Choosing Your DAW for MIDI Composing
DAW is short for Digital Audio Workstation. It’s basically an audio & music software made for music production on your computer. It’s a recording system made to record and produce music.
Your computer would be the hardware needed to run your DAW. Here’s an advice, try using a DAW that runs on both the major computer platforms, Mac & PC.
As an aspiring composer, you should know that composing and producing music isn’t a loner’s job. Soon you’ll find opportunities to collaborate and work with other producers around the world. It’ll be a bonus if you’re producing on a software that works on most platforms. That way, you can just send the project file over and the other producer can access your project no matter which computer OS platform he decides to use.
It’s definitely a bonus to use a software that works on both the computer platforms. However, don’t sweat about getting the right software to use. A good DAW is one that you can productively make music on. I’ll explain about choosing a suitable DAW for MIDI composing in a while. For now, we’ll talk about your computer.
MAC or PC for MIDI Composing?
This debate can potentially destroy friendship and cause wars. It never ends though.
There is though, a difference if you choose to go Mac or PC for music production. Being someone who has personally used both the platforms, my experience with Mac is that it gives me a smooth seamless experience. It feels like the Mac is made for the composer who doesn’t want to fiddle with too much technical tweaks. However, the Mac is more expensive investment when compared to buying a PC. The build of a Mac may be premium, but sometimes you don’t need those to get some music composed.
If there’s something I must comment great on a Mac is Core Audio, the sound driver that comes built in a every Mac. Core Audio is a very stable audio driver which has very low latency. And if there’s something I must hate on Mac, it’s probably the non up-gradable feature of the Mac. You’re stuck with the hard disk or RAM size from the day you purchase your Mac.
I enjoyed using a PC to compose music because of it’s ugpradable nature. When I found myself running out of space, I’d take a drive to the local computer store and buy a hard disk. When I thought I needed more RAM for the intensive VST plugins, I simply upgraded my RAM. There’s something which bothers me a lot though. You don’t a get a cool latency free audio driver on a PC. Windows Audio is a nightmare when combined with a DAW. The workaround is to either use an audio interface everytime you produce music, use the ASIO4all driver or to use a software called voicemeeter which is really handy for recording screencasts.
The Top 5 DAW Sofwares Recommended for MIDI Composing
Different DAW softwares would appeal to different producers. I’ll assume that you’ll use the DAW majorly for MIDI composing and so my recommendations would be leaning towards MIDI composition and what the DAW has to offer for that matter. I must stress again though, that a good DAW is one that you are most productive in and able to make music with.
Please. Don’t be a software general.
Many aspiring producers tend to go the mile to find out what DAW softwares their idol producers are using and then use them. Though there is nothing wrong with that approach, I’d still suggest that you try and demo most of the major DAW to get a feel of working on them. Your workflow would be unique on different DAW softwares.
For the full list on choosing your DAW. Click here to read about the top DAWs in the market
1 – Logic Pro X
I like to say that Logic Pro is one of the most complete DAW. It comes with tons of effects, sampler instruments and synthesizers which are really all you need to make music. Once you’re on Logic, you just have to learn your tools well before you are able to make good music.
Of course as you outgrow the DAW, you might want to purchase additional VSTs and sound library for your composition needs. But as a start, there is no other DAW in the market that is as complete as Logic in terms of loop, samples, instruments and effect count for MIDI composing. With the huge library loops and samples, you’ll be able to quickly get inspiration for composing.
The score editor that comes in Logic Pro is also one of the most intuitive among the many major DAWs, so you might lean towards Logic Pro if you’re a musician who reads scores.
Presonus Studio One is a DAW made to be simple for musicians in a way that you focus less on too much technical operations and focus more on your music. Instruments, VSTs and effects are all loaded with a drag and drop action, making it really easy and fast to compose music.
