Choosing a music production software can be daunting for many new musicians, as the options out there are so many that many producers feel overwhelmed and have trouble choosing. Before going forward with how to choose a DAW, let's first answer the most fundamental question: What is a Digital Audio Workstation and why do you need one?
What is a Digital Audio Workstation?
A DAW, or Digital Audio Workstation, is a computer program that combines audio recording, editing, and mixing capabilities into a single interface, providing a comprehensive toolset for musicians and producers to create, edit, and finalize their musical projects. It’s also where all the production magic happens, everything from drum programming and vocal recording to sample editing and the final mastering.
DAWs can run on all modern Windows or MacOS computers, with some of them also having smartphone/tablet friendly versions for producing on the go. Since there are a lot of DAWs on the market, here we will discuss what to look for when choosing one.
How do you choose the right DAW?
Even though all DAWs are fundamentally built on the same principle, they also differ in features like their user interface, the included virtual instruments and effects, available third-party plugins, workflow and editing capabilities and more. Knowing this there are a few things to consider:
The operating system the DAW is available on
The operating system of your computer is an important consideration when choosing a DAW. Some are only compatible with specific operating systems, such as Logic Pro X and its free version GarageBand, which are only available for macOS, while FL Studio and Ableton Live are available for both Windows and mac. Additionally, some of them may perform better on one operating system over another, so it's important you check the recommended specifications for each DAW and ensure that your computer meets those requirements.
How the DAW uses the CPU
The CPU (Central Processing Unit) is a crucial factor when it comes to the performance of a DAW. It's responsible for processing all the audio and MIDI data that is being recorded and played back in the DAW. The more powerful the CPU, the more audio and MIDI tracks a program can handle simultaneously without experiencing latency or audio dropouts. It’s also important to know that if the processor gets overpowered you might experience a delay in the recording and playback of both audio and MIDI tracks, which may make recording frustrating or even impossible.
For music production, it's recommended that you have a multi-core CPU with a clock speed of at least 2.5 GHz or higher. Some DAWs also have specific CPU requirements, so it's important to check the recommended specifications for each of them before making a purchase. Additionally, having enough RAM memory and a fast hard drive or solid-state drive (SSD) can also help improve the performance of a DAW.
If you want to find out about saving CPU power while arranging a musical project, check out our article about what stems are in music production.
The built-in devices and features
Choosing a DAW with robust built-in devices and features can help you save money on additional plugins and software, as well as provide a more efficient and creative production experience. If you are just starting up, then some of the built-in devices can help give you an understanding of, say, what a compressor is and does and once you’ve understood it, you can invest in a professional third-party plug-in.
Not all plug-ins that come with your DAW necessarily need to be upgraded though. Built-in devices and features can provide additional functionality and save time and effort in the production process. For example, a built-in sampler, which is a fundamental tool in EDM production, can allow you to create and manipulate sounds without having to import samples from another program. A built-in synthesizer can provide a wide range of customizable sounds without the need for additional plugins.
Another crucial aspect to consider when choosing a DAW is its compatibility with a MIDI controller and virtual instruments. The DAW's MIDI functionality can greatly impact the ability to create and edit MIDI sequences, which are used when arranging VSTs. This also has to do with the processing power of your computer, as a weak CPU + bad MIDI functions can lead to recording and playback latency.
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Try out the trial version
All expensive software have trial versions available, which is very useful for helping you choose the right DAW, as it allows you to test the software before committing to purchasing it. This gives you the opportunity to see if the DAW is a good fit for your workflow and production needs. Additionally, trial versions often come with limited features, which can be helpful in allowing you to get familiar with the basics of the program, without overwhelming you with all of its capabilities at once.
This can be especially useful for beginners who may be unsure which DAW to invest in or for producers who are interested in using multiple ones for different projects. Using a trial version can also be a helpful way to stay up to date with the latest features and improvements in a DAW. Finally, it can help you consider if the price of a certain program is worth it, as a lot of DAWs are quite expensive.
Online support and community
Having an online community and support are important when choosing a DAW because it allows you to access a wealth of information, tips, and tricks from other users who have experience with the software. This can be especially helpful for beginners who are still learning how to use the particular software and may have questions or run into problems.
For example, if you are just starting to use a certain program, you may need to configure a specific feature, such as non-latency drivers or have a very specific bug that needs to be resolved. If you have access to a forum that is dedicated to your DAW, all you have to do is ask those with more experience,
Additionally, having access to support from the manufacturer is crucial in case more severe technical issues arise. This can save you time and frustration and help you get the most out of your DAW.
DAWs most often chosen for EDM production
There is no one definitive answer to this, since DAWs are like paint brushes – each producer has a favorite one with which they work best. However, some of the most popular DAW choices among EDM producers include:
Ableton Live: Probably the most popular DAW amongst EDM producers, known for its session view and clip launching capabilities. Ableton Live is a favorite among electronic music producers, particularly those who perform live, as it can become an instrument itself, allowing DJs to remix, add effects and record on the spot.
FL Studio: Formerly known as FruityLoops, FL Studio is another popular DAW among EDM producers. One reason for its popularity is its intuitive and user-friendly interface, which makes it easy for beginners to start producing music. It also has a range of built-in instruments, including synths, samplers, and drum machines.
Logic Pro X: A popular choice among Mac users, Logic Pro X has a user-friendly interface, vast selection of built-in software instruments and effects, extensive library of samples and loops, as well as its compatibility with third-party plugins.
Cubase: Developed by Steinberg, Cubase has a comprehensive set of features and tools, which include advanced audio and MIDI editing capabilities, as well as a wide range of virtual instruments and effects plugins.
DAWs chosen by the Edmwarriors crew
To help you a bit we have asked some of our best selling producers on Edmwarriors to tell us about the DAWs the use and the features they like most in them:
“I've been using FL Studio ever since I started producing. I started when I was only 12 years old, so the simplicity really appealed to me. Every time a new update comes out, I can download it right away so I'm using FL Studio 20 now. A feature I really like is the stock plugin Newtone, it helps me change the melodies of vocal loops and other loops I download.”
“I work with Ableton Live. For me the best part in Ableton is the Session View. My music is strongly loop oriented, So I can start in Session View, make the main loop, and keep throwing in different ideas until I have like 90% of the music there. Arranging the track after having a lot of different ideas comes easily.”
“Since my start with music production, FL has been my main DAW.
The freedom of workflow is amazing! Everything is so free to move, navigate and zoom in and out… With other DAWs I felt kind of locked in the navigation process and workflow, but FL doesn't make me feel like that.
I tried to use Live once, just because it have more educational content available,
but I never left FL studio. I believe that it is important to know how to use other tools and DAWs, even Ableton Live which is the most popular in the EDM Scene.”
“I use Logic Pro X, I've used other DAWs, just to know them, but I don't recommend switching DAWs because you can achieve the same results in all of them.”
“I have been using FL Studio for 12 years, I like how convenient the automation manipulations are and also the native processing plugins."
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: Which DAW is the most popular amongst EDM music producers?
A: The most popular Digital Audio Workstation with EDM producers is Ableton Live.
Q: Do all DAWs feature built in plug-ins?
A: Yes, as well as virtual instruments that you can play via MIDI controller/keyboard.
Q: Is my computer's CPU important to producing music?
A: The CPU is very important, as having a strong processor can minimize unwanted latency in recording and playback.