Building out the Home Studio, Part 2 - Choosing a Digital Audio Workstation
When you decide you want to make some tunes, you're going to need a few things, as I mentioned in Part 1 of Building out the Home Studio.
And probably the most important choice you'll face, is what kind of software you want to build your studio around. If you don't have experience with any of these tools, as I didn't when I started, this choice can be pretty daunting. However, there's a good overview of the major reasons at E-Home Recording Studio - a great resource for anyone looking to make their own music making space. Check it out here.
I won't rehash the excellent advice over at E-home, but rather will give my take on how to choose a DAW, what I ended up with, and if I've been satisfied with my choice.
Why the DAW is so Important
For me, choosing the DAW that fits you best is critical because it determines your workflow. If you've been making music digitally for a while, you probably already know your workflow and want to stick with what is fastest for you.
I didn't have any preference when I started, so I looked around a bit at what different experts recommended, but then ultimately made my decision based off of the time I've spent in software development and marketing.
Several things stand out when you look at these software packages - most have been around for a long time, and while that can be a good thing, it can also mean some of the software is really long in the tooth and can have some (in my opinion) unnecessary overhead in features and cost. So I decided to look at the new solutions. I watched several demos and prioritized the software that looked easiest/fastest to use, and that I found the look and feel to be appealing, since I knew it'd be a screen I'd be looking at for a LONG time to come.
One other thing to consider, is what kind of music you'll make and if you'll use this software to perform live. Most will do these functions, but this can definitely be a big factor in choosing which software will work best for you. So, which DAW to get?
When I'd learned enough to know I needed a DAW, it was time to survey the field. When you do this it is really helpful to demo any of the software you think you may want. If, like me, you're trying to choose without having any of your own gear yet, it can be really helpful to haunt your local music store or Guitar Center and play around with their computer setups.
The main choices I considered were Logic Pro, Fruity Loops, Ableton Live, Pro Tools, and Studio One. There are other good options as well but since I wanted to do EDM/soundtracks these seemed to be best suited for my needs. Logic Pro looks great, and seems to work quite well. But I'm not a Mac guy, nor did I want to become one (that would seriously add to my startup cost as I already had a very powerful PC), so sadly Logic was eliminated early since it is Mac only.
Fruity Loops was another strong candidate, but didn't seem to be as widely used or accepted by some hardware manufacturers, and the mobile version was relatively buggy when I tried it out. I wanted something stable and fast so this eliminated Fruity Loops.
Ableton Live was almost the winner - looks good, seemed to work fast but, like Pro Tools, it was on the pricier side. While I liked its single screen interface, I didn't like the aged look of some of its interface and windows so that was another point against it.
Pro Tools is super powerful and has so many features - kind of too many in my opinion. I spent quite some time trying to learn its sister application for composing, Sibelius, and while it was powerful, the software was clunky and seemed to lack a cohesive vision. The same was true when I demoed Pro Tools on a setup in my local music store. Some functions didn't work, and it had more than one hang while I was trying just to put in a few tracks. It is also expensive - far too highly priced in my opinion for the average home studio, especially given its aging UI.
Finally we come to the winner, for me - Studio One. It has a modern interface, and it has a pretty awesomely featured starter version in Studio One Artist, and even a free version in Studio One Prime. I hadn't used it long when I knew I'd want and need the Pro version - compared to others it was pretty reasonably priced. I also love the interface - because it is newer, only on the market since 2009 - everything is drag and drop. The UI scales well for 2k and 4k screens. Its got some great sounding stock plugins, and also some killer hardware that integrates natively, such as the Faderport 8 (which I got later, and LOVE).
I have been really happy with Studio One and highly recommend it. Its both Mac and PC, and the interface has been great to use. It's also very easy to automate in, and is stable. The Mastering module is also a great screen if you want to save money and do your own mastering as you learn. Updates have been coming out regularly and have only made it better.
So I recommend you take a look at the field, play around, and see what fits you best - but if you just wanted to skip all that and start with the free version of Studio One, I think that's a good way to go too. And no, they didn't pay me to say that :-), it's just that good.