Music producers: what software to choose

Choosing the right DAW can be a tough decision. Let On Track Cuts' Gary Hiebner help you make the right one...

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Choosing the right DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) for your music productions can be one of the toughest decisions.

There’s quite a few of them on the market, all with different features and workflow methods.

So in deciding on which one to choose it’s good to ask yourself what you actually need. This will then help direct you to the right DAW. Let’s explore what questions you need to ask so that you can narrow down the choices... 

What Operating System are you going to use?

One of the first things you need to ask yourself is what operating system you are going to run for your music productions on. Mac? PC? Or both? This can help you cut some of the DAW options out of the equation.

For example, if you’re going to be on a PC this cuts out Logic. If you’re on a Mac that is going to cut out candidates like FL Studio and SONAR.

And if you have a dual system setup in your studio, then you need to explore DAWs that are cross-platform, like Ableton, Cubase and Studio One.

Audio or MIDI?

Now another big question is to check what types of tracks you are going to be focusing in on with your productions. Are you mainly going to be doing audio editing and mixing and mastering? Or are you mainly going to be dealing with MIDI and virtual instruments?

From my experience, if you want to focus solely on audio, then the king with audio editing and production is ProTools. But Cubase isn’t far behind. Logic, on the other hand, isn’t the best with audio editing. It has some great tools but is lacking in some features compared to ProTools and Cubase.

Now if your main focus is going to be on composition and using virtual instruments with MIDI tracks, then Logic and Cubase are great. These have some advanced MIDI editing features which are lacking in some of the other DAWs. So, I would highly recommend these two if that is the path you’re going down.

Included plugins, instruments and content

Now if you are wanting a DAW that comes packed with a lot of plugins, instruments and content, then I have found Logic and Studio One to be the DAWs that come with the most bundled tools. You could literally write a whole song without having to use any third party instruments and effects. Whereas with an application like Reaper, the effects and instruments are pretty limited. So you would have to fork out for extra plugins and instruments. Keep this in mind.

What's your budget? 

This is probably the most important question to sum it all up for you. What is your budget? What are you willing to spend on your DAW of choice?" 

Now I did a little experiment and went through and found all the suggested selling prices for almost all of the DAWs on the market. Now this excludes any special pricing, crossgrades, upgrades or free DAWs. So keep in mind these can all change the price point.

Here’s the list (up to date as of May 2018):

Magix Sequoia - £2,580
Steinberg Nuendo - £1,615
Ableton Suite - €599
Steinberg Cubase - £480
Avid ProTools - £20.75 (per month) 
Magix Samplitude - £299
MOTU Digital Performer - $499
Propellerhead Reason - £299
Bitwig Studio - $399
Magix Acid - £119
Image-Line FL Studio Signature Edition - €289
Presonus Studio One - £344.40
Digital Performer - $500
Harrison Mixbus 32C - $299
Apple Logic Pro X - £199
Tracktion Waveform Ultimate Pack - $200
Acoustic MixCraft Pro - $179
nTrack Studio Ex - €139
MuTools MuLab - €99
Renoise - $75

So it’s interesting to see how high up for example Cubase is on the list for price, and how low Logic is in the list. But with Logic, you’ll also need to factor in the price of a Mac. But it’s still interesting to see all the prices for the different options.

But crossgrading is also a nice way to go if you’re using one DAW and would actually like to move to another. So check if this is an option. For example, Studio One offers cross grades from almost all other DAWs. So it’s a nice tempting way to move over to another DAW.

Try them out

Another thing to also check out is to see if there are demo or trial versions of the DAWs you feel you are more inclined to. Most offer 30-day fully feature trials so you can really test them out."  

So this is really a nice way to go if you’re not entirely sure. Maybe test out one DAW for a month, and check out all its features. And then the next month try another one and compare them to narrow it down.

Conclusion

I hope this has helped give you some pointers to look out for to decide on what DAW you want to use. I know it can seem like quite a bit of information overload when making these choices. But narrowing them down can really help you. Good luck with your music productions!

Visit the On Track Tuts website to find out more.

Connect with Gary at facebook.com/OnTrackTuts or via his Youtube Channel 

Study Music Production in London 

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Speak to our Admissions Team who can help find the right course for you, call them on 020 7328 0222 or email enquiries@icmp.ac.uk

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by Gary Hiebner, On Track Tuts
May 10, 2018
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