You are here

Favorite DAWs and Composition Software and Why?

For everything after the recording stage: hardware/software and how you use it.

Favorite DAWs and Composition Software and Why?

Postby Sunshine82 » Thu Aug 20, 2020 10:25 pm

Hi, all. I'm new here. I'm getting back into making music again. It's been a long time. I figured that this post prompt would be a good opportunity to continue my research into shopping for a DAW while including you all in the conversation. It's always nice to learn more about the many DAWs that are available these days.

I'll start first... I'm currently leaning towards getting Studio One Version 5 -- I currently have Version 3 but after the Catalina update it is now not supported; I never really used Version 3, so I don't have much experience with it (I quit music making after I had just bought it). I have past experience with Sonar 3, Fruity Loops, Acid Pro, and Sound Forge.

I've also considered buying Ableton, too, but I think that program specialises more in live performance, right? Although its interface looks a little more clunky, it would be nice to eventually pair it with another main DAW, something strong with samples, loops, and live performance; it's also known for being very compatible with Max/MSP. Hopefully whatever I settle on will work well together.

First, here's what I'm looking for in a new DAW:
1) a GUI that is easy to look at and work with and intuitive to use (including logical button placement);
2) a program that allows for user manipulation as much as possible (in the sense that ribbons can be customised and/or clips and tracks can be switched around and manipulated along with effects -- I think Studio One does a good job with this, right?);
3) a program that is equally strong in recording, mixing, and mastering;
4) a program that plays nice with other programs (are compatibility issues less common these days regarding transferring and sharing files between multiple applications and programs?);
and 5) a program that has a strong and flexible internal "file management system" for building and maintaining a sound library (I would like to create an internal library full of samples that I gather from audio recordings, but I want to be able to systematise the management of where these clips are stored and how they are retrieved).

Does Studio One meet these features? How essential is Ableton? Are there any DAWs that you'd all recommend that meet this criteria?

Lastly, I'm doing some research for composing software, too. I really want a program that is equally intuitive to use and powerful in its features -- it would be nice if I could compose for microtonal music, for instance, and change tunings for instruments); it would also be nice if I could process the tracks/project using an outside DAW, preferably live, but in post-production is okay; and if it either had a powerful instrument pack or was compatible with such add-ons (are VSTs all universal these days?).

So far I'm leaning towards starting with MuseScore -- largely since it's free. But I'd likely eventually want to get a program in the long-term that has more advanced composing features. I'm also leaning away from Sibelius due to issues I've seen about it having an awkward GUI -- mostly. Are these concerns well-founded? Does anyone have any experience with Dorico? If that's as powerful as Sibelius while the GUI is more improved then that might be worth the price. If not, how much different is Finale over Sibelius? Does anyone have any experience using these or other programs?

And now it's your turn. In addition to any feedback about my DAW and composing program questions, what do you all use and why? What are the strengths and weaknesses, the potential and limitations of your chosen program(s)? What do you tend to use them for and how do you tend to use them? For what music and what workflow?

Thanks!
Sunshine82
Poster
Posts: 39
Joined: Thu Aug 20, 2020 7:43 pm

Re: Favorite DAWs and Composition Software and Why?

Postby RichardT » Thu Aug 20, 2020 10:46 pm

Re DAWs, I can't really advise. I use Cubase, but I have no experience of any other, apart from Ableton. Ableton is a very different kettle of fish - I used to use both, but then I consolidated into Cubase.

Re scoring software, I much prefer Dorico to Sibelius because of the better quality of output, which requires much less adjustment than in Sibelius. Dorico is pretty good at microtonal music, I gather, though I have not used that myself. Can't comment on Musescore.
RichardT
Regular
Posts: 411
Joined: Fri Aug 13, 2004 12:00 am
Location: London UK

Re: Favorite DAWs and Composition Software and Why?

Postby The Elf » Thu Aug 20, 2020 11:09 pm

A Cubase user here too. I'm completely at one with it, and there are a few features I consider essential - VariAudio and Control Room being prime examples. I don't use score editing features.

I can work at pace with Cubase, largely due to familiarity (I started with Steinberg's Pro-16 on Commodore 64), but I also do find that things generally work the way they would if I wrote the software myself.

I can use pretty much any DAW, though there are some I will avoid if at all possible.

I certainly wouldn't want to switch between programs for composing and recording.

Any serious DAW these days is capable of turning out perfectly good results; which you choose really is about platform, budget and, ultimately, which one resonates with you.
User avatar
The Elf
Jedi Poster
Posts: 15243
Joined: Tue Aug 14, 2001 12:00 am
Location: Sheffield, UK
An Eagle for an Emperor, A Kestrel for a Knave.

Re: Favorite DAWs and Composition Software and Why?

