Digital Audio Workstations

Ok. For the next few months I'm an intern at Peak Studios in Bradford, where I'll be honing my sound engineering and mixing skills. So for the first time ever, I'm in a professional environment in the field in which I want a career; even though I'm starting from the bottom, it's just refreshing to be around people with the same interests as me.

And I've made the long-delayed leap of faith from Cubase SX3 to Pro Tools 8, which was far less of a painful experience than I was expecting. So I'm gunna take this opportunity to write some quick overviews of all the DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) which I have had the pleasure/headache of using:

GARAGEBAND - If you're totally new to music production, I think this is the best place to start. It's got all the tools you need to make a decent demo, and (reasonably) realistic-sounding virtual instruments and loops for when you can't record the instruments you want. Just look up some "getting stated" tutorials and you'll quickly be able to make some decent music (T-Pain's first album was made in GarageBand). And it's free with all Mac computers. Trouble is that it's pretty limited functionality can hold you back and slow you down once you get more advanced...

LOGIC - Apple promote Logic as the natural progression from GarageBand, which to some extent is true, though it's a big technical step up, and it seemed like a steep learning curve for me (you'll probably need to actually read the manual!). The effects plugins and virtual instruments are excellent but take a while to understand, same goes for the editing features, and the layout is good but a little awkward at times. In my opinion it's a good tool while composing and producing the music, but I don't like to edit or mix with it... just seems cumbersome for some reason. I wouldn't buy it myself, though it will probably be perfect for some people's needs.

CUBASE - Love it. My favourite program to use, with the best layout and easiest to use features. But the built-in tools can usually get the job done but aren't amazing, so to really get the best out of Cubase you need to get a good selection of 3rd party plugins and virtual instruments to help make your tracks really shine. Luckily the choice of available plugins for Cubase is huge (VST/VSTi format). Apparently you can get Cubase for Mac as well as Windows, though I've never seen anyone who uses that combination...

PRO TOOLS - The industry standard, and for good reason. And now you can get it in the LE or M-Powered versions for under £200, to me it seems like the first choice for anyone who actually wants a career in music production/mixing/recording. In the new version, Pro Tools 8, the interface and features are excellent as you would expect (though not quite as good as Cubase in my opinion), and it finally includes some worthwhile virtual instruments (though not a patch on Logic). However, one big drawback is the need for the Digidesign hardware to be connected to your computer whenever PT is open, which makes PT the least convenient DAW of all of these.


REASON - I've heard this is amazing for producing all electronic music (with MIDI), but I assume it's quite limited when recording real instruments and bands. And apparently you cannot get plugins for it, at all. So normal professional mixing with Reason would be out of the question.

NUENDO - Made by the same company as Cubase, this one is aimed more at the post-production side of things.

FL STUDIO - Windows only, and aimed mainly at electronic music producers. Lots of great plugins available.

REAPER - Free to try, cheap to buy, and looks to be very powerful. Compatible with many formats of plugins.

SONAR - Don't know much about this, but it looks pretty good.

LOADS OF OTHERS - including some open-source ones (for free!)

So if you're want to know how to get started being a music producer, you'll almost certainly need one of these programs, so I hope this list helps :)

Also, when you get one for the first time, the interface will probably confuse the hell out of you, so you should either read the manual, or look for some tutorials on youtube or whatever. I promise that this will make the learning curve less steep.