Digital Audio Workstations (DAW)

DAW - Digital Audio Workstations
Digital Audio Workstations

A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is the computer and the software you use for composing.

As you’re interested in producing stock music the likelihood is that you’ve already settled on a DAW and are perfectly happy with your choice.

With that in mind, this article covers several features that are beneficial  when producing stock music, so it might be worth reading through to see if your current DAW is the best one for the job.

A quick caveat; there is no right choice. I’ve used several DAW’s to produce stock music, and they had no discernible effect on the quality of the end product. So don’t feel the need to change your software if you’re happy with your current setup.

Choosing the best DAW for the Job (and for you)

As you’re likely to be spending many hours a day using the software, it’s important to find a DAW that ‘feels right’ to you and best suits your needs and preferred workflow.

We’re spoilt for choice these days. The latest versions of Cubase, Logic X, Pro Tools, Studio One, Digital Performer, Reaper, and Live are all compelling applications. All of them are perfectly capable of producing professional grade music.

The main differences between them are; features, focus, workflow, OS support, bundled content, and stock (included) plugins.

DAW Features

Here are some features that come in very useful for producing production music (the reasons why will be explained in following articles):

  • Project templates
  • Marker tracks
  • Tempo tracks
  • The ability to export in several audio formats
  • The ability to export in several audio bit depths
  • Automation capabilities
  • MIDI editing and manipulation
  • Audio editing and manipulation

Genre Focus

You probably already know the genre of music you’ll be composing – whether it be orchestral, rock or EDM – and that genre could have an influence on your choice of DAW.

For orchestral work, you may lean towards Cubase and Logic. For EDM or other electronic genres, Live or Bitwig might be a better fit. For primarily audio work, Studio One or Pro Tools could be at the top of your list.

Workflow

Workflow is a personal affair. DAW forums are full of people who can’t understand how others can use a particular DAW, or find their choice of DAW the easiest to use.

Some composers work with massive templates running into thousands of tracks, others prefer to work with a blank project and build as they go.

We all have different brains, habits, and preferences when it comes to composing music with software, so if a DAW feels right when you use it, and helps you to work creatively and efficiently, then ignore what others say and go with your instinct.

If a DAW doesn’t offer a demo, watch videos on YouTube to see how it works in real-world usage.

OS Support

Your choice of DAW will be guided by your OS. All of the applications I’ve listed above are available for Mac; however, Logic X is not available on Windows.

Bundled Content and Plugins

If you already own enough plugins and sound libraries to keep you happy, the amount of bundled content in a DAW is going to be low on your list of priorities.

If you’re just starting out, then the quality of content and plugins included with a DAW will probably influence your choice.

Currently Logic X is considered to have the most generous amount of content in the form of Apple Loops, instruments, and stock plugins. When I first started out all I had was a copy of Logic, and my first few tracks were produced entirely using Logic ‘in the box’ using stock instruments and plugins.

It’s worth checking precisely what you get when you buy a license, are all the features you need included, or will you need to install upgrades or additional purchases in the future?

Using Multiple DAWs

If you’re feeling adventurous and your budget allows, there’s no harm in having more than one DAW. Changing applications can often give you the little jolt of inspiration you need to compose music.

The only advice I would offer is to make sure you learn at least one DAW inside out, master it completely before tinkering around with another.

I used Logic for many years before moving onto Cubase, now I use both in equal measure, with Studio One featuring more and more.

Finally, avoid the pitfall of ‘feature chasing.’ You see a shiny new bell or whistle in a rival DAW, so switch over so you can use it. Six months down the line your previous releases a shiny new bell or whistle so you switch back. It’s easily done and can end up being a vicious circle, where you’re never quite happy in the DAW you have.

Jon Wright

Jon Wright, is a composer based in London, UK. His music has featured on networks including NBC, CBS, Discovery, History, EuroSport, and the BBC.