- Picking a DAW for Electronic Music
- Figure Out System Needs
- Assess Your Skill Level
- Check for Plugin Compatibility
- Look for Availability of Learning Resources
- Think About the Use
- Factor in your Budget
- Finding DAWs that Cater to You
- You Want to Have Fun and Experiment: FL Studio
- You’re Dead Set in the Old Ways: Reason 11
- You’re Going to Play Live: Ableton Live
- You Want Good Resources to Work With: Logic Pro
- You’re Looking for the Jack of All Trades: Studio One
- You’re a Bit Cash Shy: Cakewalk
Creating music these days is a lot easier than it used to be. You can create amazing sounding tracks without ever having to leave the comfort of your bedroom.
The only tools you’ll need is a computer, midi controller, a DAW and some ideas to get a track going.
A DAW or Digital Audio Workstation is a program that enables you to record, mix, edit, and export music. This is what you will be using to take your songs from ideas and turning them into their final form.
All DAWs provide the same functions, but they don’t all work the same way. Choosing one may seem like a daunting task, but it’s quite easy once you know what to look for. Here are some quick ways to pick a DAW that will work for your needs and help you to create incredible electronic music.
Picking a DAW for Electronic Music
Picking a DAW for the first time is no different than picking an instrument. It’s a very personal process that requires you to think about your needs. And ultimately, what stands out will be something that works for you and may not necessarily work for anyone else.
Here are some of the things you should be looking into to find a DAW that speaks to you.
Figure Out System Needs
Before you look at anything else, you need to make sure that the DAW fully supports your computer.
The initial deciding factor should be your operating system. Are you on Windows or Mac? Many DAWs are available on both. But there are still a few that tend to be platform-specific or just run better on one OS (operating system). It also becomes a factor to consider if you’re working or collaborating with someone using a different OS than yours.
After you have looked into that, give out a cursory look at your system specs. Things like your processor and RAM can have a big impact on what DAW you use. Again, most DAWs will fare fine. But if you plan to use more plugins than your system can handle, it might be good to switch to a more lightweight DAW.
Assess Your Skill Level
DAWs can be designed with a wide variety of users in mind. Everyone from an absolute beginner to your top tier industry professional can be targeted for a specific DAW.
Usually, a DAW’s design is a careful balance of functionality and ease of use. The more feature-packed a DAW is, the more unclear its design looks to use. On the flip side, a simple DAW may not offer much functionality, but it is clean enough not to overwhelm you.
Choosing a DAW becomes a simple practice of looking at what you’re comfortable with. If you’re just starting out, it might be wise to go for a more barebones experience, just to get your bearings. But if you’re looking for more functionality, by all means, go for something with more of a complete package.
Check for Plugin Compatibility
A DAW without plugins can be a barren experience. And if you’re an electronic music producer, then plugins are your bread and butter when it comes to making music.
You’ll need to make sure that you can get all your favorite plugins working out of the box on your DAW. While plugins are supposed to be universal across the board, there have been cases of DAWs being finicky with their compatibility.
If in doubt, the best course of action is usually to see if there is a trial period available. This will let you test out compatibility before you make the jump.
Look for Availability of Learning Resources
One of the harder parts about using a DAW is learning its ins and outs before you get comfortable. Believe it or not, your choice of DAW will greatly affect how easy or hard it will be to learn.
It’s simple. A DAW that’s more popular and widely used is bound to have more learning resources available. That means more guides, courses,documentation, and tutorials on YouTube.
Why does this matter? Because it’s better to have an obtuse DAW with enough learning resources than it is to have one that looks easy to use but has virtually no tutorials.
It’s hard enough having to learn to produce, mix, and master your music. You shouldn’t have to spend time learning your DAW the hard way if you don’t have to.
Feel free to head over and join our brand new private facebook group where we will be giving you weekly tips, tricks, feedback and answering all of your songwriting questions.
Think About the Use
Not every DAW is equal under the sun. They all accomplish the same basic function but with a different focus on the use. Aside from skill levels, this is the other major factor to hone in on for a more personalized fit.
Some DAWs fulfill a very specific need, while others are designed to be all-rounders. It’s all a matter where the priorities lie. A DAW that’s good for manual piano roll inputs is not necessarily the same as one built for loop-based tracking.
Your use will determine which DAW fits nicely to your needs. This will become immediately apparent with the design and usability elements of the software.
Factor in your Budget
Lastly, you’ll need to keep your budget in focus. It’s an important step unless you want to arrive at the perfect choice only to find that you can’t afford it.
DAW prices range wildly depending on who they’re for. Entry levels DAWs can sometimes be free or for a nominal fee. Professional DAWs, on the other hand, range between several hundred and beyond.
