Welcome back to Get Started with Home Recording.
In the past edition of this series, we talked about audio interfaces and what to consider when buying one for your home studio. Now, assuming that you’ve taken the plunge on that recording hardware, you need some recording software that can capture your performances onto your computer.
Software of this kind is often referred to as a digital audio workstation, or DAW, and there are myriad options out there for the budding home studio producer. DAWs come in all shapes and sizes, from free or inexpensive beginner options to fully featured professional packages that cost hundreds of dollars.
So which DAW is the best choice for you? As Max McAllister states on the Produce Like a Pro website:
“There really isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to that question. What matters most is choosing the DAW that appeals to you, your needs, and your budget, and learning it as well as you can.”
Over the next two articles of this series, I’m going to run through some great DAWs and their features. In part one, we’re taking a look at free software. These two options will cost you absolutely nothing, but are a great entry point into the world of home recording.
If you’re a Windows user and want a free DAW to get started with home recording, Cakewalk is a great place to start. Back in the day, this one was known as SONAR and was a paid-for platform. But, in 2018, it was made available as a free download.
Unusually for a free DAW, Cakewalk is a fully featured. Many DAW makers offer free, “lite” versions of their software that will limit the number of tracks you can record, or not allow you to use plugins developed by third party companies. With Cakewalk, however, there are no such restrictions.
The software has an easy-to-navigate user interface and a range of included plugins and virtual instruments (including drum and bass sims) to get you started.
The major downside to this one is that it’s Windows only. If you’re a Mac user, this one isn’t for you. Not so for the next one on this list though…
You’ve probably heard of Apple’s Garageband. It’s the software that Rolling Stone magazine described as “the little app ruling the sound of modern music.”
Thanks to its super-user friendly interface and humungous library of loops and virtual amps and instruments, Garageband has become the demo-making software of choice for a range of artists including Rihanna, Haim, Gorillaz and Fall Out Boy. And, like Cakewalk, it costs absolutely nothing.
The big advantage to Garageband is that it’s incredibly easy to use. Designed with the artist, rather than the engineer in mind, it’s very intuitive for recording novices, while also offering a huge range of sonic possibilities thanks to the aforementioned sound library.
So what’s the downside? Well, as you’d expect from an Apple-owned product, Garageband is Mac only. That means Windows users will be missing out on this one. There are also some limitations to what you can do in Garageband. Some user interfaces are limited, there’s no dedicated mixer screen and it doesn’t have the range of MIDI-editing options that other DAWs offer. Still, the software gives you plenty to get your teeth into and, as a plus point, it’s also a great set of training wheels for Apple’s pro recording software, Logic.
That’s it for this edition. Next time, we’ll be taking a look at some other options, as well as the pros and cons to buying an audio interface with a bundled DAW.
What recording software do you use? And what are your experiences with Cakewalk or Garageband? Share your stories in the comments.