DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation—it simply refers to any system used for digital music recording, mixing and/or editing. A DAW can range from a program running in a browser window to a studio set-up of mixers, computers, software, digital audio interfaces, monitors and outboard gear.
There are online DAWs available, but I would recommend installing DAW software in your personal computer opr notebook computer, especially if you are doing voice or instrument recording. This is because, with web browser based DAW, there may be latency issues (i.e., difficulties in exactly synchronizing what is being recorded with the tracks that are already there).
Best Totally Free DAWs
There are quite a few free DAWs, but the five I would recommend are:
Cakewalk by Bandlab: Best free DAW for Windows
Basically it has everything—multi-track recording, lots of effects, good compatibility with a wide range of VSTs (i.e., third-party virtual instruments and effects), piano-roll sequencing and MIDI recording etc. The only drawback would be that because it has so many features, it is not particularly easy for beginners to learn (The user manual has 1800 pages!).
There is a stripped-down online version available—Bandlab Studio—that has interesting easily editable presets and that is easier to learn.
Garageband: Best free DAW for Mac and Macbook
This is the go-to-free program among Apple users (the more advanced Apple DAW software is Logic Pro). It is user-friendly, relatively easy to learn and comes with a lot of built-in resources like music loops, but project file sizes can be quite large. Review: Apple GarageBand (for Mac) review
Audacity: Best basic software for editing single tracks
Audacity is capable of multi-track recording, but that is definitely not what it was designed for. It is best for recording, editing and adding effects to single tracks. Therefore, if you are doing very simple kinds or recording, this program may be suitable for you. It can be used with Windows, macOS and Linux systems. Review: TechRadar review
MuseScore 4: Best notation software
This is a new version that has better sounds and feature (though it may be a little buggy). If you install it, make sure you also install MuseHub (a management system) and Muse Sounds (a better quality sound library). It can be used with Windows and macOS systems.
Review: Scoring Notes review
Ableton Live Light: Best DAW for live electronic performance
This scaled-down version of the Ableton’s paid software can be used for traditional multitrack recording, but it really comes into its own when it is part of live performance setup (along with things like MIDI keyboards, Launchpads, sequencers and synthesizers etc). Ableton Live Light it is not totally ‘free’ as it is normally acquired when purchasing hardware (e.g., digital audio workstations, MIDI controllers, synthesizers etc.); however, the software is especially suitable for people who also need that hardware. It can be used with Windows and macOS systems.
With the free ‘light’ version, there are a limited number of tracks, so if you are focusing on music recording rather than live performance, it may be better to try CakeWalk by Bandlab or get one of the paid versions of Ableton Live. Review: PCMag review
Best Almost Free DAWs
Cockos Reaper: This is a relatively inexpensive DAW that has all the bells and whistles, is highly rated and has as 60-day free trial period. The software still functions normally after that period (but you will get frequent reminders to buy the license). Review: Sound on Sound review
GoldWave: This is an alternative to Audacity—a good software program for recording and editing single tracks. I use it frequently for voice recording. It is inexpensive ($19 USD) and—like Reaper—is still usable after the free trial period has expires.
$$ Paid Software $$
If you are willing to invest, all of the following program are highly-rated and have all the standard features of a DAW:
- Ableton Live: This is especially suitable for live performance, but also has the features of a standard DAW and is very popular.
- Cubase Pro (by Steinberg): I often see this being used by music producers on YouTube who specialize in classical music and soundtracks. There is a free version—Cubase LE—so you can try that first and see if you want to get the full set of features.
- Digital Performer (by MOTU): This software seems popular among people doing film scores.
- FL Studio: The is one of the most popular programs nowadays, especially among music producers working in genres like EDM, Rap and Lofi.
- Logic Pro (by Apple): This is the paid software-of-choice for Mac and MacBook Users.
- Pro Tools (by Avid): This is considered by many to be the industry standard, so if you are thinking about a future career as a recording engineer or producer, this might be a suitable choice for you.
- Reason (by Propellerhead): This software tends to appeal to electronic music producers who like the analogue feel of the workflow and interface.
- Studio One (by PreSonus): This is a relative newcomer, but has gotten good reviews.
