Today, we’ll be looking at the most fundamental component of music production, the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).
We are aware of instruments, gadgets, recorders, etc. They are all used together to create the music we all love. And in our current era, computers are at the top of the technological ecosystem. Hence, people designed various software to use computers for music production.
Such software includes instruments, audio processing effects, editors, and so on. All of these require a common foundation to function on — the base on which all the components reside if you will. That foundation is a DAW.
What Is a DAW Program? Music Software Explained
A DAW is a piece of software that can record, edit, and mix audio and midi into a song. It is a combination of multi-track audio recorders, mixing consoles, and arrangers in digital form. It expands upon the original concepts of hardware by adding many modern and convenient features.
Nowadays, most DAWs come with bundled instruments, effect plugins, and samples/loops, so you can start making music immediately. And since they are also expansive, you can add third-party plugins, instruments, and commands by purchasing them separately.
History Of Digital Audio Workstations
Early attempts at creating a computer-based audio editing software faced limitations of storage space and processing power. Hence, the first DAW Soundstream Digital Editing System (1978) relied on a customized computer with chips and software to make the barebones of audio editing.
It wasn’t until the late 80s when digital audio recording became a thing with the release of Sonic Solution’s Sonic System paired with Apple Macintosh. Then, in the 90s, people saw the birth of Pro Tools, Cubase, SONAR, etc. Many of these DAWs were available in the late 80s for either only midi editing or only audio editing.
As years went by, computers became more powerful, and DAWs evolved. Now, in 2022, we are fortunate to have the largest number of intricate DAWs, virtual instruments, effect plugins, etc., by far, capable of running on any general computer, so much so that we can even list DAWs by CPU usage.
Uses of Digital Audio Workstations
As we’ve established, a DAW is primarily an empty canvas for you to create songs. It’s where the instruments and vocals are recorded, edited, and mixed into a final song. Of course, DAWs are also used for other media like films, games, radios, podcasts, etc., anywhere audio is involved.
Each audio project consists of various stages. They include recording, editing, mixing, and mastering. Depending on the kind of project (a song vs. a podcast), you will employ different functions of a DAW. Hence, we will talk about each of these stages and explain how a DAW can be useful.
Recording is usually the first step in music production. It’s when you record instruments and vocals to lay down the foundation of your composition. A DAW is used to create multiple tracks (or layers of sound), where you can then record audio from microphones, guitars, hardware instruments, etc., or midi data from midi keyboards, guitars, wind instruments, etc.
For recording audio, you will require an audio interface device, which transfers audio signals from your mic/instrument to your computer. The audio interface is also often used to connect your computer to speakers/headphones.
In this stage, you alter and add the recorded audio and midi to sound more coherent. Digital Audio Workstations offer an audio editor, a piano roll, often a staff notation editor, and a drum editor for this stage. Other than the first, they are midi editors.
We will talk about them for a moment. However, note that our intention is to provide a general introduction to all DAWs and how they function. The editor’s name, workflow, and functionalities may differ from one DAW to another.
- Audio Editor
This editor is often integrated into the main page of a DAW. It lets you chop audio recordings, move them on the timeline, change the pitch and timing, add fade in/out, etc. While many of the functions are the same, some differ from a DAW to another.
This editor is also the most used feature by game developers and film editors for manipulating dialogues and sound effects. Similarly, radio and podcast editors use it to reduce noise, remove empty gaps, and add intros/outros.
- Piano Roll
In this editor, you will find a piano laid out vertically with the timeline shown horizontally. The notes you record using a midi instrument will be shown here. The Piano Roll is so versatile that you can make an entire song using this editor alone on every virtual instrument. It is used to add, delete, move, and change notes.
- Staff Notation Editor
If you are a classically trained musician, you will probably prefer this editor over the Piano Roll. It is a digital iteration of a staff notation pad, where you can see and edit the notes you have played and write notes from scratch.
- Drum Editor and More
The Drum Editor is specifically designed for editing percussive notes for virtual drums. Hence, they don’t show you the duration of the notes as the Piano Roll does. And instead of showing note names, they show you the names of the pieces in the drumkit (bass drum, snare, ride).
Similarly, DAWs can include other editors like SysEx editors, list editors, etc., which are beyond the scope of this article and probably unnecessary for most musicians. The important thing to note is how each editor caters to the different needs of a project.
In the mixing step, you will mix all the various elements of your song to form a coherent piece of music. It involves controlling the volume, space, and dynamism of each instrument and vocals to make them sound adhered together. For this purpose, a DAW has a page called a Mixer.
