There’s one question that plagues all new electronic music producers: “Which DAW do I choose?”
There are so many options available. There’s so much conflicting advice. There’s money at stake.
So, you’re probably wanting to make a choice you won’t regret, right?
That’s why we’ve created a complete guide for DAWs, so you can:
- Understand the best DAW options available
- Compare the differences between them (price, features etc.)
- Make an informed decision
My recommendation is that you read this thoroughly. Bookmark it and come back to it.
So first, let’s get into it and take a look at the basics 👇
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Table of contents
- So, what is a DAW? 🤔
- How do I choose a DAW? 🤔
- The DAWs Options 💻
- But which one is the best for me? 🤷
- Buy, don’t pirate 🏴☠️❌
- What We Use Here at EDMProd
- Now it’s your turn
So, what is a DAW? 🤔
DAW Definition: A DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is the centerpiece of the modern producer’s studio.
It’s where all the magic happens, and it can be defined as the primary tool for arranging audio and creating songs.
It has a number of main functions:
- Audio Editing
- MIDI Editing
- Audio Processing
- Sequencing MIDI & Clips
- Sample Organisation
- Plugin Host
- Live Performance
- + whole lot more
Before the days of computers, many of these tasks would be performed by separate pieces of hardware – MIDI sequencers, tape machines, track recorders, samplers, and more…
The DAW streamlines these processes into one package. What you see on your screen is what you get.
Most DAWs run on any modern computer using Windows or macOS, with a couple of exceptions here and there. Some DAWs are even available as tablet and phone apps on iOS and Android.
Thanks to modern technology, producers and musicians are able to create, mix and master full songs just using a DAW and headphones. Although extra gear can be handy, it’s possible to do it all in the box.
Here’s the interface of a standard DAW used in electronic music, Ableton Live 11:
There’s a lot to look at here.
Don’t get discouraged – you’ll quickly learn the main features you need to know.
Using just the features of this DAW (and some downloaded samples and plugins), I am capable of making pro-quality music.
Now that you know what a DAW is, how do you choose one?
Let’s get you setup!
How do I choose a DAW? 🤔
Before we delve into the array of options, there are a few key factors that you should take on board.
We’ve also mentioned this in our Music Production Software guide, so go give that a read too if you want to go beyond just DAWs.
First, you’ll want to download trials of a few options to test them out ⬇️
This is a risk-free way to work with a number of DAWs, get to know the workflow, and see if it’s the right option or not.
Many of the DAWs we get into today either have a demo or trial.
Instead of spending hours upon hours researching which DAW to use, download a trial version of a DAW and start playing with it.
The way I would recommend approaching this is to try one out at a time for 2-3 weeks and get to know it. Then move on to the next, and repeat.
This way you’ll get to know all the options that looked appealing to you and make an informed decision.
Decide for Yourself
Secondly, make your choice based on your personal preference, not on what your favorite producer uses or what your buddy uses ❌
This is a trap many producers (myself included) have fallen into.
Here’s a secret:
DAWs don’t help you make a certain type of music. They help you with a certain type of workflow.
You could arrive at the same endpoint in a number of different pieces of software.
Additionally, don’t make an arbitrary decision. That’s why we recommend trying out a few.
Availability of Resources per DAW
Thirdly, find some great resources that will allow you to learn your DAW 🧠
A structured course is normally far more valuable than random YouTube videos, but in the decision-making process, free resources are fine.
This will get you acquainted with the most-important features. I say this because you don’t need to know every feature before you start making music.
It’s also enough experience to know the DAW to a point where you can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to it.
And at this time, it’s good to gauge the amount of information available on your DAW.
It might be harder to learn a more obscure one in comparison to a popular option like Logic Pro.
A quick Google or YouTube search should give you a rough idea:
Of course, affordability is an important factor for a lot of us. We don’t necessarily have the money to fork out for the most expensive DAW 💰
To counteract this, you’ll want to do some research into the pricing tiers for each DAW. Some only have one edition, but others have a couple of options to meet you where you’re at.
If you’re a student, see if there is a discount available as well.
Regardless, DAWs aren’t cheap, but the cost is justified.
You’re investing in a high-quality, professional-grade program that you’ll use throughout your entire career.
Each of these DAWs is beginner-friendly, but they’re also top-quality software used by the best producers in the world.