There are still a lot of other paid DAWs, but I am not sure if they are really that much better than the free software that is already available.
For more information about the above programs, you can refer to these articles:
- MusicRadar: Best DAWs 2023
- Hyperbits: What is the Best DAW? The Top Digital Audio Workstations in 2023
Typically, after a song is mixed and exported from the DAW software, it is mastered before being released. Mastering involves adding the finishing touches to the final mix of a song/album. It can involve:
- using compressors, limiters and or expanders, to make the song seem louder overall and/or to increase or decrease the dynamic range
- adjusting the frequencies (using EQ) to bring out instruments, to separate instruments and/or to deal with things like the mix seeming ‘boomy’ or ‘tinny’
- adding presence to the mix (to make it seem more ‘sparkling’)
- widening the stereo
- removing random clicks and pops
You can listen to before-and-after examples on this page: What Is Audio Mastering?
As far as I know, there isn’t a single free software program that does all of those things. Bandlab does have a free auto-mastering program that you can try: Bandlab Mastering, but it only has four presets for you to choose from.
There are, however, free programs that allow you to work on different aspects of mastering. You can find out more about them here:
- Best freeware plug-ins: Six best free mastering tools (features Youlean Loudness Meter 2, A1StereoControl, Noiz-Lab LE Mastering Bundle. Klanghelm IVGI. Vladg Sound Limiter no.6 amd Xfer Records OTT
- Mastering With FREE Plugins Start To Finish! (YouTube video includes: Loudness Analyzer, Melda EQ, Frontier, Kotelnikov, Loudmax, Stereo Widener)
For my own recording projects, I usually use Sound Forge Audio Cleaning Lab as my mastering software. It is inexpensive, easy to use and covers most of the typical mastering functions (though the software was primarily designed for noise reduction). It is suitable for me as I go for a kind of retro sound that doesn’t feature the heavy compression of most modern pop and rock music. Therefore, it might not be a suitable choice for most people (and I don’t know any other people using this program for mastering).
For recommendations regarding paid music mastering software, you can refer to this article: The 11 Best Mastering Plugins in 2023 (featuring Waves – Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain, Eventide Elevate Bundle, iZotope Ozone 9, Brainworx bx_XL V2, Brainworx bx_masterdesk. UAD SSL 4000 G Bus Compressor, FabFilter Pro-L 2, FabFilter Pro-Q 3, Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor, Nugen MasterCheck Pro, Soundtheory Gullfoss). If I decide to upgrade my software, I would likely go for iZotope Ozone as it seems like a complete package and has gotten good reviews.
Return to:Music Production for Beginners
It's clear both GarageBand and Logic Pro are complete DAWs. They're very compatible with each other, almost complementary if you use GarageBand to produce and Logic Pro to mix and master. We could decide that GarageBand is the best way to start, and Logic Pro is the next step in your music career.Which DAW is best for beginners music production? ›
- Studio One Artist.
- Bitwig Studio.
- Cubase Elements.
It's clear both GarageBand and Logic Pro are complete DAWs. They're very compatible with each other, almost complementary if you use GarageBand to produce and Logic Pro to mix and master. We could decide that GarageBand is the best way to start, and Logic Pro is the next step in your music career.What is the simplest DAW to use? ›
FL Studio. If there's any single DAW that could be considered the ultimate go-to program for beginners, it's surely FL Studio.Is Cubase a free DAW? ›
Cubase LE supports up to 24 MIDI tracks, 16 audio tracks, and 8 physical inputs with recording quality up to 24-bit/192 kHz. The free software also comes with the HALion Sonic SE 2 virtual instrument featuring 180 presets, so you can dive headfirst into producing music.Which DAW does Kanye use? ›
He uses the DAW Pro Tools to process and record his productions made using analog equipment. For instance, he chops, mixes and pitches samples using the ASR-10, and then processes these sounds using Pro Tools. Pro Tools is the most popular DAW among professional music producers.Why Ableton is better than logic? ›
The Main Differences Between Ableton vs Logic Pro are: Logic Pro is only available for Mac, whereas Ableton Live is available for both Mac and Windows; In my opinion, Ableton Live offers a strong grid-based live performance view (called the session view), which is still superior to Logic Pro's new loop view.Do real musicians use GarageBand? ›
According to an article from Hypebot, there have been many artists who used Garageband to make popular music, including the aforementioned Rihanna, Usher, Grimes, Steve Lacy, Juliana Barwick, George Pringle, and Justice.Do professional music producers use GarageBand? ›
Some professional musicians and producers use Garageband for making a demo before recording their official album with Logic Pro or other professional DAWs, such as Cubase, Pro Tools, etc.Do people use GarageBand professionally? ›
It's not the app – it's how you use it. GarageBand was never designed to be a professional tool, the name alone is a clue to that; it's a good solid start for making music nevertheless. But ultimately a track is only as good as the producer and musician. Trust your ears, and learn as you go!
