?

A Digital Audio Workstation (or DAW), put simply, is a piece of software used to record, edit, and produce audio.

It is essentially a recording studio inside your phone or laptop.

DAWs are largely used in the music industry, namely by producers and also amateur artists who want to record their music independently.

They aren’t only used in music, though.

You can use a DAW for just about any audio need, including for gaming, film, and podcasting.

The ease of use is one of the best things that DAWs have going for them.

It’s a physical recording studio at your fingertips, with all functions there to be used.

Why Were DAWs Created?

Historically, analog hardware was the recording device of choice.

Before modern computers with the technology that we have available to us today, recording and manipulating audio was a clunky, expensive, and lengthy process.

To begin with, the term DAW covered any set-up with a computer.

The term became less loose and technology furthered, and nowadays a single computer program is all you need to produce audio.

Of course, hardware is still used (think recording studios).

Many prefer to incorporate the two, but this can be expensive.

Studio time isn’t cheap and simply isn’t available to many artists who want to independently produce their own music.

This is the beauty of a DAW!

The underlying reason why DAWs are so popular is their convenience.

You can now create music from the comfort of your own home – what’s better than that?

What Can You Do With a DAW?

Different types of DAWs have different functions, but they all generally have the same basic uses.

You can record and edit audio, add various layers, play virtual instruments, apply effects, and finally mix it up in one neat file.

Many DAWs come with enormous stock files of sounds and virtual instruments, so it’s okay if you can’t use all of your own audio.

Don’t forget that you can use extensions if your DAW doesn’t have all of the functions that you wish to use!

Audio effects can help you to manipulate your sounds in an interesting way.

The stock files of effects will include distortion, compression, and delay, as well as many others to play around with.

The mixing stage of music production focuses on fixing any issues that have arisen from layering and combining audio.

Usually, these are frequency masking issues, which can affect the volume or quality of your sound.

The mixing stage essentially creates space for your different audios, so that everything can be heard loud and clear.

The mastering stage is personal to everyone and is about ensuring the final stereo mix sounds good on different speakers and devices. 

How Does a DAW Really Work?

As before, each type of DAW has functions specific to that model, however, many share similar inner workings.

Every DAW will have an audio interface and built-in sequencers, the former of which takes audio signals and converts them into data that is processable by a computer.

The audio is then saved and displayed on what is known as a sequencer timeline.

Once it has been displayed, you can play around with it as much as you’d like!

You can cut, copy, paste, mute, stitch, and crossfade.

The Different Types of DAWs

Thanks to the rise in popularity of DAWs, there is now software for everyone, no matter their audio needs.

Whether your interests lie in electronic production, beat making for hip-hop, composing, recording, and post-production, or you’re a beginner, there’s a DAW out there that will work for you.

Which DAW To Use?

Choosing a DAW is really a matter of personal preference.

Each one has different functions, aimed at solving different problems.

The first thing you need to do is define what your aim is, and what type of audio you are producing.

It’s also handy to note down what speaker system or device you will be using since every DAW has different strengths.

So, you’re a beginner in the world of DAWs.

What software should you try out?

Garageband is a safe, entry-level digital audio workstation that comes free and is already downloaded on Apple devices.

This does mean that it’s only available on Mac operating systems but means you can play around and get used to audio producing without spending a penny.

Another great DAW for beginners is Soundtrap.

Soundtrap is an online workstation that is free to use and one of the best for collaborative work.

It is even simpler to use than Garageband and has all of the basic functions that other standard DAWs have.

When you’re looking to step up to a more complex workstation, Pro Tools is the next step.

It was one of the first-ever DAWs and was at the forefront of the uprising of technology.

It is used as a staple in professional recording studios and has more extensive features than the aforementioned DAWs.

It also incorporates video-mixing software, which makes it perfect for film work.

If electronic and dance music is your thing, Ableton Live may be the DAW for you.

It is the most popularly used DAW for musicians producing within this genre and is specially designed for use in live sets.

Many of its tools cater to DJs, with warping, looping, and beat-developing functions in place.

For beat-making and hip-hop audio, you’ll want to try out FL Studio.

It is simple to use and is made for quick and easy beat programming.

It’s excellent for beginners and is perfect for combining with other DAWs.

LogicPro is widely known as the best DAW on the market, with a huge selection of instruments, synthesizers, effects, and other tools.

Cubase is a similar program but has more flexibility with multiple versions to suit every budget and need.

Despite all of this, the best DAW for you to use is completely down to your preference.

Each has a unique interface with different tools, so your best bet is to research each specifically, watch YouTube videos from users, and try out free demos.

As a whole, each DAW can be tailored to your unique preferences.

Give them all a try!

What Is a Daw? – Final Thoughts

So, now you know what a DAW is, why they’ve become so popular, and how they’re so powerful.

They’ve come a long way since their creation, and are now used extensively in the music industry by artists and producers alike.

We hope you now have the information you need to begin your own audio production journey.

Enjoy using the digital audio workstation of your choice!

You may also like: Best Free DAWs

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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