5. DAW [Digital Audio Workstation]
An electronic device or application software used for recording, editing and producing audio files such as musical pieces, songs, speech or sound effects.

a. What DAW do you use?

Aegri Somnia: Studio One

Stuzha: I don’t use anything, except Adobe Audition and some plugins… I’m going to look into Ardour.

Mebitek: I use Native Instruments Maschine and Ableton Live.

Seesar: I use one of two computers, a playback system, and one of two input systems in my private studio. I run Windows 7 Ultimate and Windows 10, 4-8GB of RAM, iCore processors, AMD graphics cards running three monitors with an extended display, a 24 channel digital Yamaha desk, an M-Audio optical input soundcard and a direct M-Audio USB soundcard, an Onkyo power amp, and a set of Harmon-Kardon playback monitors and a set of Advent playback monitors, plus high end Pioneer headphones with over the ear noise-canceling cans. I primarily use Röde and Blue mics. I use the latest full version of Adobe Audition for recording and editing. I have various plug-ins for mastering, but I also typically only master on a very limited scale, leaving the full mastering to the record labels.

Atrium Carceri: Cubase

Skadi: I use several DAWs to produce my music. It depends on the style I want to produce. Mainly, I use Ableton Live for production. However, I also have Propellerhead’s Reason and Cocko’s Reaper for my side projects, and FL Studio which I mainly used before I switched to Ableton.

protoU: Ableton Live

Shrine: I used to use REASON when I started with my music project back in 2003. In 2009 I switched to SONAR, which I’m still using today, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be switching to another DAW ever.

Shrine, using the Sonar DAW.

Sonologyst: I prefer to escape all questions about DAW, computer and so on, simply because there are not peculiarities for dark ambient music. The logic of hardware and software is the same for all kinds of music. Just, I can add, that I’m a graduated sound technician, so I learned techniques of recording, mixing and mastering through regular courses. But as in all studies, the experience is the most important factor. Do it, do it and do it again. And after some years everyone will find the right set up and process. And for people like me, who don’t have big amounts of money to invest in expensive hardware and software, the experience will help to do more, using less. And this is a big advantage for creativity; when you have poor instruments and have to use your brain to figure out something good. Take a few small stones, beat them together and record the sound by using some freeware delay and reverb. Probably you will be very positively surprised of the result.

b. Do you think there is a best DAW to be used, or is it personal taste?

Kammarheit: Any DAW will serve you well, once you know how it works. I have been using Reason and Ableton Live for many years. I had the ambition to learn Cubase, but I just felt frustrated and kept looking for the functions I already knew in my other programs.

Atrox Pestis: It’s all personal taste. For noise and dark ambient, I hardly use DAWs full capabilities or features. I came from an audio engineering background, so I am really just using the tools I have and already know. Some people need DAWs a lot more minimally, and are fine with something like Audacity, while others might need a lot more from the program, and use something like Abelton or even use multiple.

Atrium Carceri: Personal taste, and it depends on what you are creating. If you are working with a lot of digital beats, a loop based program might be faster (FL Studios, Ableton), while if working on a lot of precision wave editing something like Cubase will be a better fit.

Shrine: There’s no best DAW, but choosing one isn’t about taste either. It’s about workflow. There is a set of things you have to do in order to compose a track and this set is highly individual. So a producer usually sticks to a DAW that suits his/her workflow best.

Skadi: It’s definitely personal taste which DAW you prefer. Some like Cubase, Presonus One, or Cakewalk Sonar. Others like Reason, Ableton, or FL Studio. The best approach is to check out the DAWs, and stick with the one you like most regarding workflow and features.

protoU: I know a lot of people that make great ambient music within various programs. I like Ableton, because you can create with it and do live shows. Not all DAWs are created this way. Also, it looks good. Esthetics play a very important role in what I do. For example, I can’t stand how Cubase looks 🙂 You open it up and immediately strive to collapse it, because the UI is just so ugly 😀

protoU, performing live.

