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New to music production? How do you choose the best DAW for your needs?
Learn how to pick a DAW that works for you.
Also, check out our guide to the best free DAWs if you’re on a micro-budget.
If you are looking to create your own home studio setup for music production, one of the most important tools you’ll need is a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).
A DAW is computer software that allows you to do everything from recording to mixing and even mastering your audio.
However, if you’ve done any research on them, you’ve probably been overwhelmed by the number of options out there. What makes it harder is how passionate and persuasive people can be about their DAW of choice. Who can you trust when everyone swears that their favorite DAW is the best one?
As with many things in music production, this is a matter of personal choice. It all depends on what you want out of your DAW!
Different programs will suit different needs, so you should consider things such as your genre, skill level, and budget when choosing a DAW. It’s important that you at least get a broad idea of the options out there before you commit to anything.
P.S.Bookmark these comparison articles for later (they’ll help you narrow down your choice even more)
To help you decide which DAW is best for you, here are some important questions you should be asking yourself…
1. What Do You Hope To Accomplish With Your DAW?
The first thing you will want to think about when looking for the right DAW is what you actually want to do with it.
Are you an artist or songwriter who is looking to create demos of their songs? An electronic music producer? A mixing engineer?
Each of these roles will require their own specific needs to get the job done, so you should consider exactly what features and specifications you’re after in a DAW.
I have Pro Tools and Logic Pro X licenses, and I’ve found that Logic is a great DAW for writing and producing music – the stages of the process where you are the most creative. If this is as far as you want to go with your recording software, this may be a great option for you.
On the other hand, Pro Tools is excellent for getting more technical when in the editing and mixing phases of a song. If you are going to be working more on the technical side of music production, or plan on working in the industry, this may be the best option for you.
Regardless of which DAW you choose, knowing what you want to do with your recording software can help you make a more useful, informed purchase.
Despite it only being available for Mac users, Logic remains as one of the most-sold DAWs out there. It is used professionally by electronic experts such as Armin Van Buuren, Above & Beyond, Audien, Disclosure, Eric Prydz, Swedish House Mafia, and more.
Once you’ve figured out what you want to use your DAW for, you should then ask what kind of music you want to work on with it. Knowing the type of music you are going to be recording and mixing is an important factor in deciding which DAW will work best for you.
While programs like Avid’s Pro Tools are the professional industry standard, it is software that is better suited for those who plan to record live audio – like a band in a studio.
Pro Tools can handle recording many tracks of audio at once, and its audio editing capabilities are very robust.
If you are interested in producing electronic music and working more with MIDI tracks, a DAW such as Logic Pro X, Ableton Live, or FL Studio might be better suited for you, as this is the strong suit of these programs.
That is not to say that Pro Tools doesn’t have any MIDI capabilities or FL Studio does not have any audio recording capabilities.
Pro Tools does not offer more than a few stock virtual instruments with its software, but if you invest in some good third-party ones you could absolutely use it to make electronic music. DAWs like Ableton or FL Studio also allow you to record live audio, but Pro Tools was really built for this.
One catch with using virtual instruments in Pro Tools you cannot use VST plugins, which is a very common virtual instrument format.
Avid has its own format for virtual instruments known as AAX. This could limit your options if the virtual instruments you are interested in don’t have an AAX format, or may require you to buy another plugin that allows you to use VSTs in Pro Tools.
On the flip side, from my experience, the audio editing capabilities in Logic are not nearly as robust as Pro Tools if you need to do some intense editing of live instruments or vocals.
Knowing what type of music you are going to be producing will also greatly influence your choice of DAW. Overall, I would recommend Ableton Live or FL Studio for electronic music production, but you might also want to check out PreSonus Studio One, Bitwig, and Logic Pro.
3. How Experienced Are You?
This next question may make your decision more complicated than the first two. Sure, knowing what you want to accomplish with your DAW and the type of music you will be working on helps to narrow down your options.
However, the reality is that some DAWs are easier to learn than others. Therefore, your experience level with recording software may affect which DAW you purchase.
For example, if you are more interested in recording genres with a lot of live instruments, Pro Tools is one of the best choices due to its efficient CPU usage and audio editing capabilities.
However, if you are new(er) to music production, it may not be the best DAW to start with. It is not the most beginner-friendly and definitely has a learning curve to it.
It is more advanced software that really gives you the ability to create a customized workflow. I know many people who tried to learn on this DAW first and found it to be a little overwhelming because there is so much to learn about it.
