“Which DAW should I use?” “Which one is the best?” It’s a common question, especially if you’re just getting into recording and mixing. There are dozens of choices out there, and you want to make sure you spend your money right.
It doesn’t matter. Mostly.
Don’t Worry About What ‘Tools’ The ‘Pros’ Are Using
Browse any forum or Facebook group, and you’ll quickly learn that most big name studios are using Pro Tools. Once you learn that, your brain might say, “well, if that’s what the pros are using, that’s what I should use.” Maybe. Are you aspiring to work at a professional recording studio? Do you want to be able to show up to any high-end studio and be able to work? That might be important to you, and if so, go for it.
Or maybe you saw an interview with an engineer you look up to, and they mentioned they use Logic. Or Reaper. Pick your poison.
If you’re in a home recording situation, and you’re worrying about what DAW the big guys are using, you’re obsessing over the wrong aspect of the craft.
(Side note: I would say the same about which plugins you use, but that’s for another article).
(Second side note: I’m not bashing Pro Tools. It’s obviously a tried and true piece of software. I’m merely saying that just because it’s what the “pros use,” doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for you personally)
Techniques Are Universal
Here’s the dirty little secret the DAW makers don’t want you to know: You can do 90% of your recording and mixing tasks in every single DAW out there. They all have auxiliary tracks/busses. All of them let you cut up and edit audio, lock events to a grid, set up a metronome, automate faders… you get the picture.
If you see a tutorial out on the internet, whether it’s from me, or one of the other fantastic teachers out there, there’s a pretty good chance you can do whatever they’re showing you in any DAW. If the tutorial is in Pro Tools, learn how to do it in your DAW.
Learning to translate techniques from one DAW to another will make you a better engineer overall.
Don’t Change For Change’s Sake
This one’s difficult for me. I love shaking things up. However, I don’t ever ever ever recommend moving from one DAW to another just to change things up. You have to set it up with your audio interface. You have to take all the cool tricks and shortcuts you learned in your last DAW, and figure out how to do it in the new one.
It’s doable. People do it all the time. But you’re slowing yourself down. You were probably on the verge of becoming a total badass ninja at Reaper, and you up and switched to Cubase, “just because.” Now you’re spending more time relearning toolbars and keyboard shortcuts than you are actually making music.
So, Where *Does* Your DAW Matter?
Having said all of this, there are definitely a few details that may help determine what DAW you should use or consider.
If you’re just starting out in this wonderful world of recording music, you’re going to need a recording interface. That interface is likely going to come with a stripped down version of a full-featured DAW – “My First DAW,” if you will. Why not try that out and see how you like it? Find the user’s manual, search for tutorials specific to the DAW on YouTube, and start trying to make music!
It’s also important to keep your computer’s operating system (Windows/Mac) in mind. Most DAWs can run on either platform, but as examples, Logic only runs on Macs, Cakewalk Sonar only runs on PC (note: Cakewalk announced alpha testing for a Mac OS X version of Sonar in June 2016).
Workflow is very important too. As a prime example, I know my way around Studio One and Sonar pretty well; Sit me down in front of a Logic or Pro Tools session, and I’ll be nearly useless. I’m sure I can bumble my way through to finally recording an audio track, but it’s going to be frustrating for everyone involved. Launch Ableton or Reason on my computer and I’m completely lost.
If you’re still trying to pick out a DAW, try to think about how you might like to work. This may be difficult if you have very little-to-no experience with the software. If you’re a songwriter, something like Studio One may be right up your alley, with its Arranger and Scratch Pad features. However, if you’re going to be composing/performing electronic music, you may find greener pastures with Ableton Live.
Whichever way you go, the most important factor is how often you use your DAW. Spend time getting to know the keyboard shortcuts, what all the buttons in the toolbars mean and do. The more you work with it, the more your DAW will start to become an extension of your working process, rather than a barrier to entry.
Go forth and learn your DAW. No matter which tools you use, the key is to learn and use those tools.