Postby blinddrew » Thu Aug 20, 2020 11:13 pm

Can't comment on the composition side as i wouldn't know what i was looking at.
On the DAW front, a few years ago i switched from (an outdated version of) Cubase to Reaper.
I chose Reaper because you get a 'full fat' programme for 'entry level' price. Since then i've stuck with it for its frequent updates, excellent included plugins, user-customisation, video capability, low cpu load, and probably a few other things i've forgotten about. Oh yes, like compatibility; you can pretty much lob any file format at any resolution in there and it'll play it, and it handles 32 bit plugins with no problems.
What you don't get though, is any included instruments, samples or anything like that.
User avatar
blinddrew
Jedi Poster
Posts: 11936
Joined: Sun Jul 05, 2015 12:00 am
Location: York
Ignore the post count, I have no idea what I'm doing...

Re: Favorite DAWs and Composition Software and Why?

Postby shufflebeat » Fri Aug 21, 2020 2:35 am

I'm also a Reaper user on a semi-unprofessional basis, having come from Cubase and Reason.

Reaper has all the flexibility anyone (I think) could wish for but requires you to understand what you're trying to do if you choose to exercise your options. It's supported by a few devs but decisions are informed by a huge forum base so updates tend to be useful and well executed.

I've built up my own VST and VSTi collection which integrate seamlessly and have been able to build my workflow around my reluctance to work very hard.

If you come from a very structured environment then it can look like the wild west for a bit but you would soon bend it to a structure of your choosing. User templates are your friend.

Score editor is basic but functional and there is a significant forum presence interested in developing that further.
shufflebeat
Jedi Poster
Posts: 5350
Joined: Sun Dec 09, 2007 1:00 am
Location: Manchester, UK
"Dance, dance. wherever you may be, for I am the Lord of the damp settee..."

Do yourself a favour, wear earplugs at gigs.

Re: Favorite DAWs and Composition Software and Why?

Postby Watchmaker » Fri Aug 21, 2020 2:55 am

I use Studio One V4 after coming from an analog studio. I tried ProFools, Reaper, Logic, and Reason but chose S1 because the GUI is intuitive to me. I started on V2.

fwiw, most DAWs have feature sets way beyond the needs of non professionals - and beyond many pros I suspect. None of them are perfect and it's hard to know what the trade offs are without knowing your objectives. Doesn't matter much really. Once you learn the tool, then you'll figure out the necessary work arounds and by then, it'll be hard to switch unless there's a compelling reason.

I don't use comp software so will shut my yap.
User avatar
Watchmaker
Frequent Poster
Posts: 867
Joined: Wed Apr 13, 2016 12:00 am
Location: Upstate NY, USA
Take my advice, I'm not using it.

Re: Favorite DAWs and Composition Software and Why?

Postby DC-Choppah » Fri Aug 21, 2020 3:33 am

I use ProTools to make music and MuseScore to make charts.

I can make what I hear come out of the speakers using Protools, and I can make charts that people can read with Musescore. To me these are very different things so I don't need or want to do the charts inside of the DAW.

Charts are about being readable. The DAW, well that's about what comes out of the speakers.
User avatar
DC-Choppah
Frequent Poster
Posts: 1638
Joined: Fri Jul 20, 2012 12:00 am
Location: MD, USA

Re: Favorite DAWs and Composition Software and Why?

Postby CS70 » Fri Aug 21, 2020 8:16 am

Sunshine82 wrote:Hi, all.

Hi and welcome :)

First, here's what I'm looking for in a new DAW:
1) a GUI that is easy to look at and work with and intuitive to use (including logical button placement);

Hm, there is no such thing as "logical button placement". What's logical for you may be a mess for someone else. The only thing that exists is what you are used to because you have learnt it. They're all logical, when you know where they are.

2) a program that allows for user manipulation as much as possible (in the sense that ribbons can be customised and/or clips and tracks can be switched around and manipulated along with effects -- I think Studio One does a good job with this, right?);

Most of them do. All the "flagship" ones at least. The only issue is how buggy they are when doing all that and the answer is, for the flagship ones with big user bases and years of development.. not so much. Most crashes tend to be because of the audio drivers of the interface are buggy - not the DAW.

This can be a bit different with more recently developed ones, as the codebase is less exercised and the user base is smaller, so some wrinkles can still be present. For example I gave up testing MixBus because I would have had to spend time debugging the licensing procedure, and life's too short for that...

3) a program that is equally strong in recording, mixing, and mastering;

Strength in recording, mixing and mastering usually's got nothing to do with the DAW, but with the person using it (again, within reason, obviously if you try with Windows Recorder you're a trifle limited :)).

4) a program that plays nice with other programs (are compatibility issues less common these days regarding transferring and sharing files between multiple applications and programs?);

They're all kinda bad at that - still using their proprietary formats and depending on the effects installed and licensed locally. There are some attempts at interoperability but they're seldom used, at least where I've seen them.

If you have a Protools session and intend to work with it, better have Protools - and the same for the others.

and 5) a program that has a strong and flexible internal "file management system" for building and maintaining a sound library (I would like to create an internal library full of samples that I gather from audio recordings, but I want to be able to systematise the management of where these clips are stored and how they are retrieved).

That I don't know, really - nor about your other question.

And now it's your turn. In addition to any feedback about my DAW and composing program questions, what do you all use and why? What are the strengths and weaknesses, the potential and limitations of your chosen program(s)? What do you tend to use them for and how do you tend to use them? For what music and what workflow?

