Top DAWs for Music Production
Many music producers believe their method of production and choice of digital audio workstation (DAW) is the best, but this is a misguided belief as there is no single right way to make music. Every producer has different needs and preferences, and every DAW has unique features. The “best” DAW for one person may not be the best for another, so it’s important to find the one that works best for your individual needs.
Music producers who have a basic understanding of music theory will essentially be more effective in their craft. They will have more tools to work with and be more disciplined in their approach. This applies to any genre, including HipHop, EDM, Latin music, etc. They won’t doubt their ability to come up with new material, as they view it as a skill they have been trained to deal with. Ultimately, this is the main benefit of learning music theory intricacies.
What is a DAW?
A DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is software used by music producers to create music. There are many options available, both free and paid, catering to different users (Mac/PC) and production styles (electronic, hiphop, live instruments). With advancements in technology, the range of options has increased greatly in the past decade. It’s important to find a DAW that fits your needs and has all the necessary features. Lets have a look at the top DAWs of 2023 and their differences, to help you find your preferred workstation.
I personally preferr to create my beats in FL Studio because the workflow is less distracting for me and keeps me focused on my creativity. I love using the pattern sequencer to quickly put down ideas. For beat mixing, vocal comping and mixing, as well as mastering I prefer to work with Avid Pro Tools because the mixer routing works the simplest and Pro Tools has very high end panning and sound quality. Note there is no right or wrong, this is only my personal preference.
Fruity Loops (FL Studio)
FL Studio was originally launched as FruityLoops and was inspired by Propellerhead’s Rebirth application. It has become a nearly iconic loop-sequencer-turned-DAW for a generation of producers, especially in hip-hop and EDM. Historically, FL Studio has only been available on PC, but that changed with FL Studio 20. FL Studio 20 is actually version 13, but it is titled for the software’s 20th anniversary and it now has a native 64-bit Mac version. Existing FL Studio users now automatically own upgrades to version 20 on both Mac and PC, thanks to Image-Line’s lifetime free upgrades.
For new users, FL Studio 20 has a lot to offer, including excellent new features. However, the DAW’s layout and work flow still show its roots as a loop sequencer. FL Studio splits creative, mixing, and arrangement duties into different sections, each with its own UI window. The main arrangement space is known as the Playlist and the Channel Rack is used to select instruments, plugins, and route audio to the Mixer. Each instrument in the Rack gets its own simple step sequencer.
FL Studio 20 is available in four versions: Fruity, Producer, Signature, and All Plugins Bundle. The Fruity edition is the cheapest and lacks audio capabilities and advanced plugins. The Producer and Signature editions have full audio capabilities, but the Signature edition has more plugins. The All Plugins Bundle is the most expensive and comes with Image-Line’s entire collection of instruments and effects.
The Mixer in FL Studio has each track getting its own channel strip and insert plugin slots for effects processing. Mixer tracks are linked to instrument routings from the Channel Rack and Patterns can sequence multiple elements across a single clip. This fragmented creative approach has pros and cons. It has a lot going on in the interface, but it is also flexible and can be inspirational. It is popular with hip-hop and dance music producers because its focus on Patterns suits genres with an emphasis on loops, builds, and breakdowns.
However, some users may find the work flow clunky and slow because of the need to load new windows for many sequencing and editing duties, and the heavy emphasis on toolbars and menus. Despite its workspace, FL Studio is a well-equipped DAW with excellent included effects plugins and sequencing and MIDI creation tools. New users will enjoy the Riff Machine, the neat piano roll, and the strong selection of delay tools.
Avid Pro Tools
Device: Mac, PC
Third-Party Plugin Support: AXX
Free Trial: Yes
Link to Purchase: https://www.avid.com/de/pro-tools/audio-recording-software
Artist using Pro Tools: DJ Seip, Devvon Terrell, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Mick Ronson, Dr. Dre, Timbaland, Daft Punk,
Pro Tools is widely recognized as the industry standard digital audio workstation and is used in recording and film production studios around the world. Despite its limited popularity in the home recording market, having knowledge of Pro Tools can give you an advantage in the industry. Avid, the company behind Pro Tools, has recently made improvements to the software’s workflow to allow for uninterrupted creativity during playback. They have also introduced Avid Cloud Collaboration for cloud-based project storage and the Avid Marketplace to connect users with the audio community.
Pro Tools is a comprehensive and reliable solution for all audio needs, offering versatility in virtual instrument composition and stability in professional recording and mixing use. Despite its slow adoption of new features, Pro Tools remains the go-to choice for cross-platform, high-end DAWs in small and large studios.
However, running Pro Tools on a computer requires significant processing power to avoid issues with freezing, crashing, and latency. Nevertheless, for those serious about audio production, having a strong computer is a must.
Device: Mac, PC
Third-Party Plugin Support: VST, AU
Free Trial: Yes
Link to Purchase:
Artist using Ableton:
Ableton Live is widely regarded as one of the most popular digital audio workstations (DAW) among electronic, pop, and rock producers. It was designed for live performance and has a fast and intuitive workflow, making it an attractive option for music production. Ableton Live is capable of producing a variety of genres and is even used for non-music applications such as podcast editing. The main drawback of Ableton Live is its resource-intensive nature, which requires a strong computer setup for optimal performance, especially for Mac users. Despite this, Ableton Live is a great choice for those in the audio editing field with the necessary computer power.
Logic Pro X
Device: macOS 10.13.6 or later
Third-Party Plugin Support: AU
Free Trial: Yes
Link to Purchase: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/logic-pro-x/id634148309?mt=12
Artist using Logic Pro: Calvin Harris, Ed Sheeran, Billie Eilish, Shawn Mendes, Pharrell Williams, Alesso, Disclosure
Logic Pro X is considered the best DAW software in terms of value for money. It offers advanced functionalities and powerful features that make it a more complex version of GarageBand. Its intuitive workflow and unique tools like tempo match and native VSTs make it a strong contender for the title of best all-around DAW. Seriously, their native VSTs are powerful.
With its versatility, Logic Pro X is suitable for a wide range of musical genres, from electronic to rock, pop, folk, and even jazz. It comes with built-in brush drum kits, making it an ideal choice for all types of music production. The only drawback is its exclusive compatibility with Mac computers, making it inaccessible to Windows users.
Device: Mac, PC
Third-Party Plugin Support: AAX, VST, and AUX
Free Trial: Yes
Link to Purchase: https://www.steinberg.net/cubase/
Artist using Cubase: Hans Zimmer, Ian Kirkpatrick, Zedd, Ludwig Göransson, Cirkut, Alan Silvestri
Cubase is a professional DAW produced by Steinberg that provides recording, mixing, and music production tools. It has a user-friendly interface with quick access to a wide range of features. Cubase also has an excellent mixing console and comprehensive virtual instruments and effects. It supports many plugins and third-party tools, making it easily integratable into any production setup. Additionally, it offers comprehensive MIDI editing and arranging capabilities. Cubase works seamlessly with hardware and software, making it a reliable option for professional audio production. The program runs smoothly and efficiently, even when working with complex projects. Whether you’re a beginner or experienced producer, Cubase offers top-notch features and capabilities.
Despite being a newcomer in the professional audio editing world, Studio One by PreSonus has made a significant impact. The drum editor, similar to FL Studio’s step sequencer, enables easy beat creation for various genres. The harmonic editor excels in transposing MIDI files to a specific key, making it simple to fit a pre-defined chord progression. Although the user interface may seem cluttered, the efficient workflow makes up for it. In conclusion, Studio One is user-friendly, intuitive, and powerful.