Choosing the right DAW for music production in 2020 as a beginner
The DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation and is most definitely the digital centerpiece for you as a music producer. DAWs are what the sports field is for an athlete. Namely, the central hub of your work and not just some audio recording or music editing software. The basic functions of all DAWs are quite similar, but they differ in their workflow. Because of this difference, certain DAWs are often preferred by certain genres. More about this later. I’ve tried a number of DAWs in my music career so far, so I can tell you from my own experience that each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. Of course, in the end, it always depends on your own taste and style. Just because its the best DAW software for me doesn’t mean it has to be for you too.
The three DAWs that I will be looking at in more detail are also the three most popular ones. There are many more options, but they are beyond the scope of this article. Please note that I will only give my own opinion here. Your experience with DAWs can of course be very different from mine.
In any case, you will need a certain “learning period”. The DAWs mentioned here are all relatively intuitive, but it takes time to learn all the tricks and tips. I have been working mainly with Ableton for many years and I am still learning every day. Especially when it comes to shortcuts or keybindings.
As a side note: Every DAW has so-called stock-plugins, which are already included with the purchase. So far so good. But since the range of the included plugins strongly depends on which of the many different versions of the respective DAW you buy, I did not factor them in. If necessary, I will evaluate them in a separate post.
So here are my top three DAWs with recommendations for different genres and some pros and cons:
Recommended genres: EDM, Orchestral, Pop, Live recording
Ableton live is a beast. If you want to do something that has anything to do with audio editing, there’s no way around it.
With automation, you can create awesome things and in the field of audio recording Ableton is the measure of all things in my opinion.
Some beginners (I’ve been working with Ableton live for too long to be able to judge that) sometimes complain about the relatively steep learning curve and the less intuitive handling. But once you get used to Ableton it is just great.
If you plan to work a lot with samples and loops, Ableton should be the number one choice for you.
There are still a few places where you can notice that the former focus of Ableton was more on live performance, as you can see from the name. But despite all this, the DAW has become an integral part of studios all around the world.
Recommended genres: Hip Hop, EDM
FL Studio (formerly known as Fruity Loops until Kellogs claimed the rights to it) has had a really great development. Being more or less an underdog among DAWs a few years ago, Image-Line has really gotten behind the project and has constantly implemented many improvements, making it an absolute favorite for all kinds of bedroomproducers and especially beatmakers. The many innovations and fixes have made FL Studio a real contender for the “DAW throne”. Especially the fast and precise workflow is one of the reasons for its rapid rise. In my opinion, FL Studio is untouched when it comes to turning ideas into reality quickly and not wasting valuable creative time. The DAW can be controlled almost completely by keybindings, which further improves the workflow.
Audio editing is of course possible with FL Studio, but other DAWs are simply better and more logical in this respect.
There also is an FL Studio mobile App, which is advertised as a “beat-maker-to-go” kinda program. I have not had the time yet to check it out.
The big plus of FL is probably the step sequencer and the piano-roll, which are simply great and unparalleled in the DAW landscape.
Another advantage: As FL Studio is especially popular with a younger target group, there are countless YouTube tutorials on every question you can possibly think of.
Recommended genres: everything that is not Hip Hop for iOS
Do you have a MacBook or an iMac? Then get Logic Pro. But seriously, I’ve only been able to try Logic Pro on friends who own an Apple product because I’m more at home with Windows. But these few occasions were enough to be sure that Logic Pro is something special. Logic Pro combines the intuitiveness of FL Studio with the audio recording and automation capabilities of Ableton live. Logic Pro is also getting better and better, as developers successfully incorporate concepts from other DAWs into their own. In some cases, FL Studio maybe even a little faster in terms of workflow. Otherwise, Logic Pro is simply the reference to iOS.
Best Free DAW
The best free DAWs in my opinion are StudioOne and Reaper. Both Reaper and StudioOne are good alternatives for beginners. The only problem I see here is that when you get into a DAW, it should be what you’re going to use for a very long time. Whether this will be the case with the two free-DAWs mentioned here, I leave open at this point.