Some DAWs might even have different pricing plans like monthly or yearly subscriptions. DAWs sometimes also give you free license to use them but will charge a commission if you make tracks that you’ll sell. Depending on the model, you might end up paying less or more than a lifetime subscription.
Finding DAWs that Cater to You
You can use any DAW to make electronic music. But some tend to work a little better than others. That said, there is a general consensus in the music-making community for which DAWs fall into which brackets. You can use them to get a good idea of which one you should get. So, here’s what kind of things different DAWs excel at.
You Want to Have Fun and Experiment: FL Studio
FL Studio has been around for a fair bit under the name Fruity Loops. It’s known as one of the first few DAWs aimed at a wider audience. So much so that it became the de facto piece of software for upcoming artists and producers everywhere.
Accessibility is the name of the game when it comes to FL Studio. Everything is laid out nicely with clear cut direction. And its loop-based legacy is what makes it a solid choice for genres like EDM, lo-fi, or hip hop.
FL Studio makes song production really easy by having defined sections for every stage. Everything from laying down your track foundation to adding effects and mixing can be done in a different window.
This makes working with the DAW very easy and intuitive. You don’t have to go around guessing where your options are. But even if you do get lost, the FL Studio community is huge, so you’re never too far away from a few hundred tutorials.
You’re Dead Set in the Old Ways: Reason 11
Reason isn’t too popular a name in the world of DAWs even though it’s been around since the 80’s. But these days, it does have its own community of users, especially in the electronic scene.
Reason 11’s biggest selling point is that it is modeled after a real hardware rack. So, all your mixers, pre-amps, analog synths, and other devices exist in the digital realm. You can manipulate any of the digital knobs or patch cables just like you would in real life.
All of this makes for a killer option for someone that hasn’t worked with DAWs but is familiar with hardware devices.
In terms of plugin options, you have a comprehensive library with stuff like wavetables, FM synths, additive synths, subtractive synths, oscillators, phase mods, and more. For the techno Frankenstein that wants to experiment with sound, it’s the perfect package.
You’re Going to Play Live: Ableton Live
Ableton Live is relatively new to the space of DAWs. But in a short span of years, it’s quickly adopting the label of an industry standard.
If you want to take a guess at what Ableton’s good at, then it’s right there in the name; its live music capabilities. This is thanks to Ableton’s session view that lets you see all your tracks at a glance. You can easily pause and play separate loops and clips across a plethora of tracks in one go.
There are plenty of effects, synths, and instruments to play with alongside some great 3rd party options. The layout is compact enough that you can run a lot of these tracks and effects side by side without cluttering up your view.
All this translates to a great live experience where you can experiment and play around with ideas on the fly. For DJing or making EDM for live performances, it’s hard to beat Ableton.
You Want Good Resources to Work With: Logic Pro
Logic Pro has made its home in the Apple Mac ecosystem alongside its free variant, Garageband. For a long time, Logic Pro has been the go-to for things like music production, mixing, and even video editing.
Logic has a fully packed library of great sounds, effects, and midi instruments. In fact, it is often considered the DAW with the best library. It’s not hard to find something that can get you inspired enough to make a track or flesh out some of your existing ideas.
As for the DAW itself, it has a very clinical look about it. The interface is clean, and all the primary options are in clear view. More functionality is tucked away in dropdown menus and separate windows.
The only downside with using Logic is the limited experience you’re getting. For one, there’s only one version on offer with no alternative purchase options. You are also limited in your learning resources due to a user base consisting of mostly professionals.
You’re Looking for the Jack of All Trades: Studio One
Studio One is a newer entry into the market that’s a brainchild of former Steinberg employees. Despite barely being a decade old, it’s already poised to stand up well to other top dogs.
From the get-go, it’s obvious that Studio One is a good all-rounder for making music. It was designed with the best elements of other popular DAWs with enough of its own flavor in the mix.
The DAW pays special attention to workflow possibilities. Not only is the interface clean and intuitive, but you can also accomplish a lot with simple gestures like clicking and dragging.
If that’s impressive to you, you can also customize it to your liking by making your own shortcuts. If you want to get music made fast and right, this DAW is your best bet.
You’re a Bit Cash Shy: Cakewalk
Sonar’s Cakewalk was considered a heavy hitter back in the day. But these days, it’s a simple DAW that gets the job done.
Thanks to an acquisition deal by Gibson, you can pick up Cakewalk for absolutely nothing. It’s not the most graceful DAW. And there’s room for some improvements in the GUI (graphical user interface), layout, and plugins.
But at the end of the day, it’s still powerful enough to handle basic tracking and recording. And that’s what really matters. If you’re looking to just get started making electronic music without putting down a few hundred for a DAW, Cakewalk can be a pretty good choice to go for.