Tag Archives: DAW

Getting Started: The DAW

No matter what form of electronic music one records, something to record on is absolutely essential. A DAW is short for a digital audio workstation, and is the best way to record music. A DAW uses a personal computer to record audio, it is also a host for plugin software synthesizers and effects.

My advice is to start out by getting an inexpensive DAW. For those with MACs, Garageband will do the trick. For those who are starting on a PC or Linux, Reaper or Tracktion are likely the best option for a low cost platform.

There are a large number of DAWs and everybody has their favorite. If you do research and find something you can both afford and fits what seems like you would like to use and learn it. I only mention Reaper and Tracktion because of their affordability. My advice is to make sure the DAW is compatible with the native platform for plugins for your mac or pc.  For Macs this is the AU format, for Windows and Linux this is VST. A word of warning though, not all VST plugins or hardware can be used with Linux. While Linux is becoming more common in terms of compatibility.

Since each DAW is a little unique in terms of functionality, I highly suggest you watch and read the tutorials and manuals for the specific one that you will be using. I personally use Ableton Live, it is a great piece of software, and a lite version often comes with many controllers, which are either keyboards, drum pads, or other physical devices to control software. If you chose a controller that comes with Ableton lite, it is also a more than appropriate DAW and host to get started. With that being said one does not need to start on with Ableton Live and Ableton Live Suite, both of which carry a high cost. Ableton Live is a wonderful tool for those who are experienced, but the more expensive software out there is not necessary to get started.

A USB Midi controller is a nice thing to have when starting out. Smaller ones are easy to find both new and used that would likely be appropriate.  Controllers can range from relatively inexpensive keyboards, to esoteric ones such as the Eigenharp which cost thousands of dollars. I highly suggest just getting a decent inexpensive keyboard. If you want to go for both the hardware synth and software synth route though, something like the arturia microbrute can also be used as a controller.

All DAWs also work with audio interfaces which work with either USB or Firewire. This will allow you to record audio signals using either lines in or microphones. This however is not needed for doing music with plugin synthesizers. However,  if you do move onto hardware synthesis or incorporating musique concrete it is recommended to get some type of audio interface. The microphone plug into your computer is generally not sufficient to record high quality audio.

The one thing I do not recommend to get started is Pro-Tools or Reason. While these platforms are frequently pushed for a synthesist the insistence of an exclusive plugin format is problematic for both. They do not take Native plugins as a result there are barriers to some of the best software instruments with these platforms.  Other than that most DAWs will do the same job, but in slightly different ways with different interfaces and features. But outside of the exceptions, most can host native software instrument and effects plugins on most DAW platforms.

Once you have chosen your DAW and have installed it on your computer, the next step is to identify some soft synth plugins, and start to record music.


An Overview of Getting Started with Synthesizers

I will be producing a number of posts with regards to getting started. This is a short overview of what I will be covering in the coming weeks.

DAW Software

Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) are software programs to produce and record music with your computer. DAW software also serve as a method of hosting software synthesizer plugins.

Software Synths and Effects

The most popular synthesizers used for recording these days tend to be software plugins. There are also plugins that can be used as audio effects. While many plugins are commercial products which can carry considerable cost, many are free. This is probably the best way to get started with learning synthesizers if one has a computer and is on a lean budget. In addition to desktop plugins, there is also the world of software synthesizers for mobile devices.

Keyboard Synthesizers

Synthesizers with keyboards have been a mainstay since the original minimoog. These often offer a relatively straightforward way to approach sound design. Previously the downside of these instruments, especially the analog ones, was the considerable cost involved. However, these days inexpensive analog synthesizers offer a great way to get started.

Modular Synthesizers

Modular synthesizers are a deep love of mine, and thus the name of the blog. These instruments offer a great deal of flexibility and frequently beautiful weirdness.  Modular synthesizers are at their heart analog computers designed for music. Getting started with modular though can be a rather confusing, even for those who do have familiarity with synthesizers. In addition to that I will provide some basic information on getting started with DIY instruments.

Beyond the Keyboard

Synthesizers are not just about keyboards. Theremins, sequencers, ribbons, and touch-plates are all valid ways to play a synthesizer without a keyboard. Many of these open up the instrument beyond the black and white approach keyboards offer.

And More

I will be covering everything from circuit bending, to exploring musical programming.  There is a great deal to cover, and these guides will explore both the very simple and straightforward starter guides to some more advanced topics for those wishing to dive deeper into synthesis.  This is all in addition to the normal blogging that will happen here.