If you want to put the time in and learn it, by all means, go for it! (As a side note, Pro Tools is still recognized as the industry standard, so it’s good to learn it if you are interested in working in a professional studio one day!)
In contrast, a program like Logic Pro X has a much simpler layout, which is why I think it has become very popular with those who are new to music production.
While I did say earlier that it is a great DAW for those wanting to work more with MIDI and virtual instruments; for those who are just starting in audio production, the audio recording capabilities in Logic are still pretty great.
If you want a DAW with a simpler layout but you still want to record multiple instruments, this is certainly not a bad choice!
There are even lesser-known DAWs such as PreSonus Studio One that has a pretty simple layout! The software makes it pretty easy to drag and drop various instruments and effects into your session, making it another great option for those starting out!
So we’ve learned that another factor in choosing a DAW is how much experience you already have with music and production – as well as computers in general.
If you are an experienced audio engineer and you plan on working in the industry, then using Pro Tools for your own projects makes sense. If you like the idea of learning Pro Tools for the industry experience but also want a more “creative” DAW, then Logic Pro is a great choice…assuming you don’t have a PC.
If you are new to electronic music production, Ableton Live and FL Studio are user-friendly options with powerful workflow features to keep you in the creative zone.
The final question you should ask might make things even more complicated, and that is how much money are you actually willing to spend on a Digital Audio Workstation?
This may force you to seriously reconsider which one you are going to purchase. Once you know which programs best suit your goals, musical style, and skill level, it is a matter of finding the best possible product within the budget you have.
If you’re interested in doing electronic music, two of the most popular DAWs used in that genre, Ableton Live and FL Studio, offer a few different versions of their software.
Ableton Live offers three versions of their software: an “Intro” version for $99, a “Standard” version for $449, and a “Suite” version for $749.
FL Studio offers similar bundles, with a $99 “Fruity” edition, $199 “Producer” edition, $299 “Signature Bundle” and a $499 “All Plugins Edition”. This gives you a little more flexibility if you’re interested in these DAWs but can’t afford the full version.
On the cheaper side of things, PreSonus Studio One costs $399 for the full version. PreSonus also offers a $15/month “Sphere membership” which gives you access to Studio One and other PreSonus software.
Logic Pro X is actually one of the cheapest options on the market, costing only $200 for access to all features and a perpetual license. It is of course only for Mac users, as it’s published by Apple.
A lesser-known DAW that you may not know about is Reaper, made by Cockos. Probably the most vocal advocate for this software is YouTuber Glenn Fricker, who runs the channel Spectre Sound Studios.
This is actually the cheapest option I’ve found on the market! A license costs only $60 for personal use, and you can even get Reaper free for 60 days!
Don’t let the price fool you though. While I have not personally used this DAW, from the videos I have seen about it, Reaper offers a lot of advanced features.
Similar to Pro Tools, it gives you the ability to have a very customized workflow. This might make it a little intimidating depending on your skill level, but the Reaper website has plenty of video tutorials to help you learn! For that price, you get a lot of bang for your buck.
As you can see, the price of a DAW can vary a lot, and developers will offer different “tiers” to make their software more accessible for lower budgets. While this means cutting back on premium features, depending on your needs this may not be a big deal.
It’s Not All About The Gear
As you consider all these factors, you may find that your budget does not allow you to purchase your top choice of DAW. You may have to look for some of the alternative options mentioned in this article.
If that is the case, I want to remind you that the gear you have does not determine the quality of the music you produce.
It is true that some gear is better than others and can help improve your production. However, the DAWs we have mentioned in this article are all endorsed by industry professionals. This means any of them can get you professional results – assuming you know what you’re doing!
The most important factors in making your productions sound professional are your knowledge of sound and music production, as well as your knowledge of your DAW and other tools such as microphones and third-party plugins that you have.
So don’t freak out if you aren’t able to afford the DAW you want just yet. Pick one that best suits your needs and budget, and focus on growing in your understanding of music production and audio concepts. You’ll be making great music in no time!
A digital audio workstation is the most important tool modern producers have to record, mix, and master. This means it is important to do your research and look at different options before deciding which one you will buy.
You should consider what you want to accomplish with your DAW, whether you are primarily working with live audio or MIDI data, your level of skill with recording software, and your budget.
If you take all of these factors into consideration, your search for a DAW will become a lot less overwhelming!
Once again, it’s not about what gear you have, but what you do with it. The most important thing is that you find something that works best for your needs and suits your own way of working. So, at the end of the day, the DAW that you are most comfortable with is the right one for you.