You may have seen a mixing console in an audio studio. The Mixer is a digital version of that hardware. It lets you manipulate the sound and add effects such as reverberation, echoes, and others to make the sound “thinner” or “thicker.” Similarly, there are effects to make the audio similar in volume throughout the length of the song.
Often, game or film sound editors also employ these effects/plugins to make their audio meaningful to a scene. Similarly, podcast/radio editors use them to make the sound cleaner or more stable in volume. There are way too many functions a DAW serves in this step to describe in a short article!
Finally, in this step, you will make your mix from the previous step translate well to all playback devices like phones, CD players, computers, car stereo, and even club speakers. It involves making the sound itself comparable to reference songs in your genre, adding effects to make it compliant with various platform criteria, and tagging the files.
After that, you will export or render the song in a format suitable for your intended release platform. The effect plugins we talked about in the previous step are also helpful here. And as for tagging the files, most DAWs let you tag your export with the title, artist, genre, album title, etc.
Other media editors also use this tagging feature to tag their audio clips for file organization. The same goes for exporting audio in different formats.
Expanding A DAW
We’ve covered most of the primary functions a Digital Audio Workstation has in music production and audio editing. Next, let’s talk about expanding your DAW to get new sounds and functionalities. Alas, not every DAW supports all the available third-party plugins and instruments.
Computers are divided by operating systems: Microsoft Windows, Apple macOS, and Linux. Furthermore, each has its special formats or digital languages in which a plugin or virtual instrument is available. For example, Pro Tools and REAPER are two DAWS that support both Windows and macOS. However, Pro Tools only supports a format called AAX.
After you have checked and made sure your DAW is compatible with your desired third-party software, you can go ahead and install it. Fortunately, most plugins and virtual instruments are available for most DAWs in Windows and macOS, the two most popular OS.
We couldn’t possibly end this article here after enticing you with the vast world of new sounds! So, here are some of our handpicked lists of plugins and instruments:
In this era, the initial step to making a piece of music is opening a DAW software, even if you prefer composing with paper and pencil. DAWs allow you to listen to your music as you make it, giving you the ultimate “what you hear is what you get” in music production.
However, there are so many DAWs available nowadays that choosing one can be worse than choosing a laptop for music production. Our advice would be to figure out what you want to do first. If you are interested in EDM, check out Ableton Live, Bitwig Studio, Waveform 11, and FL Studio.
And if you are interested in traditional music, check out Cubase, REAPER, Studio One, and Cakewalk by BandLab (free). If you intend to edit audio for games or film/TV, you should look at Nuendo, REAPER, and Pro Tools.
Of course, it is a good idea to get your feet wet with free software for starting. Cakewalk, Waveform Free, Studio One Prime, and Ardour are excellent free DAWs you can get started with. And you can find free instruments and plugins here.
We hope this article helped you understand what a DAW is and, hopefully, get you started in the incredible journey of music production. And if music is your passion, check out this article next and see if music can be your career.
Readings You May Like:
Can I Put Nylon Strings on a Steel-string Guitar?
Do Electric Guitars Sound Good Unplugged?
Buying Your First Guitar: 2 Things To Know
Are Tube Amps Worth It? (Tube vs Solid-State Amps)
How Often Does A Guitar Need a Setup?
Can I Play Classical Guitar On A Steel-String Guitar?
How often guitar necks need reset?
Can You Play Two Guitars Through One Amp?
Can a 6 String Bass Be Tuned Like A Guitar?
Can I leave My Guitar Tuned Down a Step? Yes, But Is It Safe?
Should I Learn 4, 5 Or 6 String Bass Guitar & Why?
How To Know If your Guitar Amp Is Broken?
How To Fix Distorted Bass Guitar Sound?
Do Fender Guitars Appreciate In Value?
Should You Put Stickers On A Bass Guitar?
How Acoustic And Electric Guitars Are Made?
Is Electric Guitar Too Loud for an Apartment?
Does a Preamp Improve Sound Quality?
If I Learn Acoustic Guitar Can I Play Electric Guitar?
How Many Hours A Day Should You Practice Bass Guitar?
Do I need an AMP/DAC To Run Bookshelf Speakers?
How to Record Electric Guitar Into Logic Pro X?
Do headphones get worse with age?
Headphones & Studio Monitors:
Do headphones get worse with age?
Monitors vs Studio Headphones For Mixing & Mastering
Top 10 Room Calibration & Headphones/Speakers Correction Plugins 2022
Does Heat Damage Headphones?
Are Noise-Canceling Headphones Good For Music Production?
Can Headphones Break in Cold Weather?
Why do headphones & cables get sticky?