Sure, you could save money by purchasing a cheaper DAW. But you’ll spend more time trying to figure out workarounds, and you may end up way more frustrated as a result.
Invest in yourself and invest in your career by purchasing a professional-grade DAW.
We’ll cover it a bit in this article.
Don’t Hesitate Too Long
Lastly, don’t spend too long trying to figure out which DAW is best 😣
This is why I’m suggesting you focus on one at a time for a short period, then try another and repeat if necessary.
The aim here is to delve into it enough so you can make a decision, not to learn each DAW in its entirety.
You want to spend minimal time on this process, and instead spend more time creating music. In other words, don’t do what I did.
A (Personal) Bad Example 👇
- Download a cracked copy of FL Studio without trying any others
- Start learning it without any guidance
- Give up after a few months
- Blame your DAW
- Wait a year
- Tell people you’re going to use another certain DAW without even trying it (Cubase) because ‘x’ producer uses it
- Try another DAW instead because ‘x’ producer uses it (Reason)
- Try learning it from YouTube tutorials
- Give up because you don’t like the workflow
- Try Ableton Live
- Give up because you didn’t take time to realize there is an arrangement view as well as a session view
- Go back to watching FL Studio tutorials because you started on it – actually good
- Learn FL Studio and start making good music on it by improving
- Get good at FL Studio
- Try Ableton Live again properly on new computer
- Realize it’s perfect for my workflow
- Get good at Ableton Live over years
- Buy it finally
- Decide on it as my DAW
This long-winded journey took me more than 6 years to complete.
If I had downloaded a few DAWs, watched some videos, spent a couple of weeks in each, and made a decision, it would have taken me a couple of months instead.
Don’t make the same mistake I did – follow the principles above.
Now, let’s take a look at the main options.
The DAWs Options 💻
Now, there are a lot of competitors in the market for DAW 🏅
I could spend time reeling off a bunch of names, but that’s probably going to leave you confused and annoyed.
Because, if you’re looking to make electronic music, you’ve probably already heard a few names, but you aren’t sure which is the best.
But before we see some options, let me tell you a secret – there is no best DAW.
But, there is the best DAW for you.
What do I mean by that? I mean that there is one that is probably best suited to how you want to work.
So, what are the options?
To help you in making a decision, we’ve compiled some of the most popular DAWs in the world today. We’ll start off with what we like to call the ‘Big 3’ – Ableton Live, FL Studio, and Logic Pro.
These are at the top because they are the most common, have the widest array of resources, and are great to use based on my experience.
Here’s the full range of options:
- Ableton Live
- FL Studio
- Logic Pro
- Bitwig Studio
- Studio One
- Cockos Reaper
- Pro Tools
DAW #1: Ableton Live
- Price: $99 (Intro) | $449 (Standard) | $749 (Suite)
- Current Version: 11
- Notable Users: Skrillex, Diplo, Flume, Deadmau5, and Netsky
- Editions: Intro, Standard, and Suite
- Pros: Live performance, fast workflow, clean interface
- Cons: Plain GUI, most expensive
Ableton Live is a DAW that was designed with both production and live performance in mind. Hence, it doesn’t come with as many bloated features as some of the other DAWs do.
Simplicity and workflow are central to Ableton Live’s design. It’s one of the most popular DAWs, along with FL Studio, its arch-nemesis.
Speed is one major factor in Ableton Live – it’s very easy to access instruments and effects in the same interface. You can work quickly so you can focus on making music, and not get lost in the technical side of things.
Live has also been around for a while, and started out predominantly as a performance tool, but has well and truly become a fully functional DAW that makes ‘traditional’ software look bad.
Also, EDMProd’s DAW of choice is Ableton Live, so I mean, we’re a bit biased.
- Session View for Live Performance and Clip Improvisation
- Warping modes for keeping audio in time and creative manipulation
- Useful built-in effects like Echo, EQ Eight, Reverb etc.
