Music producers toss out all sorts of terms that sound alien to most people. Words like “bouncing”, “stems”, and “DAW” would leave anyone outside the music world scratching their heads. However, a DAW is something that everyone who wants to get into music production should know about.
So join us as we answer the question, “What does DAW stand for in music?”, and describe some of the amazing things you can accomplish with a DAW.
What Does DAW Stand for In Music?
Hearing the word “DAW” probably conjures images of people gushing at the sight of cute things on the internet. However, in the music world, DAW is an acronym that stands for Digital Audio Workstation. It is essentially a software that allows you record, edit, and mix audio tracks. A DAW allows musicians and producers to create tracks from scratch and polish them up for final release.
What Features are Found on a DAW?
Modern DAWs are capable of doing many things. However, each one generally offers four primary features:
- Digital Audio Processing
- MIDI Sequencing
- Music Notation
- Virtual Instruments
Digital Audio Processing
Digital audio processing refers to the act of recording, editing, and mixing audio files digitally.
A DAW lets you record MIDI notes. It also offers editing and mixing capabilities so that you can adjust them to your liking for your final track.
Many DAWs also allow you to convert your MIDI notes into sheet music. This sheet music can then be printed out and shared with musicians for live performances.
DAWs contain a number of “virtual” instruments. These are plug-ins that receive MIDI infor and convert them into instrument sounds using digital sound generators.
What Can You Do With a DAW?
You may be wondering what exactly you can do with a DAW. Some of the most basic things you can do on a DAW include:
Recording Vocals or Instrument Tracks
As mentioned earlier, a DAW allows you to record tracks. If you have an audio interface, you can connect a microphone or live instruments to the DAW and record them.
If you have an interface that supports multiple inputs, you can record multiple instruments along with vocals simultaneously. This is great if you want to record a group performance.
Creating Audio Loops
DAWs also allow you to create audio loops. This refers to snippets or sections of audio tracks that are made to repeat. For example, you can create a four-bar drum pattern and loop it as many times as you would like to create a full track.
Editing Audio Tracks
Once you have recorded tracks and sequenced audio loops, you can start editing them. A DAW allows you to cut up, reposition, speed up, slow down, and even reverse audio tracks. All these possibilities let you expand on a simple loop and turn it into something much more.
One of the coolest things you can do on a DAW is add effects to your audio tracks. Modern DAWs offer dozens of great effects options and plug-ins. Some of these effects include:
The above effects allow you to spruce up the sound of each track and make some truly crazy-sounding compositions. Music producers often spend dozens of hours just tinkering with effects plug-ins and exploring the way in which they alter the track’s sound.
DAW vs Audio Editor
After learning about the definition of a DAW, you may be wondering if they are the same as an audio editor. While an audio editor can perform some of the same functions as a DAW, it is still quite limited. In addition to this, an audio editing program’s approach to editing or altering music is a bit different from a DAW’s approach.
Destructive and Non-Destructive Editing
The primary difference between a dedicated audio editor and a DAW is in whether or not they change the audio file “destructively”. Most audio editors change the audio file they are working on directly. They may alter the waveform or remove sections entirely. These changes are applied to the original audio track file loaded up onto the audio editor. This is referred to as “destructive” editing.
A DAW edits audio tracks non-destructively, meaning that it keeps track of each edit made to the original track, but without changing the original file. These edits are essentially re-applied to the track each time a saved project is loaded up on the DAW, but the original file remains intact.
An audio editor usually applies any audio effects destructively. Therefore, you cannot listen to an effect as it is applied in real time. Producers who would like to experiment with different effects will need to wait for each one to be applied to the track before playing it back. They must then undo the effect before searching for another suitable one to apply.
A DAW differs in this area because it allows you to preview an effect in real-time. You can apply the effect instantly and listen to how it affects the track. You can then make adjustments to the effect as the track is playing. This can be useful for producers who want to scroll through different effects in real-time and discover how exactly each one affects the sound.
Automation is another important feature that is usually exclusive to DAWs. Automation refers to the process of automating different parameters to vary across the length of the recording. For example, if you want a track to start off with a dark and recessed tone and before becoming brighter at a later point, you would apply a filter and automate the “cutoff frequency” to increase gradually.
A DAW typically lets you automate many different parameters such as volume, cutoff, panning, effects, and EQ. An audio editor is much more limited in this regard, and lets you automate only volume or reverb at most.
What are the Most Popular DAWs?
If you have decided to purchase or download a DAW, you may be wondering what the most popular ones are. The modern DAW market is massive. However, a few key names come out on top each time. These are:
- Ableton Live
- Logic Pro
- Pro Tools
- Fl Studio
- Studio One
What is the Best DAW?
It is difficult to say which DAW is the best. After all, these softwares essentially perform the same functions. Some people may prefer one DAW over another due to the type of workflow it facilitates. However, you can get by with using just about any DAW in a pinch.
Before purchasing any DAW, you should always ensure your computer or operating system is capable of supporting it. For example, Garageband and Logic are exclusive to Mac devices and won’t work on Windows computers.
As you can see, DAWs are amazing softwares that have revolutionized the music world. They have made creating music-on-the-go incredibly easy, and offer a wide range of effects capabilities. If you want to become a successful musician or producer, your first move should be to purchase or download a DAW that fits your workflow style. So get out there and start creating unique music with your DAW of choice.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.