A brief glance at DAW’s, and their effect on music
The end of the nineties has been a turning point regarding accessibility in the craft of music production. The introduction of computers, and subsequently DAW’s has made a music production attainable to the masses, and the elitist atmosphere was already starting to wear off. Previously, since the introduction of the early synthesizer, electronic music (and inherently electronic instruments) was such a secluded domain, and entering it was sort of a lottery of life. Given to low demand for electronic instruments at the time, their price was astronomical, merely unattainable sums of money for young enthusiasts to bear. Yet, at the same time, owning an expensive instrument does not grant virtuosity.
It’s been little over twenty years since the first decent DAW hit the market and we can conclude that today’s musician has been granted access to a myriad of musical opportunities, and can enjoy an almost absolute creative and technical freedom. All genres that arose over the years have a DAW that will suit their needs, considering its rhythmical and structural peculiarities. It is often the case that Techno or House producers will opt for Ableton Live, and Hip Hop producers will mostly prefer FL Studio, and so on. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, to merely prove that it is a regularity. Some DAW’s promote linear progressions like Logic, for instance, some encourage meticulousness to mixing and sound quality, and so forth. It’s all hidden in the design and the workflow.
“It’s never been a secret that applications control the way we work, why would we then shy away from accepting that our music is partly defined and shaped by the software we use?”
At the same time, we almost turn a blind eye to the fact that maybe, just maybe, your favorite electronic artist writes the music he/she writes due to the software on their computer. It feels like an unorthodox idea; it’s like the realm of dry and dead zeroes and ones partly influences the realm of creative energy that eventually boils down to a song, an album, etc. What if there are certain features that are distinctive your favorite artist, are all due to the design of the music application he/she uses every single day. Multiple hours a day. Visual structure is everything.
Ableton Live will attract artist that have a penchant for slow, linear progressions due to its grid view. This is why, as we mentioned above, Techno artists will stick with Ableton. It allows them to play live sets and blend 6-to-7-minute tracks together seamlessly. A wide array of artists are very fond of its comfortable, yet minimalistic interface that is simple and intelligible. Moreover, Live has a fantastic add-on that was developed by Cycling ’74, called Max4Live that is a front door to a new world of endless possibilities; it allows you to build and design your effects, instruments and MIDI instruments.
FL Studio, on the other hand, once started, displays a minimalist grid and a few drum channels, so you can start building your drum section right away. Fruity Loops’ workflow makes sequencing and sampling comfortable and intuitive. At the very beginning of the 00’s there has been a feedback of influence between FL and the Hip Hop community. Fruity Loops is comfortable to build atavistic, down-to- earth rhythms, and producers found the software engaging, and let the software affect their own production style, and who knows what Hip Hop would be like if FL wouldn’t have existed?
The Steinberg Cubase has been among the most prolific DAW’s since its inception, 27 years ago. It was an independent product and has achieved some impressive milestones, and it was acquired by Yamaha in 2004. Cubase is intended as a very complex and self-sufficient audio software, with an exhaustive list of plug ins. Yamaha has invested lots of working hours in their high-end, virtual instruments and effects. Producers that are fond of Cubase say that no other VST’s are essentially necessary. This software has quite a few cool, distinctive features. An example would be the render-in-place feature; it allows you to migrate your projects easily from different digital workstations to Steinberg directly with no hassle.
Reason has never been on top of my list, due to its interface, but that is a purely subjective statement. I must admit, however, that I’m in love with the very graphic way of patching and linking plug ins together by means of patching cables. That does create a better understanding of how these machines work and their underlying principles. This is crucial knowledge for a producer. The layout will not only reveal the way things work in the digital production world, but analog synths as well. Reason’s interface will surely make you more meticulous to detail during production.
What is the best digital audio workstation? Obviously, none of them is. What did you expect?
The fundamental question is “Which DAW will work best for you?” Considering the insane competition on the audio software market, different DAW’s will be able to provide an insanely big range of opportunities to your music production process, but at the end of the day, your workflow will count more than the array of technical possibilities. The very foundation of music production software is its User Experience. We must exploit the fact that software has trial periods — so that you’re not forced to take random comments on the Web as informed opinions.
Try to approach choosing the best DAW based on its interface, on how intuitive it feels to you and how “easy going” it is to your workflow. We should be looking into the topic as if a producer’s DAW is an extension of their talent, not their driving energy.