If you’re someone who wants to get to composing music immediately without fiddling with too DAW technicality, Studio One is for you. The instrument sampler library that comes together with its inbuilt Presence instrument sampler player isn’t too impressive though. So you might need to expand your instrument library and invest in a good sample library like Native Instrument’s Komplete. There is no score editors on Studio one though which is quite a bummer. You’ll have to use an integration with Notion to output your MIDI data to a score sheet.
3 – Steinberg Cubase
Steinberg Cubase is a very complete DAW with lots of functionality built in it. Switching from Logic Pro to Cubase has been a good experience so far for me.
The learning curve is steeper though when starting to use Cubase. The GUI is a little confusing at first but as you go through and start making music with Cubase, you’ll feel at home with it. Cubase does not come with a huge sample library though. Loops included are somewhat limited and even Halion Sonic, the sampler that comes with Cubase, comes with installed with instruments that sounds a little dated to me.
In my experience using many different DAWs to compose MIDI tells me that the MIDI editing capabilities in Cubase supercedes many other major DAWs. With powerful editing tools and even a built in score editor, Cubase is pretty much complete for MIDI composing.
4 – Reaper Fm
Reaper FM is considerably lower priced compared to the other major DAWs and is a flexible plus lightweight DAW. Though there have been many good reviews about Reaper, I find Reaper to be the DAW I’d stay away from as a beginner in MIDI composing.
The reason for that is because Reaper do not come with a library of loops and instrument samples. That can be pretty uninspiring. I’d like to launch a DAW software and browse through some loops and samples for inspiration & ideas. Sadly, Reaper does not offer that, being a lightweight DAW. Your option is to look at adding 3rd party plugins & sample libraries as part to your composition setup.
Reason is a DAW software which heavily relied on MIDI in the early stages. Reason is easy to start working with and it comes with lots of instruments and VSTs to get your creative juices flowing.
Tons of instruments, effects and a browser to discover more sounds, some producers swear by Reason. Reason also offers lots of routing possibilities with its instrument racks giving you the ability to experiment with lots of sounds. Reason appeals to lots of electronic music producers.
There is no right or wrong in choosing a DAW software that works for you. The list above is merely a guideline to choosing your DAW, however here lies many features about each and every DAW that would take a whole day to explain and compare.
Your best bet is to try all the demo of all the softwares yourself and see which fits into your producing workflow.
Important Factors When Choosing A DAW
I’d like to highlight some important factors in choosing a DAW before I leave you with this post, so here they are.
VST/AU/RTAS Compatibility: You’re most likely to expand your sample libraries and plugins as you work your way as an aspiring producer. 3rd party sample libraries normally have the file format that would be accepted by most major DAWs but I’d suggest you check the plugin compatibility of your chosen DAW. For instance, Logic Pro only supports AU units plugin extensions, so you might find yourself in a pinch if you buy a plugin that comes as a VST extension. Although there are VST wrappers that enables you to use VST plugins on Logic Pro, those type of softwares do not normally leave a good experience.
Dongle Or Dongle-Less: Some DAWs like Cubase require you to use a dongle for license verification when you use the software. Dongles are usually small in size but they are fragile and can be easily misplaced. There were countless of times when I gave myself a heart attack thinking that I left my dongle behind after an event. It’s also easy to forget to pack your dongle when you go for a tour, rendering your DAW software on your computer useless. As such, I’d prefer to use a DAW without a dongle if possible.
Score or No Score: Assuming you are a composer, there will come a time when you’d like to pass your idea to a band or an orchestra. Having a DAW to quickly spit out your MIDI compositions as a score is a very nice feature and time saver! Though there is always a workaround whereby you use another software or integrate your DAW to a notation software, this is one reason why I sometimes prefer using Cubase or Logic over Studio One.
Surround Mixing: Some DAW assume you’ll only make music for a stereo listening environment. This might not be applicable to all composers but I like to keep my options open to take in projects that sometimes require a surround output. If you’re composing for film and picture, you might want to look at this seriously. Check if the DAW comes with surround mixing support.
It’s my hope that you choose a good DAW that you can rely on. The one that you can fire up confidently when a client steps into your studio.
Tell me in the comments! Which DAW did you choose and why.