If you’re just getting started out in the recording industry – even if it’s just a hobby – there is a key piece of equipment that you are going to need to become familiar with: The Digital Audio Workstation, or the DAW. It’s the key component in any recording studio; for the hobbyist and for the professional.
What is a DAW?
A Digital Audio Workstation is a computer software application. It is used for recording, editing, mixing, and producing various types of audio files, including:
- Sound effects
There is a wide array of DAW equipment, which can vary from the most basic single software program that is used on a laptop computer, to a fully integrated stand-alone unit. The most high-tech DAW includes various components that are operated by a central computer.
No matter what type of configuration you are looking at, all modern DAWs have a central interface, which enables you to modify and mix different tracks and recordings, creating a final piece of produced music.
Types of DAWs
When referring to DAW systems, there are two different types:
- The Integrated DAW, which is made up of a mixing console, an audio converter, a control surface, and data storage. All of these components are located in a single device. These were the first DAW systems available, and though they may still be use, they are pretty much all but antiquated today.
- The Computer-Based DAW, which is comprised of four components: a computer; a sound card or an audio interface; digital audio editor software; at least one output device, which is used for adding or changing data. Computer-based DAW systems are super powerful. They have in-depth recording, editing, and playback capabilities – and some even have video features.
When you hear the phrase “DAW” mentioned, you are probably wondering what it consists of. DAW is the term used to describe a whole workstation, and that workstation is comprised of many parts. Here’s a look at the components that make the whole Digital Audio Workstation a possibility.
The Computer. The central hub of a DAW system is the computer. The computer collects all the data that you record, edit, and produce on your DAW system. Basically, it’s the heart of the operation. The size of your computer’s memory is important. The larger the memory, the more music it can hold. The more music it can hold, the more editing, mixing, and producing you can do.
The Digital Audio Software. If the computer is the heart of your system, then the software is the brains. The software allows everything to come together. There are a lot of DAW software programs out there, and trying to choose the best one for your needs can seem like a daunting task. When shopping for your software, keep in mind what you want it do to. There are various types of software programs, and they all of them can do different things. A great recommendation when shopping for your software is to check out demos. This way, you can try it out and see if it’s a good fit for you and your specific wants and needs.
The Digital Audio Interface. This part of the system allows you to get the sound into and out of your computer and your software. Most digital audio interfaces provide at least two, but usually way more, inputs and outputs. It is these inputs and outputs that will allow you to get the music into and out of your computer and your software. Also, remember that the quality of your interface will impact the quality of your audio; however, even the most basic versions offer some pretty great sound, which is great for a beginner who is on a budget.
Plug-ins. These are smaller, helper software programs. Plug-ins work within your main recording software, extending its capability. Generally, plug-ins are effects and/or processors of some form, such as:
- Software compressors
- Pitch shifters
New class plug-ins are literally virtual instruments and synthesizers that work directly inside your DAW software.
DSP Acceleration. The majority of tasks within a DAW system, particularly within processing and editing, require digital signal processing, or DSP. In order for the DSP to work, it has to be powered by your computer. If you are running out of computer power, you can use a DSP accelerator to supply more power to the system.
Understanding the basics of audio recording and DAW software will allow you to break into the recording industry, whether you are just doing it for a hobby, or you are planning on starting up your own small recording studio. This equipment is the hub of your operation. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to make the music that you want to create.