Developing a DAW is an extensive and demanding task requiring a large team of specialized people working together. This article will cover the steps to follow and the best tools and abilities you should master to develop a DAW successfully.
A DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is a software application used to record, edit, and produce audio. It is a powerful tool widely used for making music, podcasts, radio shows, and almost every task that includes digital audio.
So How To Develop Your Own DAW Software?
Developing a DAW requires a lot of expertise in different areas such as programming, coding, graphic designing, digital audio, and DSP among others. Understanding how it works, what musicians and audio technicians need, and how digital audio works is essential in order to create a DAW.
Disclaimer: Take this guide as an informational source to gather a general idea of developing a DAW, which tools you need, and what you need to know first, rather than as a complete guide.
What Abilities Does Developing a DAW Requires?
These are the abilities you, as a developer, are required to learn:
Developers should be familiar with audio flow and routing. Most DAWs tend to remain akin to analog consoles. That’s why an audio engineer will usually be a part of the team to advise about routing.
A DAW is an application made up of codes and algorithms. Multiple coders are going to be working together at the same time to accomplish different goals. One could be writing the display section to draw soundwaves as you record, while another one could be working on the audio engine and so on. We have listed some of the most recommended tools for programming and compiling the code of a DAW:
- Microsoft Visual Studio
This is an integrated development environment (IDE) that can be used to create applications, web pages, and services. This environment is where you will develop the coding and programming part of a DAW. A lot of programmers prefer this software due to its debugging tools as well as the testing platform. Visual Studio is compatible with most major programming languages. However, we advise you to work with C++ as it is a universal language and facilitates communication among the team members.
A brief introduction to Visual studio can be found here:
This IDE is ideal for developers wanting to create an Apple-exclusive DAW. It is not a huge limitation because some of the most popular digital audio workstations, such as Logic Pro, are only available on the macOS. You can find a lot of the features found in Visual Studio here. Hence, both are great IDEs but have different approaches.
Using Xcode segments the market for the DAW, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on what the developer aims for. Xcode is a good alternative for large teams because it allows programmers to compare two versions of a source code in real-time.
JUCE is an open-source IDE used for developing applications. It has a wide fanbase among VST plugin developers due to its functionality and integration with audio signal development. Traction, a DAW that uses JUCE, released its codebase for people to experiment with and use as a DAW-developing starting point. So, even though there are arguably better alternatives, it is still a much-favored choice among developers.
Learn more about Tracktion here:
Download the codebase here. Using this codebase can be an excellent opportunity for developers to see how the insides of a DAW look.
Knowledge in graphic design and GUI development plays a significant role in any software development project. Creating the graphical user interphase requires a lot of effort and creativity. For this task, both programmers and designers must work together.
Some tips on how to develop a better GUI can be found in this video:
- Digital Signal Processing
Digital signal processing is the use of digital processing to perform a wide variety of signal processing operations. DSP takes digitized real-world signals like audio, video or temperature, to manipulate them. A DSP is designed for performing mathematical functions like “add,” “subtract,” “multiply,” and “divide.” In addition, developers must also know about Analog-to-Digital conversion, which is a very vast topic that includes hardware and software development skills.
What is DSP?
Information about Analog to digital conversion as well as DSP can be found in this article.
Both DAW and VST have many similarities because they’re both software applications that deal with audio. We suggest getting started with developing plugins or VSTs to get familiar with Digital Signal Processing.
Steps On How To develop a DAW
The steps to develop a DAW are similar to any other application. In this section, we are going to make a list and explain what those steps consist of:
Every project begins with an idea or a concept. Having a clear idea of what you want to develop is the first step to a successful project. It is essential to set objectives and answer questions like, “What kind of DAW am I going to develop? What kind of producers should I aim for? What will be special about my DAW?” Such an interrogative thought process is necessary to set the basis for the project.
When developing a DAW, it’s important to define what the main features are going to be. Perhaps music production? Recording? Mixing? It is better to focus on one thing and do it well.
The second step is sketching. It is vital to illustrate digitally or on paper how the DAW is going to look. How is it going to work? Where are the primary tools going to be placed? Sketching is essential because it allows the developers to lay down the foundation for the structure of the DAW. When making a sketch, it is helpful to add drawings and comments to point out the most critical parts, ideas, possible modifications, etc.
You must research to have a successful project. This step is vital and involves questions like:
- Who are the competitors?
- What are the needs of the customers?
- What business plan are you going to follow?
Regarding digital audio workstations, it can be a good idea to check out the most popular DAWs like Pro Tools, Logic Pro, FL Studio, Ableton Live, REAPER, and Cubase, as well as some open-source projects like Ardour and LMMS. Developers must be aware of the competition — finding their strengths and weaknesses will help your team develop a better DAW. Doing this kind of research will save a lot of time in the upcoming stages, as well as in helping the team avoid mistakes.
Creating mockups helps the whole team understand how the program is going to look. Mockups should try to be accurate because they will serve as the inspiration for the final look of the DAW. At this stage, we advise you to focus on the GUI layout rather than finer details such as colors and the exact positioning of items.
This stage is probably the longest and most demanding development stage of every DAW. A lot of time must be spent in the programming and coding process because this is where the tools, processes, and functionalities will be developed. For this task, any of the IDEs mentioned above are going to be helpful. Additionally, using the programming language C++ can be the best choice.
You can learn about C++ in this video:
The graphics are one of the main features of an application. For example, how the app looks will determine how the users will interact with the DAW and what they will see using your application. At this stage, looking at other DAW GUI can be helpful to find inspiration as well as getting an idea of where you should locate essential tools like the mixer, FX window, transport, etc.
Working with experienced designers can make the difference between a successful and a failed app.
Testing and finding bugs is important for any application software. Fortunately, some IDE, like Visual Studio, have tools for identifying bugs and fixing them. However, it is crucial to test the DAW in a real-life situation as well.
Testing is a stage that will have to be repeated multiple times in the development process. In general, you will ask both professional testers and the general public (referred to as beta testers) to use your DAW for some time and share feedback or report bugs. Since many people will be involved in the beta testing stage, it also doubles as a marketing strategy.
Once all of the steps mentioned above are accomplished, it is time to finalize the project for launch. It’s worth noting that a launch date is generally determined about halfway through the development process for the marketing department to start promotion.
Once the DAW is released, the maintenance stage begins; programmers must keep working on fixing possible mistakes or bugs that the users will find in the initial days of usage. Also, updates should be released periodically so that the DAW doesn’t feel old and adapts to the ever-expanding world of technology.
Keeping the DAW updated as well as reviewing feedback from the users to fix developing mistakes must be a recurring task.
As mentioned before, you should have a marketing plan in the early or middle stages of a project. It is the most vital stage for a successful app or, in our case, a DAW as it will determine the number of sales the DAW will get.
Creating a website, releasing betas or demos, and publishing advertisements will generate anticipation among potential customers. In our current era, digital marketing and social media ads are potent tools for any release.
Some tips for an app release can be found in this video:
A DAW is a versatile tool that needs a lot of effort and knowledge to be developed. If you are interested in the field, we suggest first learning plugin development to get familiar with audio-based software before tackling full-fledged DAW software.
As with any creative work, experience helps you get better at coding itself, coordinating your team effort, and developing hype for your software. Consider watching tutorial videos, reading books, and review articles on various audio software to understand where the general public stands on the major software releases.
Started as a rapper and songwriter back in 2015 then quickly and gradually developed his skills to become a beatmaker, music producer, sound designer and an audio engineer.