A DAW or digital audio workstation is a software application designed to record, play, and edit audio. The average PC is now so powerful that it can be used to record and make music. With this software installed on your computer it becomes the digital replacement for the analogue recording studio. A DAW is often referred to as an audio sequencer or music sequencer. The functionality is modeled on the equipment and processes available in a traditional recording studio. Here we will discuss the basic concepts used in operating this kind of music making software. This will involve explaining some of the hardware used as well as some of the basic terminology. Within the software there are digital signal processing tools called plug-ins that you can use to affect the audio. Again these software components are modeled on existing hardware effect devices such as distortion, delay, reverb, equalizers(EQ) etc. Such tools are used within a mixer allowing you to adjust the levels of individual tracks as well as effect the signal and position the sounds within the stereo field (panorama). For sound sources virtual instruments are also provided. These emulate traditional acoustic instruments such as piano, guitar, strings etc., as well as electronic keyboards, drum machines, and audio mangling devices. When all these processes are completed, the multiple tracks can be exported (bounced) as a stereo file, which is the format that appears on a compact disc or digital download. There are many other technical processes involved but this is a brief overview of the DAW’s primary function.
The software is usually used in conjunction with an audio interface (soundcard) which routes signals in and out of the computer. On a very basic level this may just be a soundcard built-in to your PC, and used just to listen to the sound coming from the computer. A common problem with standard soundcards is that they are not designed to meet the requirements of a DAW. The main problem you may encounter is that of latency. This relates to how sound is streamed through them. If you are inputting signals into your soundcard there will be a delay in hearing them, anything up to 5 seconds. In music performance terms this is not acceptable. By using one designed for audio production, latency will not be an issue. Which interface you choose depends on your requirements. Firstly using a professional audio interface will improve the sound quality of what you are hearing, a major bonus. Secondly, depending on your input and output requirements, microphone, line level, or digital signals, there will be a device to suit. By plugging microphones and instruments into your audio interface you can record multiple signals simultaneously onto individual tracks. Each track generally contains a single signal/instrument. After recording you can then edit the audio similar to the way you would edit a text document; cutting, copying, pasting and rearranging the recorded content.
In to addition to audio signals a DAW can record MIDI information. MIDI is just performance information and not actual audio. A MIDI input device is similar to a regular QWERTY keyboard except you can use it to play MIDI instruments or software instruments within the DAW, recording what notes you played and other control information such as sound parameter changes. There are many different flavors of controller to choose from, which one you choose depends on the music you produce and the type of interaction you want. This can be a standard piano keyboard type interface, a Wii controller and of these days of course, there is an App for that as well! Through MIDI you can have of very musical interaction with the software even if you’re not a musician. After recording you can then edit the MIDI as you would the audio. The advantage MIDI has is that you can both delete and add notes and other performance information without affecting the rest of the recording, this is almost impossible with audio.
One very important consideration in choosing which MAGIX DAW may best suit your requirements is the type of material you intend to work with and the sort of productions you want to make. A DAW can be viewed as a blank canvas where you can paint your work (music). Depending on how you want to make your own music some may have features more suitable to your needs. Most modern music production is a combination of pre-recorded material, in the form of loops, which are combined with live recordings. If you are making exclusively electronic music you will probably only use loops and samples. Loops are sort segments, usually 1-16 musical bars long of an instrument or group of instruments playing in a particular genre. You may also use samples, these are just individual hits, eg a kick drum or a sound effect. MAGIX provide a vast collection to choose from in the form of our Soundpools. Working in this way you can quickly use the “building-block” method to construct a song. If you are doing live recordings you will probably be more interested in multi-track recording. You can record multiple performances which you can then edit and combine into one master performance. A technique common in this area is known as comping. All MAGIX music making applications provide enough scope no matter what kind of music you wish to make.
MAGIX have a number of DAW’s designed to work with audio and MIDI. Each is designed to address certain music production needs. However it must be said that all are very versatile and there is a certain amount of overlap in what they are capable of. In my next few articles I will go into more detail the functionality of Music Maker, Samplitude Producer, and Samplitude Pro X. Their accessibility and functionality to the user is reflected in their price and the level of prior knowledge required to get the most from the software. Depending on the your requirements and expectations some will be more suitable than others. Stay tuned.