As a computer musician, your DAW is the single most important piece of software that you’ll have installed on your Mac or PC. In fact, you could make a complete track without having any other software installed at all.
DAW stands for digital audio workstation, the term given to ‘full-on’ music-making applications. In this case, though, ‘full-on’ doesn’t mean intense and hard to understand; DAWs have actually got much easier to use over the years and you can learn them at your own pace, picking up new skills as and when you need them.
So what exactly does a DAW do? ‘Everything’ is the short answer, but broadly speaking, you can break down the functions of a DAW into recording, editing, processing, arranging and mixing categories.
When it comes to recording, you have several basic options: use your DAW to trigger software instruments (synthesizers and the like), use pre recorded audio samples, or record real sounds (guitars, vocals etc) as digital audio. You can, of course, mix and match all three methods.
Typically, each of your recorded parts gets its own track in a DAW, and these can be edited in all manner of ways. Whether you want to carry out basic timing or pitch edits, move recordings around or make wild and crazy changes, your software will have you covered.
‘Processing’ is a good catch-all term to describe the many ways in which you can use your DAW to make parts sound different (and hopefully better).
Your software’s arranging features, meanwhile, will help you to flesh out your ideas into a complete song.
Finally there’s mixing, which involves making all the various parts of your song sit together properly.