“It is best to use a simple and easy to manage DAW to learn and develop one’s skills before investing in anything more complex.”
Every recording artist and producer starting out these days will want to be working from their own computer, in their own home studio, using a recording software that works best for their own interests, preferences and style. Fortunately when it comes to digital audio workstations (DAW) there really are more than enough to choose from, with a range of prices suitable for all budgets. In all honesty though, the best option as a beginner is to go for an affordable or free DAW. An expensive one with every feature imaginable is not necessarily going to be especially useful for someone starting out. It is best to use a simple and easy to manage DAW to learn and develop one’s skills before investing in anything more complex.
DAW’s today are relatively all the same, with slightly different appearances in layout but they basically all function the same way. When working with sound wave files in a digital format the basic conditions, attributes and logistics are identical no matter what program you use. The difference between different DAW’s is going to be functionality, ease of workflow, and special features such as certain types of VST plug-ins and specific live programming possibilities. Amongst all of the affordable DAW’s available today here are the four that I started out with and I consider good for beginners, but also for professionals.
Ableton Live 10 Lite
To begin with, Ableton Live is my absolute favourite DAW of all time. It is the most user friendly DAW I have ever used, it’s processes are incredibly easy to learn, and they even seem intuitive. I find that whilst using Ableton I’m clicking the mouse less than with any other DAW. Ableton’s aim is to make the music-making process as smooth as possible and indeed they have done just that. This DAW can immediately make anyone look and sound like a professional. It is not only a perfect recording and production software, it turns your laptop into an instrument.
This software is unique in the sense that it is perfect for mixing together live and DJ sets, hence the name Live. It offers a suite of controls for beat-matching, cross-fading, and other effects used by turntablists, and was one of the first music applications to automatically beat-match songs. For a more in depth introduction of the new version of Ableton 10 check out this recent review in Sound on Sound. You can purchase Ableton Live Lite for EUR 79, but I would get to know it better first using their 30 day free trial.
Cubase Elements 10
Steinberg’s Cubase is the DAW that I recorded my first album on in my small Berlin bedroom studio. Fun fact – it was originally designed as a MIDI sequencer which ran on the Atari ST Computer in 1989, but it has come a long way since. In 1999, it introduced a virtual instrument interface for software synthesizers known as VSTi. This made it possible for third-party software programmers to create and sell virtual instruments for Cubase. This technology has become the de facto standard for other DAW software, when integrating software based instruments on the Macintosh and Windows platforms.
Cubase Elements 10 is the latest generation of this influential DAW. I highly recommend this powerful software for any kind of audio engineering project, in particular for audio-book editing due to its ability to change project tempo without moving parts. Cubase Elements 10 comes at EUR 99, but definitely check out the free trial version first to see if it is a good fit for you.
Cakewalk by Bandlab
Cakewalk by Bandlab is an all in one music production software that is free for Windows 10. The actual DAW specifications for this product were originally a music production software called Sonar. Now as Cakewalk it is available on a platform called Bandlab. Bandlab is a social media app / cloud platform where musicians and fans can create music, collaborate and engage with each other across the globe. I find that Cakewalk is a super fun DAW to use for live recording projects and simple audio productions. It comes with all the basics, is incredibly easy to use, it makes it easy to share and collaborate on projects over the web, and it is free. For anyone starting out in music production this is an excellent educational tool.
Garageband is the very first DAW I used in my life, on my very first Mac, and it is the software that I learned to record my first demos on. It is a fully equipped music creation studio available for free, only for Apple products, with a complete sound library that includes instruments, presets for guitar and voice, and has an incredible selection of session drummers and percussionists. If you are using a Mac and just starting out working with sound, this is great option to learn all the basics with. It is perfect for basic recording, making your own beats and mixing. I find Garageband to be more than a nice Mac toy, and even a viable program for professionals.
After developing your abilities with any of these four DAW’s you will definitely be able to dig in deeper with another more advanced software. At the same time, even when you have learned all you can from these DAW’s, I am sure you will still use them in the future because each one has its own distinctive functions that can be helpful for certain kinds of tasks and projects.