Is making music on your mind this year? But don’t know where to begin? Don’t know how to hook that snazzy new guitar of yours to a software that will help you process its sounds? Whether you are looking to set up a bare-bones recording studio right in your bedroom or are looking to venture knee-deep into making some serious music, you sure will need an interface, such as DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation), that will help you record, edit, and mix your music files with ease.
A concept in technology called Moore’s law, says: With efficient engineering teams, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. The same can be said about the PC industry; with more powerful computers come more explosive software. Such explosiveness in technology is rapidly being reflected by the music industry too.
With a range of DAWs flooding the market (free or otherwise), it can get really hard to pick which software may be best suited for all of our needs. We have attempted to break down music production software for beginners, and we are particularly going to talk about DAWs for Windows in this post.
DAWs have come a long way since the 80’s, music producers back then could perhaps only fleetingly imagine that it was possible to tune singers’ voices/pitches electronically, though feeble attempts were constantly being made even then. Studios went truly digital sometime around the early 90’s and most of this software (Pro Tools, Sonic Solutions, etc.) was made for Apple computers at first.
The first ever DAWs for Windows (SAWStudio and Soundscape Digital Technology) entered the market in 1992 at a time when Macintosh’s (Apple) Pro Tools had a 100% industry market share (today, Apple’s Logic Pro X still rules the roost). Though even then, software developed for Windows appealed to a chunk of budget-conscious professionals who were looking for a DIY kind of set-up for themselves. (The RML labs have SAWStudio up and running even today.)
But it was not until the 2000’s that one could imagine using professional studio software at a comfortable cost. Today, the best way to accommodate smaller home studios on a budget would be to first try out limited versions of a paid DAW (most come cheap and sometimes free) that may even include up to 95% of the features.
And anyway, since only advanced engineers require to use the “premium” features, you’ll probably not feel the need to go down that path as of yet. But before we tell you which DAWs for Windows to pick this year, let us first break down what DAWs really are.
Here, we deviate a little and tell you in brief what the DAW technology is all about. (Check out this space for a sister article that looks in depth on how to set up a home recording studio when operating on a shoestring budget.)
What are DAWs?
Computer-based DAWs make use of sound cards (onboard) or audio interfaces (external sound cards) that convert analog audio signals into a digital form and back to analog form as output. The simplest form of an external sound card is a USB Microphone that can be connected in series with a microphone pre-amplifier and then to a PC. Gone are the days when the only way to record music was to fit get a sound card on the board.
Today, for recording high-quality sounds, musicians are turning to new-age audio interfaces with 1/4” jack ports for guitars, headphones, speakers, and microphones that connect to a PC using a simple USB port. These interfaces also come with MIDI inputs for your keyboard (now most modern MIDI keyboards connect directly to the PC too).
Next in line are the DAWs. These are software applications (consist of a mixing console, control surface, audio converter, and data storage before PCs became powerful) that are used to record and process music and is generally controlled with an interface.
You can perhaps check out Audacity (a free of cost DAW) that allows straightforward recording and editing (wouldn’t highly recommend it). Instead, it may be a good idea to check out Cockos Reaper 5 (talked about later in the article), a “freemium” music producing software that is available for free for the first 60 days.
Best DAW Software’s :
- Ableton Live 9
- Imagine-LIne FL Studio 12
- Bitwig Studio 1.3
- Cockos Reaper 5
- PreSonus Studio One 3
- Propellerhead Reason 9
- Avid Pro Tools 12
Ableton Live 9
Intro: $88 │Standard: $388 │ Suite: $667
Platforms: Mac OXS │ Windows
Ableton Live 9 is a clip-based sequencer that can be used for both, studio music production and live performances as well. It deviates from the standard record, mix, and master workflow and was originally designed as an instrument for live performances (DJs benefit immensely from it). This was one of the first software to introduce the automatic beatmatching tool.
Clips? These can be a guitar riff, or a one-shot sample, or even the entire verse in a song. You start by opening an open cell, specify how long should it be, and start recording. You can even start recording without having to set a timeline beforehand, simply drag the start and end points to encapsulate the clip later.
What to look out for:
- Ableton’s Push 2 (a third-party hardware controller) is one of the best audio controllers that has been designed specifically for Ableton.
- An exhaustive library of built-in effects (Third-party VST support, we’ll talk about these in an article later), native samplers, soft synths, and packs for any DAW.
- Excellent warping for remixes.
- Plenty of learning resources and tutorials.
Imagine-Line FL Studio 12
Price: Producer: $199 | Signature: $299 | Total Bundle: $737
The software is centered around producing electronic music primarily. Beatmakers such as Lex Luger, Shawty Red, Young Chop, Jahlil Beats, Hit Boy use FL Studio. If you did not know, Jay-Z and Kayne’s “N***** in Paris” was produced with FL Studio.
It’s a big hit with ‘in-the-box’ producers due to its:
- Spreadsheet-like playlist
- Flexible piano roll
- Extensive automation capabilities
What else to look out for:
- Amazing plugins like Harmor, Harmless, Sytrus, and more
- Best collection of loops and sounds of any modern workstation
- Excellent beat making
- Efficient in working with MIDI and virtual instruments
- Multi-touchscreen device support
- An overwhelming library of tutorials online
Bitwig Studio 1.3
Platforms: Mac OSX | Windows | Linux
Bitwig is a new entrant in the DAW scene, and it is said that the effects units available in Bitwig are far more superior than those in Ableton. Developed by the same guys who spearheaded Ableton, it was launched in 2014 amid much hype and has lived up to its expectations. Besides, it is no surprise that its workflows are just as good.
A second version is already in the offing (releasing early 2017).
What to look out for:
- Customizable workflows with a powerful timeline view or a clip launcher similar to Ableton’s.
- Plugins are all sandboxed, so if one plugin stops working, your session doesn’t crash.
- A groundbreaking modulation system that lets you connect any parameter to any other—along with plenty of routing tools to make it even easier. Automation and routing have never been more intuitive.
- Effective audio editing and MIDI editing
- Device nesting allows you to chain devices within each other.
- Common MIDI parameters like pitch, velocity, timbre, and panning can be set per note, not just on the overall MIDI clip. So you can have one snare hit pan slightly left, and the next slightly right—within your MIDI clip.