- Simple interface
- Easy freezing and flattening, resampling
- Creative MIDI Effects for note manipulation
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DAW #2: FL Studio
- Price: $99 (Fruity) | $199 (Producer) | $299 (Signature) | $499 (All Plugins)
- Current Version: 20.9
- Notable Users: Porter Robinson, Madeon, Martin Garrix, Metro Boomin, and Seven Lions
- Editions: Fruity, Producer, Signature, All Plugins Bundle
- Pros: Great plugins included, good options, flexible workflow
- Cons: Confusing interface, overwhelming options, live performance mode is sub-par
Created by the Belgian company Image-Line, FL Studio is a Windows (and now Mac) DAW that is commonly used in electronic music – arguably number 1 in terms of popularity. It comes with an array of synths and options for producers to play around with.
FL Studio is killer when it comes to sequencing drums, thanks to the step sequencer in the channel rack. It means you don’t have to mess around with piano roll MIDI just to lay down some simple drums.
Upon opening up the DAW, you’ll notice no shortage of features. This is because FL Studio has designed its software with customization and adaptability in mind. You can use this program in a number of different ways to suit your needs.
Most producers will find themselves only using a very small percentage of FL Studio’s available features, simply because it’s a bit overwhelming otherwise.
FL Studio has been around for a very long time, and when you purchase any version, you get free lifetime updates. That’s pretty sweet.
- Step Sequencer for fast drum programming
- Amazing built-in synths like Harmor for Additive/FM Synthesis, Harmless for Subtractive Synthesis etc.
- Capable of complex audio routing and track organization
- Flexible audio recording and editing with Edison
- Good templates and example projects included
FL Studio probably has the best access to resources out there. The FL Studio website has a lot of articles, and we have a few key ones for those who are just starting out. We also use FL Studio in EDM Foundations, our course for new producers.
Note: Want access to a whole lot more music production resources? Check out our ultimate resources list.
DAW #3: Logic Pro
- Price: $199.99
- Current version: X (10)
- Notable users: Calvin Harris, Swedish House Mafia, Flosstradamus, Disclosure, and David Guetta
- Editions: One version only
- Pros: High-quality sounds, easy-to-use, ideal for recording and rock/indie music production
- Cons: Not designed with electronic music in mind, Mac-only and fewer resources
Although it’s a Mac-only DAW (being owned by Apple), Logic Pro X has been the staple of many electronic music producers for years. Logic is focused on high-quality sounds and a robust interface.
It’s designed with musicians in mind, hence the very simple-looking interface and preset-heavy library. It’s very easy to find great-sounding instruments to go along with your recording.
Tools like Flex Pitch and Flex Time also make editing vocal and instrument recordings in time a breeze – no more third-party software.
While you can certainly make amazing electronic music with Logic Pro, it caters for a broader audience, so if you want to make purely electronic music, you’ll come across a lot of things that might not be of use to you.
- Flex Pitch/Time
- Space Designer (insane reverb)
- EXS24 sampler
- Drum Kit Designer (great for realistic drums)
- Built-in MIDI chord analyzer
- Powerful effects and synths
In terms of electronic music production, Logic doesn’t have quite as many resources in comparison to Live and FL Studio. But there are a lot of quality tutorials aimed at a traditional musician market rather than a production market.
- Logic Pro X: Your Quickstart Guide
- Apple Logic Pro X Resources
- Logic Pro X: The Beginners Guide by MusicTech
DAW #4: Reason
- Price: $499 (or $19.99/month with Reason+ – first month is $1)
- Current version: 12
- Notable users: Kill The Noise, Jon Bellion, Electric Mantis, Tchami
- Editions: One Version Only
- Pros: Hardware-like interface, great for sound design, intuitive to use
- Cons: Less linear workflow, confusing interface
Reason is a great piece of software – especially if you’ve come from a hardware background.
The modular nature of the DAW means that you can route anything to anywhere, just like you would with MIDI, CV, and gate. This makes it super fun for sound design.
In more recent versions, Reason now finally supports VST plugins – something the software had been lacking for years.
As I write this, Reason 12 is out with a whole lot of awesome features (including the ability for you to use it as a plugin in other DAWs!)
Read more about it here.
- Reason’s Racks – great for creative sound design and a virtual modular environment
- VST support as of Version 10
- Intuitive interface
- Great sounds that come with the software
- Rack Extensions that integrate natively into Reason
Reason doesn’t have quite the same breadth of resources as some of the major DAWs, but there are definitely still some great ones out there.
