Music Recording Software Considerations
Which digital workstation is the best? If ever there was a subject that could cause a heated debate this would be crowned victorious as the winner.
The truth, in my opinion is that they all basically do the same thing. If this is the case then it will be the subtle nuances of each system that will matter most to you as an individual.
Personally I have only worked with 2 systems myself and so I am not truly qualified to elaborate on the nuances of every DAW out there.
However, I do not believe it is necessary to know the ins and outs of every digital workstation on the market to state a case for which direction one should go. Since they all basically do the same thing, as I had previously stated, the main factors in your choice will probably be the following.
FULL VERSION OR BUDGET VERSION, What is the top choice.
I am a Cubase user so I will make the case for which version based on this system.
As of the time of this writing, there are 3 versions of Cubase you can buy. Cubase Pro, Cubase Artist, and Cubase Elements. Pro is $559 USD, Artist is $339 and Elements is $99. If you are simply going to be tracking one instrument and vocals then, by all means, save your money and buy the least expensive level of whatever DAW you are going to go with. You are going to have ample tracks and processing power with even the most modest version of a DAW to get this job done.
If, however, you are like me and have a real penchant for production and creation the choice between the mid-priced DAW and the full version is a no-brainer. Go with the full version. In the long run, you are going to spend thousands of dollars on your setup so a few hundred dollars is a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things.
This is not a sales pitch for Cubase so understand that I am just using this as an example.
Which DAW you choose is up to you. Really strong criteria you may want to consider when deciding on which workstation may be this. Do you have a friend who is already using a system currently? If so, you may want to consider going with whatever station they are using for several reasons.
In the beginning, I found the whole digital recording world a real tough go. I literally had to hire someone at $60 an hour for 10 hours to come in and fast-track my learning so I didn’t want to just throw in the towel and give up.
Being the type of person I am, and wanting desperately to make these grand musical creations right out of the gate it was a real attack on my patience to go through the initial learning curve. I am a bit short on patience, to begin with, so don’t let this little rant deter you from moving forward.
If I had to do it again I would have gone with Protools because I had a friend who was pretty serious Protools guy who I could have taken advantage of by just sitting in on some of his sessions to get the ball rolling sooner.
Case in point. I have a musician friend who I played in several bands with over the years who has recently gotten into self-recording at home. My friend has an additional limitation that hampers his learning ability. He is blind! For a long time, he did not even think that digital recording was even a possibility for him for obvious reasons. However, with the speech function that modern computers have onboard and a little help from his friends he has been able to become surprisingly functional on Protools. If he had have consulted me before starting, I would have steered him towards Cubase for the reasons I have already stated. I am far more proficient with the Cubase interface and could be a lot more help to my friend if he had have decided to use Cubase.
Oh well. I do the best I can to help and in the interim, I hooked him up with my other buddy that is a wiz a Protools, at a very affordable hourly rate when my blind friend really needs Protools specific assistance.
The main point stands. It is going to be a lot easier learning the ins and outs of your DAW of choice if you have someone close at hand when the inevitable snags show up. Little things like how to export a track vs how to export a batch of track or lust one single track can be a real hard thing to sort out when you are confronted with this task for the first time. There is always the owners manual, of course, but have you looked at how thick that thing is yet? Pretty intimidating!
Another thing to consider when choosing your first DAW is whether or not you are going to be doing collaborations with other musicians that are working out of professional studios. I know this is probably a remote possibility but just in case your answer is yes, and if it is a yes then I am going to suggest you buy Protools.
Protools is still the industry standard in the big leagues and so for ease of collaboration it makes sense in this situation. If you are using the same platform as the studios you are going to be frequenting then it affords the option of simply exporting your session at home in its entirety onto a USB stick and then opening that session up at the remote studio exactly as it was formatted at your studio. Plugins, EQ, volume setting and all just the way you left it at home. This can be a very convenient way to function and in some cases an absolute necessity.
If you are really on a shoestring budget but you still want a DAW that is full featured you can get a copy of Reaper. There is a 60-day free trial and then a basic license is $60 and even the full version is only $225. This way if you are starting out on a super low budget you can get full features and scale up as you get a bit more money.
I have never worked with Reaper but from the feedback, I have listened to on forums the users of it are content that it is every bit as functional as any other system out there.
Let’s go through a list of what is available in terms of DAW options on the market.
- Logic Pro X
- Pro Tools
- Studio One
- Ableton Live
- Cubase Pro
- Cakewalk Sonar
- Propellerhead Reason
- FL Studio
- Cockos Reaper
- Bitwig Studio
- MOTU Digital Performer
- Mixcraft Pro Studio
You can already see a couple of the systems I have previously mentioned previously so I won’t elaborate on them. Just the rest.
1) Logic Pro X
If you are a Mac computer user there is a reason to believe that Logic is a real solid performer since it was custom created for Mac by Apple. I have not used Logic but rumor has it that the performance of the stock plugins that come bundled with the platform are second to none. It is also claimed by many users that the track count and ability to handle large projects on a Mac computer are very impressive compared to other DAW’s on a Mac.
What can one say…..Industry standard. The one complaint I have heard is that Protools does not play well with PC computers. The other complaint is that the system is a bit rigid in terms of its functionality but to be fair there are some good reasons to do with cross-platform compatibility that are necessary in this regard. Hey….you gain something you have to give up something too.
3) Studio One.
Considered to be an all-around performer across all use cases. A smooth workflow and good support.
4) Ableton Live.
A big hit with creators of house, dance and trance music due to some proprietary systems functions and a large library of factory templates to fast-track the creative process.
5) Cubase Pro.
I am too biased to elaborate on Cubase but I will say that It has a really good built-in vocal editing suite with all the functions of Melodyne and also has some fantastic upgrade software, particularly in the software synthesizer department.
This is a Windows-only software so Mac users move on. This system has been around for 25 years so it has stood the test of time.
Again, Reaper is great for those on a budget yet it does not fall down on features when placed side by side with the more expensive competition
Again, I reiterate. If you have a friend who is already using a particular DAW and if it makes no difference to you I would go with the same system as your buddy. Could save you a lot of wasted time and frustration. Digital recording has come so far that anyone still standing in the marketplace would have to have something worthwhile to offer.