Can Wearing Headphones Cause Hair Loss?
How Do I know If My Studio Monitor Is Blown?
Side Effects Of Sleeping With Your Headphones On
Do You Need Music Amplifier For Studio Monitors or Studio Headphones?
Do Headphones or Earphones Damage Your Brain?
Can Headphones or Earphones cause Deafness or Toothache?
FarField, MidField & NearField Monitors – Their Uses, Pros & Cons
MIDI & Synths:
Should I Buy A MIDI Keyboard Or Synth? (Are Synths Worth It Anymore?)
Why Is Audio Gear So Expensive? (Especially Synths)
Top 12 Synth Brands 2022 – Analog, Digital & Modular Synth Manufacturers
11 Tips How To Choose MIDI Keyboard 2022
Should I Buy MIDI Controller Or Keyboard? Cons, Pros & Tips
Top 12 NearField Studio Monitors 2022 On Any Budget
Top 10 Midfield Studio Monitors 2022 For Home Recording
Best Biggest Studio Monitors 2022 (FarField Monitors)
Top 10 Guitar Pickups for Low Tunings 2022
Top 10 Analog Compressors For Mixing & Mastering (On Any Budget)
Top 12 USB Audio Interfaces Under 150$, 200$, 300$ 400$ (Any Budget)
Top 12 Hardware Equalizers 2022 (Analog EQs For Mixing & Mastering)
Top 6 Analog Hardware Limiters 2022
Top 6 Solid State Bass Amps 2022 (On Any Budget)
Top 6 Ribbon Mics 2022 On Any Budget (For Vocals, Drums & Guitars)
Top 6 Cheap Dynamic Mics For Vocals Under 50$, 100$, 200$ & 300$
Top 6 Chorus Guitar Pedals 2022 (On Any Budget)
6 Best 61-Key MIDI Keyboards 2022 (On Any Budget)
9 Best 49-Key MIDI Keyboards Under 100$ & 200$ (2022)
Top 5 Best 25 Key MIDI Keyboards 2022 (On Any Budget)
Top 12 Acoustic Drums 2022 (Best Kits/Sets On Any Budget)
Top 10 EDM Plugins 2022 (And 10 Best FREE Plugins For EDM)
Top 10 Plugins For TRAP Beats 2022 (And 5 Best FREE Trap Plugins)
20 Best Plugins For Rock Musicians 2022 (+ 6 FREE Plugins)
Top 14 Trance Plugins (Uplifting, Tech, Progressive, Vocal, Dream, Hard)
Top 10 GOA & PsyTrance Plugins 2022 (Best Psychedelic Trance Tools)
Top 7 Plugins For Dubstep 2022 (With 10 Best FREE Effects & Synths)
Top 20 Synthwave Plugins 2022 (+ 11 Best FREE Plugins)
Top 15 Plugins 2022 For Techno, House, Electro, Tech House, UK Garage
Top 6 Plugins For Latin Music 2022 (And 4 FREE Tools)
Top 12 Plugins For Hip-Hop 2022 (+ Best Kontakt Libraries)
Top 7 Plugins For Game & Film Scoring 2022 (+ 6 Best Kontakt Libraries)
Top 10 R&B And Pop Music Plugins & KONTAKT Libraries 2022
30 Best Free Plugins For DnB, EDM, IDM & Experimental Music 2022
Top 12 Free EQ Plugins 2022 For Precise Mixing & Mastering
Top 9 Mid/Side EQ Plugins 2022 For Mixing & Mastering (+ 2 Free Tools)
Top 7 Graphic EQ Plugins 2022 (With 3 Best Free EQs)
Top 7 EQ Plugins For Mastering In 2022 | And Best FREE Mastering EQs
Top 6 Passive EQ Plugins 2022 (Klevgrand, SPL, UAD, Waves, IK Multimedia)
Top 11 Plugins For Making Metal 2022 (Best Guitars, Drums & Effects)
Top 11 Free Compressor Plugins 2022 (VCA, Vari-Mu, FET, Digital)
Top 7 Multiband Compressor Plugins 2022 (And 4 FREE Plugins)
Top 5 Diode-Bridge Compressor Plugins 2022
Top 6 Mastering Chain Plugins: Complete VST Solutions 2022
Top 10 FET Compressor Plugins 2022
The 7 Best VCA Compressor Plugins 2022 (VST, AU, AAX)
Top 11 Mastering Compressor Plugins 2022 (And 2 FREE Plugins)
Top 10 Opto Compressor Plugins 2022 For Transparent Sound
The 7 Best Vari-Mu Compressor Plugins 2022 (And 2 Best FREE Tools)
Reverb & Delay Plugins:
Top 12 Delay Plugins For Music Production In 2022 (VST, AU, AAX)
Top 12 Reverb Plugins (And 5 FREE Reverb Plugins)
The 6 Best Spring Reverb VST Plugins 2022 | AudioThing, GSi, u-he, Eventide
Top 10 FREE Delay Plugins 2022 (VST, AU, AAX)
The 10 Best Convolution Reverb Plugins 2022
Top 5 Audio Metering Plugins 2022 (LUFS, RMS, LRA, True Peak)
Top 6 Spectrum Analyzer Plugins Of 2022 – Spectral Analysis Tools
Top 6 Oscilloscope Plugins 2022 To See The Waveforms
Top 5 Key Detection Plugins & Software 2022 (+ Best FREE App)
Amps & Preamp Plugins:
Top 10 Guitar Amp Plugins 2022 (And 5 Best FREE Simulators)
Top 10 Bass Amp Plugins 2022 (And 5 Best Free Simulators)
Top 9 Preamp Plugins 2022 (For Vocals, Guitars & More!) + Free Preamps
20 Best Kontakt Libraries For All Categories 2022 (Synths, Drums, Vocals)
Top 7 Drum Libraries For KONTAKT 2022 (And 4 Freebies)
Top 7 Trap Music Kontakt Libraries 2022 (And Best Lo-Fi Kontakt Library)
Top 7 Metal & Rock Kontakt Libraries 2022 (Best Guitars & Drums)
Top 10 Guitar Libraries For Kontakt 2022 (Acoustic, Electric, Bass & Freebies)
Top 7 Trailer Scoring Plugins & Kontakt Libraries 2022
20 Best Free KONTAKT Libraries 2022 For Various Instruments
Top 9 Piano Kontakt Sample Libraries 2022 (And 5 Best Free Pianos)
Top 10 Percussion KONTAKT Libraries 2022 (And 3 Freebies)
Top 7 Kontakt Libraries For Horror & Thriller Scoring 2022 (No VSTs)
Audio Restoration, Calibration & Utility Plugins:
Top 6 Noise Reduction Plugins 2022 (And 3 Best Free Tools)
6 Best Audio Restoration Plugins & Software 2022
Top 7 Phase Alignment Plugins 2022 To Fix Your Bass & Drums
Top 10 Room Calibration & Headphones/Speakers Correction Plugins 2022
Top 6 Vocoder Plugins 2022 (Effects & Synths + FREE Vocoder)
Top 12 Randomizer Plugins 2022 Including FREE Plugins
Top 6 Kick Drum Plugins 2022 (Best Kick Designer Tools)
Top 12 Woodwind Plugins 2022 (And KONTAKT Libraries)
Top 10 Double Bass Plugins 2022 (Best Upright Basses)
Top 5 Strings VST Plugins 2022 (AND 4 Best Free Instruments)
Top 6 Sampler Plugins 2022 (And 3 Best FREE Plugins)
Top 6 Classical Guitar Plugins & Kontakt Libraries (And FREE Guitars)
Top 7 Wavetable Synth Plugins 2022
Top 12 Sub Plugins 2022 (Best 808 & Bass Tools For Massive Low End)
Top 10 Plugins On PluginBoutique 2022 (And 7 Best Free Plugins)
Top 11 Plugins On Plugin Alliance 2022
Top 7 Acoustic Guitar Plugins 2022 (And 4 Best Kontakt Libraries)
9 Best Bass Guitar Plugins 2022 (And 2 Best Freebies)
Top 6 Electric Guitar Plugins 2022 (Best PAID & FREE Picks)
Top 10 Arpeggiator VST Plugins 2022 (Best Synths, MIDI Effects & Tools)
Top 10 Modular Synth Plugins 2022 (And 3 Best FREE Plugins)
Top 6 Choir Plugins & Sample Libraries 2022 (And 3 Best Free Plugins)
11 Best Percussion & Drum VST Plugins In 2022 (And FREE Plugins)
Top 8 Piano Plugins 2022 (Best Sounding Pianos & 5 FREE Piano Plugins)
Top 6 Organ Plugins Ever Made 2022 (And 3 Best Free Organs)
Top 14 VST Plugins For Beginners 2022 (And 9 FREE Plugins)
Top 9 Drum Machine Plugins 2022 (And Groovebox Plugins)
4 Best Banjo Plugins 2022 (Best Banjo Instruments)
The 5 Best Ukulele Plugins & Kontakt Libraries 2022
Top 13 Synth Plugins 2022 (And 5 Best FREE Synths Plugins)
Top 13 Sequencer Plugins 2022 (Synth, MIDI & Step Sequencers)
The 10 Best Multi-Effect Plugins 2022 (And 3 Best Free Plugins)