DAW #5: Bitwig
- Price: $99 (16-Track) | $399 (Full Version) | $16.99/month on Splice Rent-to-Own (Full Version)
- Current Version: 4
- Notable Users: Feed Me, Xilent, Terravita, CamelPhat
- Editions: 16-Track Version, Full Version
- Pros: Very visual, great modulation devices, deals with crashes well
- Cons: Not many resources, newer software, no AU plugin support
Bitwig was started by a collection of ex-Ableton employees who wanted to create something new that competed with Live and expanded the functionality.
One of my personal favorite features is the incredible modulation devices built-in. These function similarly to Ableton Live’s Max for Live devices like LFO, Envelope Follower, and Expression Control. Except Bitwig has 38 different modulators you can use.
- Audio and MIDI capabilities in the same track
- 150+ stock devices
- Great built-in synths and instruments (e.g. Polysynth)
- Live performance and arrangement in the same view
- Remote collaboration technology (coming soon)
Bitwig has only been out for a few years (since 2014), so it’s still a very new DAW with much less information available.
DAW #6: Cubase
- Price: $99 (Elements) | $497 (Artist) | $872 (Pro)
- Current version: 12
- Cubase: Noisia, Zedd, Adam Beyer
- Editions: Elements, Artist or Pro
- Pros: Long history, great MIDI tools, and default plugins
- Cons: More expensive, older versions use a dongle, complex interface
Developed by Steinberg, Cubase has been around for a very long time and isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
It’s struggled with its user interface over the years, but as of the more recent versions, it seems to have upped its game.
You’ll find all the standard features of a typical DAW, with some great MIDI editing tools for electronic music, unlike some of the other ‘typical’ DAWs out there.
It might look daunting, but this thing is a beast if you love to dive deep into the details.
A fun fact – Steinberg is responsible for the VST format we all know and use today.
- MPE support (for keyboards like the Roli Seaboard)
- Colorize menu
- Virtual Reality production tools
- Over 50 plugins included
Cubase is an older DAW, but still lacks in the resources department due to the smaller user base. But a quick Google/YouTube search will have you finding what you need most of the time.
DAW #7: Studio One
- Price: Free (Prime) | $159.99 (Artist) | $599.99 (Professional)
- Current version: 5
- Notable users: R3hab, KATFYR, Adrian Lux
- Editions: Prime, Artist, Professional
- Pros: Great visuals, step sequencer capability, free option
- Cons: Crammed interface, limited learning resources
Studio One is one of the only DAWs that actually offers a decent option for free – Prime. Unlike traditional demos/trials, you can actually export your audio and projects using this version.
Of course, functionality is limited and an upgrade is eventually warranted. Still, it’s a great option if you want to start on something decent that still won’t cost a dime.
Apart from this, Studio One has quite an inspiring interface, with all the tools you need tucked away in a variety of resizable windows.
- Automatic chord detection
- Metadata editing tools
- Multi-touch display support
- Audio batch conversion
- Integrated Melodyne
Studio One lacks a little bit in solid learning resources, but there are some key ones out there.
The manual, as always, is a great place to start.
DAW #8: Reaper
- Price: $60 (Discounted) | $225 (Commercial)
- Current version: 6.75
- Notable users: Tycho, The Flashbulb
- Editions: Discounted, Commercial
- Pros: Extremely cheap and good value, simple layout
- Cons: More ideal for recording than producing, feature-lacking audio processing tools, lacking a sound library
Considered the most affordable modern DAW on the planet, Reaper certainly has a cult following, which includes big names like Tycho.
Famous for their once ‘infinite free trial’ (which was technically never infinite), solo producers can grab the software for as little as $60. Insane.
It’s got all the features of a typical DAW: MIDI, audio processing, tracks, plugin support, included plugins etc.
On top of this, it just looks damn cool.
If you like simple layouts and straightforward usability (without the added bloatware and useless sounds), definitely give Reaper a test.
- Simple interface
- Easy to use
- Includes only usable features, nothing unnecessary
It’s not the most resource-heavy DAW, considering it’s not widely used. But there are some solid, dedicated resources out there, including our list below.
DAW #9: Pro Tools
- Price: Multiple Pricing Options
- Current version: 2022.4
- Notable Users: Metro Boomin, Joji, Gareth Jones, Two Friends
- Editions: First, Standard, Ultimate
- Pros: Great for mixing and engineering, industry standard, lots of resources
- Cons: Not great for electronic music and MIDI, clunky interface
If you want the industry-standard DAW, get Pro Tools.
