We’ve all heard the term DAW, not DOOR as in open. I prefer to say D.A.W. for that reason. It stands for Digital Audio Workstation if you didn’t know.
A DAW is a software application that you run on your computer. It’s primary purpose is to allow you to record, edit, mix and playback multi-track audio and MIDI data.
DAWs are used for producing and recording music, songs, speech, audio books, television and movie soundtracks, podcasts and any other situation where recording and editing of audio is needed.
DAWs have a long history dating back to the late 80s. Some of us fondly remember Steinberg Cubase on our Ataris or Apples Macs. When Digidesign introduced Pro Tools in 1991 it became an industry standard in most commercial recording studios.
These days we have a fantastic selection of extremely powerful DAWs available which put the early software to shame.
Some of the most popular choices today are:
- Ableton Live
- Bitwig Studio
- FL Studio
- Logic Pro
- Pro Tools
- Studio One
Audacity is sometimes mentioned, but th is not a full-blown DAW as it focuses mainly on audio with a MIDI functionality.
Another common use for DAWs is to host VST instrument and effects plugins that you can play from a controller keyboard and record to build up your compositions.
To get the most out of your DAW most people will use a good quality USB audio interface for high quality recording and playback.
All DAWs have the same core functionality. You can record and edit audio or MIDI over multiple tracks. There will be a standard set of transport control derived from the tape recorders of yesteryear, play, record, rewind and so on.
Each track has a set of controls for adjusting the levels, effects sends, pan, eq and this takes inspiration from the analogue studio mixing desk.
Another common feature is the ability to record and edit automation curves for adjusting various parameters over the playback of a track, such as volume, or the cutoff control of a synthesizer.
MIDI can be entered and edited in the event list, piano roll editor or even as musical notation. Audio can be treated using inbuilt effects of 3rd party VST plugins. Most DAWs allow manipulation of audio samples such as time stretching or pitch shifting, referred to as warping.
Modern DAWs also provide compatibility with video files for composers who are writing scores for video productions.
DAWs today are extremely powerful with many features and with that comes complexity. There is usually quite a steep learning curve and once a user becomes familiar with a DAW they may be reluctant to switch.
Myself, I like to use Ableton Live for creating my musical compositions. For serious audio and MIDI recording and editing I always use Reaper. For fun experimentation I like to use Reason with its unique rack containing dozens of inspiring effects and instruments.