Seesar: Personal taste. The main thing is qualtiy of output (which also means quality of input). If you can build a DAW that maintains clean recordings, clean editing, clean playback, and clean means of saving and disceminating your works, you can use whatever you prefer, and with which you are familiar and comfortable. In a way, being comfortable with your equipment is the way to ensure that your recordings are clean and professional. Of course, you also have to start with equipment that allows for that, too. Be intelligent when choosing equipment. Do your research, try not to be hasty, talk to other studio engineers, read reviews, and work within your financial means to build your DAW. Today, it is easy to get lots of inexpensive equipment, but not necessarily easy or cheap to get professional, easy to use equipment. Get what works for you, and evolve as your music and career grow.

As for editing software, again, use what is within your means and with which you are comfortable. It is extremely important to be able to work smoothly with your editing program. You will need to know your software inside and out to accomplish creating the music you hear in your head, in a timely manner. That being said, you should expect a steep learning curve to familiarizing yourself with your first editing program. But, do not let that discourage you. If you have not worked with an editing program before, do some research and work through a few tutorials before really delving into your first pieces with it. You will want to be fluent with the program to both create your works and meet industry deadlines. Also, you will want to test your software with your equipment to make sure everything is compatible and will provide you with clear, and smooth recordings every session. No composer or performer has time to troubleshoot tech or stop and clean up raw tracks every time you work on a new piece. You will be very happy you took the time to get everything set up and that you are familiar with the software when you are tasked with creating seven new tracks in three days and have no time to do anything but create music.

c. Did you have training in the use of this program or did you learn it yourself?

Shrine: No training. I learned by myself. I didn’t even learn all of it, only the things I need.

Shrine, studio.

Kammarheit: I have never had any training. You don’t need to. I use my programs as often as possible; and I am not afraid to experiment with other types of music, just to learn new techniques. I am still using my programs even on the days when I am not making proper music. Even when I am online, I have half the screen showing my DAW, so I won’t get stuck in social media.

Aegri Somnia: I learned it by myself. Today you have tons of Youtube lessons, and you can learn every tiny bit of specific operations in your DAW, its all online available for free, for you to learn.

Seesar: Yes and no. Initially, yes, I learned to use my editing software by myself, then I spent time working with two studio engineers to get advice and learn new tricks. Later, I upgraded my software and had to relearn certain things, even though they were supposedly easier in the new version of the program. But, it was not a difficult task, and I was able to engage with the software on my own. I will say, though, that there are many useful tutorials and online courses, so if you are not fully familiar with your software, it will benefit you greatly to take the time to go through some of the available material and ensure you are creating professional level music. Creativity is something you will certainly have if you are reading this. Make sure your creativity is rewarded with professional sounding recordings. Know your equipment, work with engineers, know your strengths and weakness, and engage your music accordingly.

protoU: Mostly I’m self taught. I have a lot of friends that make music with this program, so we kind of learned from each other. Also my husband uses it. Dronny Darko. You might know him 😉

Shrine: Once you are familiar with the basics of computer music production, try the demos of as many DAWs as you can. Try to complete a track in each of them. This way you will find what suits you best.

Seesar: Ensure your equipment is compatible and will provide you with professional recordings, without hindrance. If you need a new computer, get one. If you need a good mic, get one. If you need the latest version of an editing program, get it. A smoothly running DAW is essential to being a professional. If this is your job or main creative outlet, you should treat it as such. You will be tremendously happy and far more productive with energy spent on your creativity rather than struggling with your DAW.

protoU: When choosing a DAW, I would lurk a lot of info on the internet, on how each program works and how it looks. In the long run, it will be something you will spend a lot of your time in front of, so make sure it has the potential and the look to not irritate you 🙂

Mebitek: To experiment, experiment and still experiment!

Next: Dark Ambient 101: Computers
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