Top 12 Plugin Bundles For Musicians 2022 (Synths, Mixing & Mastering)
Processing & Sound Design Plugins:
8 Best Lo-Fi Plugins 2022 (PAID & FREE)
Top 11 Plugins For Mixing Vocals 2022 (For Home Studio)
Top 12 Saturation Plugins In 2022 (Best Mixing & Mastering Tools)
Top 6 Pitch Shifter Plugins 2022 (And 3 Best FREE Pitch Shifters)
Top 6 Chorus VST Plugins 2022 For Musicians (And 3 FREE Plugins)
Top 6 Limiter Plugins 2022 For Precise Mastering & Mixing
The 8 Best Filter Plugins 2022 For Precise Cuts & Boosts (+ 5 Free Filters)
6 Best Autotune Plugins 2022 To Improve & Enhance Your Vocals
Top 10 Transient Shaper Plugins 2022 (VST, AU, AAX)
Top 7 Enhancer Plugins 2022 (For Bass, Drums, Vocals & Harmonics)
Top 6 Flanger Plugins 2022 (And 5 Best FREE Flanger Emulators)
Top 7 Phaser Plugins 2022 (And 3 Best FREE Phasers)
Top 10 Plugins For Mixing Drums 2022 (And 3 Best Free Plugins)
Top 7 Bitcrusher Plugins 2022 (And 4 Best FREE Bitcrushers + 3 Bonuses)
Top 6 Plugins For Voice-Over & Dialogue Cleaning 2022 (Post Production)
Top 10 Stereo Imaging Plugins 2022 (Best Old & Modern Picks)
Top 5 Multiband Limiter Plugins 2022
Top 7 De-Esser Plugins In 2022 For Better Vocals (And 4 FREE Plugins)
Top 7 Clipper Plugins 2022 (Best Limiter Alternatives)
Top 6 Chord Generator Plugins 2022 That Inspire Melodies (+ FREE Tools)
7 Best Exciter Plugins 2022 For Mixing & Mastering
Top 7 Channel Strip Plugins 2022 (And 2 Best Free Plugins)
Top 11 Distortion Plugins 2022 (And 4 Top Free Plugins)
Top 5 Comb Filter & Resonator Plugins 2022 | Melda, Kilohearts, Tritik
The 7 Best Vibrato VST Plugins of 2022 | Audec, Audiority, Melda
The 7 Best Tremolo Plugins 2022 | Eventide, Melda, SoundToys, Kuassa…
The 7 Best Harmonizer Plugins 2022 | Eventide, Melda, Aegean Music
7 Best Sidechain Plugins 2022 (VST, AU, AAX) | Xfer, Cableguys..
Top 10 Noise Gate Plugins 2022 (And 6 FREE Free Gate Tools)
The 6 Best Ring Modulator VST Plugins in 2022 | KiloHearts, Melda
7 Best Autopan VST Plugins 2022 | CableGuys, Melda, Waves, Soundtoys
The 6 Best Frequency Shifter VST Plugins Of 2022
Top 11 Granulizer Plugins 2022 For Future Sound Design
29 Best Sound Design VST Plugins In 2022
Recording, Mixing, Mastering & Restoration
Complete Guide To Limiter: How To Use It (+ Best Plugins & Analog Limiters)
How To Use Auto-tune & Pitch Correction In Cubase?
Full Guide To Comb Filtering & Resonator – What Is It & How It works?
How Loud Should Subbass Be?
Complete Guide To Noise Gate – What It Is, What It Does & How To Use It?
How to Fix It & Avoid Phase Cancellation In Music?
Should Drums Be in Mono or Stereo? (Kick, Snare, Clap and Percussions)
Difference Between LUFS, RMS & True Peak Loudness Meters
4 Ways To Remove Noise From Your Recordings (+ How To Prevent It)
How Loud Should a Mix Be Before Mastering? Recording, Mixing & Levels
6 Unique Tips How To Improve Your Vocal Recordings
How And When To Use Algorithmic And Convolution Reverb In Your Mix?
Mixing With Reverb: How To Add Life To Your Mixes
5 Quick Ways To Make Vocals Sound Better (Mixing Guide)
How To Use Upward & Downward Compression in Your Mix?
What PC, RAM & CPU Do I Need For Music Production In 2022?
K. M. Joshi is a multi-award-winning composer and sound designer, specializing in film, game, and TV audio. He enjoys making cinematic music, rock, blues, and electronica.