Digital Music Production requires special software known as a Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW. Essentially, it’s a digital version of the large consoles we are accustomed to seeing in recording studios and concert venues. It interfaces with hardware items like the consoles, as well as with audio converters, plugins, and MIDI devices, but it stores the information on hard disc space instead of on magnetic tape. There are some serious advantages, as well as some arguably important disadvantages. But for a high school course, this is the most cost effective and efficient method for recording multitrack audio and creating, mixing, and mastering music.

There are many options, each with its own focus and features. Cost is definitely a consideration when it comes to the features, but it’s also important to know what you want your students to learn when they take the course. Here are some of the most common DAWs and their features.

Apple GarageBand

If you have Macs in your school, you already have this DAW. It’s a feature-rich workstation with lots of software instruments, royalty-free loops, and some decent processing options. It’s free for anyone with a Mac, but completely unavailable for PC users. Also of note is the fact that GarageBand is the base-level version of Apple’s professional DAW, LogicPro, which offers more instruments, better editing and mixing options, and bus tracks (at a price of about $200 per license).

GREAT FOR:

  • Small acoustic recordings
  • Learning software instruments and MIDI interfaces
  • Creating electronic music
  • Building songs using samples, loops, and synthesizers

FALLS SHORT WITH:

  • Large tracking projects (no bus tracks, no copy-paste plug-in settings)
  • Larger interfaces (clumsy navigation)

Reaper

This option is a small-company workstation that allows for plenty of flexibility. The license is a mere $60 per copy, and it offers the chance to use third-party plugins. The user experience is a little less smooth than more expensive options, but it has a great underground and home studio following.

GREAT FOR:

  • Rock bands and acoustic recordings
  • Electronic music
  • Inexpensive licensing
  • Customizability
  • Third-party plugins and effects
  • Multitrack recording and larger projects

FALLS SHORT WITH:

  • Industry familiarity (niche market)
  • User experience (not as “slick” as other options)

PreSonus Studio One

If you’re looking for a simple, sleek interface and good licensing, this is a great option. There are several different options for this DAW, including a free version, but it also comes with any PreSonus hardware, making it an inexpensive choice right away. It offers many of the central features to a full-featured DAW without the hefty price tag.

GREAT FOR:

  • Rock bands and acoustic recordings
  • Inexpensive licensing (five copies per license, Artist version comes free with PreSonus hardware, free version available as well)
  • Easy navigation and setup for beginners
  • Multitrack and large projects
  • Advanced mixing and editing processes

FALLS SHORT WITH:

  • Third-party plugins (cannot install on Artist or Free versions)
  • Software instruments (limited instruments)
  • Customizability (interface is fairly static)

Avid ProTools

Long considered the industry standard, this DAW offers the most robust feature set, but it also comes in at the highest price. While it is far more rich in features, it also comes with a much less convenient interface system. Still, for the true professional studio experience, most would refer you to ProTools.

GREAT FOR:

  • Rock band and acoustic recordings
  • Industry-standard experience
  • Very large projects
  • Convenient editing processes
  • Solid plugins and effects

FALLS SHORT WITH:

  • Ease of use (complex user interface)
  • Hardware compatibility (some limits due to proprietary hardware preferences)
  • Customizability (requires special proprietary plugin format)
  • Cost (very expensive single license with additional hardware to operate)

Final Thoughts

This is by no means an exhaustive list of DAW options, but these few options can get you where you want to go. Be aware of the cost limitations, the licensing needs, and the features you want to use in your class.

 

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