It’s a solid option for those who want to go into professional studio environments and especially those who are into mixing and mastering.
One thing to consider with Pro Tools is that it’s not really designed with electronic music as the focus.
Yes, you can create electronic music with it, but it’s not as intuitive as some of the other DAWs (its MIDI editing features pale in comparison compared to the Big 3), and if you’re here, I expect you’re interested in electronic music.
- Have up to up to 128 audio tracks, 512 instrument tracks, and 1,024 MIDI tracks
- Various metering options
- Remote control app
- Comping tools for multiple recording takes
- High-quality plugins included
- Timing and pitch correction software built-in
- Integrated hardware setups and surfaces are available
Pro Tools has many resources, being such a commonly-used DAW. But here I’ve tried including resources specific to electronic music production.
DAW #10: Garageband
- Price: Free (with a Mac)
- Current version: 10.4.7
- Notable Users: Justice, T-Pain, Radiohead, Steve Lacy (Kendrick Lamar)
- Editions: Only One
- Pros: Perfect for beginners on a budget, incredible stock instruments, simple interface
- Cons: Difficult to have full control over sounds, basic feature set
You might laugh at the idea that software you messed around with at an Apple Store once could be considered ‘professional’…
But then you look at the notable users 👆
Sometimes, simpler is better for the creative process. And it turns out Garageband can be quite powerful, despite its limited feature set compared to Logic Pro.
So if you want to get started with music production (and you’re into more ‘traditional’ instruments), this might be a great idea. Only you will know.
- Drummer plugin for instant high-quality acoustic drums
- Preset synths and samplers with incredible sounds
- AU plugin support
- Comprehensive audio loop library
Being an entry-level DAW, Garageband has quite a few resources out there for those who want to dip their feet in.
However, a lot of these are not specific to electronic music production, as is with its bigger brother, Logic Pro X.
But which one is the best for me? 🤷
Now we’ve been over the decision-making process and the options, it’s time for you to make a decision on your own.
… Oh, you want some recommendations? Here are the best DAWs in a few areas (in our opinion):
Remember, these are just rough guides.
Make your decision based on your experience of the DAW.
Okay, do you really want my thoughts?
The Top 3
Well, I’ll compare the three popular options for electronic music – Ableton Live, FL Studio, and Logic Pro X.
Of these options, Live is definitely the most expensive at $449, although it has an educational discount if you are attending a school.
If you want the full Suite version, be prepared to fork out $799. It’s a lot, but worth it for the extra sounds, devices, and features.
FL Studio and Logic Pro X are tied at $199, although Logic is the fully-featured version, whereas FL Studio doesn’t include all the plugins in the ‘Producer Edition’ that is being compared here.
The All Plugins Bundle for FL Studio comes at a hefty $899 if you want every feature and plugin.
Logic Pro X just comes in one version, which is the simplest pricing structure and includes a fully-featured version with extra free and downloadable content.
A free trial is pretty good though, because well, it’s free and gets you well acquainted with your potential DAW.
Note: Even though it has no demo or trial version, if you want to get a feel for Logic Pro X, try using Garageband for a while. The features can’t compare, but the interface is similar.
Buy, don’t pirate 🏴☠️❌
(and it’s not for the reason you think)
Yes, you should support the software engineers who put their time and effort into making these great pieces of software, but there’s another reason you might want to purchase software…
Once you’ve given money away for a DAW, you’re encouraging yourself to make the most out of the purchase. It’s not comfortable to spend $250-$1000 on a program – it hurts a little.
Take it from someone who has done both – the moment I purchased my first DAW was when I started to take things seriously to another level.
Buy your DAW.
What We Use Here at EDMProd
Here at EDMProd, we use a combination of Ableton Live and FL Studio.
This doesn’t mean you can’t follow our content with another DAW such as Logic.
But if you haven’t picked a DAW yet, it might be worth trying out those 2 first. If you’re interested, we’ve done a full breakdown of the pros and cons of both over here.
Now it’s your turn
I hope you’ve come away with a better understanding of what to look for in a DAW.
My one piece of advice would be to start experimenting today. Download a trial and get a feel for what working in a DAW is like.
If I’ve missed anything (DAW options, key information, or something else), please let me know by emailing me at [email protected].
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