1. Ableton Live. An inspiring DAW with a next-level workflow.What are the 3 most common DAWs? ›
To help you in making a decision, we've compiled some of the most popular DAWs in the world today. We'll start off with what we like to call the 'Big 3' – Ableton Live, FL Studio, and Logic Pro.What DAW does most producers use? ›
Our research has shown that Pro Tools is still by far the DAW of choice in professional studios and with the top music producers in world. If you are looking for a career working in professional studios or as a mixing engineer then it may be worth learning to use this piece of software.How can I start making music for free? ›
- GarageBand. OS: macOS. ...
- Qtractor. OS: Linux. ...
- LMMS. OS: Windows, macOS, Linux. ...
- Audacity. OS: Windows, macOS, Linux. ...
- Ardour. OS: macOS. ...
- DarkWave Studio. OS: Windows. ...
- Hydrogen. OS: Windows, macOS, Linux. ...
- SoundBridge. OS: Windows, macOS.
Try Logic Pro free for 90 days.
Get a free trial of the latest version of Logic Pro for your Mac.
Some of the most popular DAWs today are Logic, Pro Tools, Ableton Live, and GarageBand. These are the most popular because they are some of the most efficient DAWs used by most indie and professional engineers and producers.What DAW did Eminem use? ›
TC Electronic 2290 Dynamic Digital Delay.What DAW software does Drake use? ›
His primary producer, Noah “40” Shebib, uses a mix of different DAWs to achieve his laid-back, lo-fi sound. Pro Tools, Ableton Live, and Cubase form huge parts of his signature sound. Add to the mix his Maschine, and you got yourself a professional DAW set-up that won Drake four Grammys…and counting!What DAW is Travis Scott using? ›
So, what DAW does Travis Scott use? He, basically, uses three DAWs: FL Studio 11, Pro Tools, and Logic Pro X. You can find several pictures and videos online of Scott using these DAWs while creating his music in the studio. Travis clearly uses autotune plugins in a way that sounds pleasing to your ears.Why do most producers use Ableton? ›
Ableton Live Effect Racks
reverb and delay in a single track. This allows us to edit the individual effects independently. Admittedly, this setup can also be solved with any other DAW in the classic way with aux tracks, but it is much clearer and simpler this way.
|Live 10 Intro $79 On Premise||Max for Live - Crossgrade $79 On Premise|
|Live 10 Standard - Students & Teachers $269 On Premise||Live 10 Standard $359 On Premise|
|Live 10 Suite $599 On Premise||Live 11 Suite $749 On Premise|
The answer is yes, it is legal to publish songs made in Garageband. Apple provides the loops and samples royalty-free. In this article, I will explore this question in a bit more depth and answer a few other related questions along the way.Which celebrity uses GarageBand? ›
- Steve Lacy. Did you know that the Grammy's nominations for ''Damn'' by Kendrick Lamar and ''Ego Death'' by The Internet are a result of Lacy's work on GarageBand? ...
- Grimes. ...
- Julianna Barwick. ...
- George Pringle. ...
- Justice. ...
- Rihanna. ...
- Pride by Kendrick Lamar: Kendrick Lamar's producer, Steve Lacy, likes to create music wherever he is, he said in an interview. ...
- A Hundred Million Suns by Snow Patrol: ...
- Folie à Deux by Fall Out Boy. ...
- Cross by Justice. ...
- Umbrella by Rihanna.
Fl Studio Pro is the closest to Garageband when it comes to looks and feel/interface. This is also a professional DAW that is extremely popular, especially for hip-hop. We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. Fl Studio Pro is closest to GarageBand in terms of the interface.What platform do music producers use? ›
Our picks for the best music production software:
Studio One Artist. Apple Garage Band. FL Studio Producer. Native Instruments Komplete Start.
It can take a while to learn the ins and outs of the software, but with a little experimentation, you'll be making music in no time. Just start adding tracks for different instruments, playing music on whatever you have available, and using GarageBand to tweak the results.What is the disadvantage of GarageBand? ›
GarageBand has large project files which can easily fill up the storage. It sometimes causes the Mac to heat up while other similar software don't tend to do that. Not for the top tier professionals, as it is a more beginner friendly software. Lack of effects.What app is better than GarageBand? ›
- Adobe Audition.
- Ableton Live.
- FL Studio.
- Studio One.
Audacity lets you edit several tracks or even have multiple windows running simultaneously. When dealing with multiple audio tracks, audacity serves more purpose than Garageband. Garageband still remains a step ahead when you want software that provides professional-sounding podcasts.
GarageBand, Apple's consumer digital audio workstation.Which is the hardest DAW to use? ›
The most complex free DAW is easily Cakewalk by Bandlab. It is a highly mature software that was into version 10 before Bandlab purchased it (saved it) from Gibson.What is the world most used DAW? ›
Pro Tools takes the top spot, with nearly a third of all respondents saying they use Pro Tools all or some of the time. Apple Logic Pro takes second place, with nearly one in five using it all or some of the time. Given its relatively short life span, when compared to other DAWs, PreSonus Studio One takes third spot.What is the most used DAW in the US? ›
Pro Tools considers itself to be the industry standard in recording software and with good reason. It is probably the DAW most widely used in professional studios.How do I know which DAW to use? ›
- 1 – Your computer operating system and hardware. Are you on Mac OS or Windows computer? ...
- 2 – Audio Plugin Compatibility. There are three types of plugins formats in the market: ...
- 3 – Your Music Production Goal. The keyword when choosing a suitable DAW to produce music in is “workflow”. ...
- 4 – Your Budget.
If you are a Mac user then Logic Pro X is the best DAW hands down! I believe it's about $200-$300 bucks and it has thousands of high quality samples and sounds in there. There is also hundreds of stock plugins and filters to tweak those samples to make them your own.What DAW do house music producers use? ›
Famous producers use whatever DAW they are comfortable with. You can expect famous producers to only work in professional and popular digital audio workstations, or DAW for short. Famous producers will create their music in DAWs like Ableton, Logic Pro, FL Studios, Cubase, Protools and even hardware like the Akai MPC.Which DAW is better than Ableton? ›
The choice between these two DAWs comes down to the genre of music you want to create, since Reaper is better suited for live music recording, while Ableton is better adjusted to the needs of electronic music producers.Is there any free software for making music? ›
It's nearly impossible to claim what the best free music making software is. But some of the best digital audio workstations that are also free include GarageBand, Studio One, Bandlab, and Reaper.Which DAW is better than Logic? ›
- Adobe Audition.
- Ableton Live.
- Avid Pro Tools.
- FL Studio.
- Studio One.
- Sound Forge.
Both Logic Pro and Pro Tools are essentially as good as it gets when it comes to DAWs and producing music on a computer. The automation, the plugins, the usability… all completely on a par with each other. That's why so many hits today are created on one or the other.Is there a monthly fee for the Logic Pro? ›
You can have full access to all of the powerful features and sounds in Logic Pro for iPad by subscribing. You can try free for one month. To begin your free trial, simply sign up for a monthly or yearly subscription using your Apple ID.Is Ableton easier than FL Studio? ›
It's the beauty of having flexibility – you can adapt it to your workflow. Even though Ableton might be easier to understand from the get-go, FL may suit your needs better in the long-term, just with a little extra effort to figure things out.What is needed for beginner music production? ›
- Computer Hardware. For starters, a laptop or desktop computer capable of running modern software will be needed. ...
- Digital Audio Workstation. ...
- Musical Instrument Digital Interface. ...
- Audio Interface Hardware. ...
- Microphone. ...
- Other Accessories.