What you know best is what it's best for you, it's as simple as that.
If you don't know anything, all DAWs will present a learning curve.

If you are used to analogue recording (mixers, cables etc) the ones which present a more "mixer-like" interface are probably slightly more intuitive to you.

Personally I've used Cubase in the past, use Cakewalk currently and can do something on a Protools session if needed. All cracking programs with which any job can be done. Reaper is also mentioned as a great tool as well - but again I have the feeling all the "big" ones are, once you know them well enough,

The reason I use Cakewalk is because I know it best, it's now free but still magnificently maintained and maintenance doesn't get in the way (downloaded the last update yesterday, 2 minutes, while doing something else). It's rock solid (as most big DAWs, so long the interface drivers are rock solid). It does support all my workflows - which are mostly about recording physical instruments and mixing songs, with the occasional dash in sample land for drums, strings, background vocals etc - either for demos or to complement said "real" recordings. It also supports seamlessly (no crashes!) certain old 32 bit effects which I love.

But can't honestly say that Cakewalk is the "best" - it would be silly I think.
It's a tool - over a certain threshold the better you know, the better it is.

If I were a beginner, I would stick to the "big" ones, simply because of the ironing of wrinkles above, and the degree of support material and social that you can find online.
But that's just an approach.

Very good point from DC-Choppah to use different software for different needs.
User avatar
CS70
Jedi Poster
Posts: 6450
Joined: Mon Nov 26, 2012 1:00 am
Location: Oslo, Norway
Silver Spoon - Check out our latest video and the FB page

Re: Favorite DAWs and Composition Software and Why?

Postby The Elf » Fri Aug 21, 2020 9:26 am

Sunshine82 wrote:...and 5) a program that has a strong and flexible internal "file management system" for building and maintaining a sound library (I would like to create an internal library full of samples that I gather from audio recordings, but I want to be able to systematise the management of where these clips are stored and how they are retrieved).
Cubase has Media Bay, which is the only comprehensive integrated file management system I've seen in a DAW. I can't comment on it, because I've never felt the need to use it. I'm sure there are plenty of guidance videos out there if it's of specific interest. I wouldn't choose a DAW on the basis of something I could do with a folder system, though.
User avatar
The Elf
Jedi Poster
Posts: 15243
Joined: Tue Aug 14, 2001 12:00 am
Location: Sheffield, UK
An Eagle for an Emperor, A Kestrel for a Knave.

Re: Favorite DAWs and Composition Software and Why?

Postby Rich Hanson » Fri Aug 21, 2020 9:59 am

I would recommend that if you get on with Studio One then stick with it. I've been using it since version 1, and I occasionally try something else but then I come back because it just suits me.

Having said that, probably most of the big DAWs will tick all your boxes.
User avatar
Rich Hanson
Frequent Poster (Level2)
Posts: 2164
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2003 12:00 am
Location: UK

Re: Favorite DAWs and Composition Software and Why?

Postby desmond » Fri Aug 21, 2020 10:12 am

Reasons why DAW choice might matter:

- If you have people you collaborate/work with and require swapping projects between systems
- If you are offering services for hire and your clients require a specific tool for some reason
- Some DAWs have strengths and weaknesses in areas that might be important to you
- They vary in cost significantly
- They vary in included sound/instrument/plugin content (though most at least offer a decent range to cover the basics)
- DAWs you are familiar with will be less of an immediate headache to use than something completely new

Reasons why DAW choice doesn't really matter:

- They all broadly do the same things, with a similar range of features
- They are all good enough for doing great work
- You can generally interchange projects in plain audio / midifiles if some cross-compatibility is required
User avatar
desmond
Jedi Poster
Posts: 10539
Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2006 1:00 am
mu:zines | music magazine archive | difficultAudio

Re: Favorite DAWs and Composition Software and Why?

Postby RichardT » Fri Aug 21, 2020 11:58 am

Something else to consider is the longevity of your choice. You may end up with many years worth of projects in your DAW and it can be a real pain swapping to a new one with that legacy around. For me it’s great that I can easily work on projects from 10 or 15 years ago.

Some products seem to be almost ‘stuck’ in terms of a lack of new development and so do not make a good choice from the longevity point of view. Sibelius springs to mind here.

This also should lead you to one of the big players in the DAW world, and away from a niche product, even if it might have better functionality in the areas you want.
RichardT
Regular
Posts: 411
Joined: Fri Aug 13, 2004 12:00 am
Location: London UK

Re: Favorite DAWs and Composition Software and Why?

Postby dBerriff » Fri Aug 21, 2020 12:05 pm

If you decide to stick with Studio One then Presonus has Notion for scoring and that is supposed to integrate well (I don't own Studio). It is one of the cheaper scoring packages, although not free. I have got used to it and its peculiarities but only for single instrument band parts. I do not know if it covers microtonal scoring. All the mark-up I need for big-band bass parts is present and correct.

There is a free version of Dorico - Dorico SE. It supports 2 instruments but that is enough to try it out.
dBerriff
Poster
Posts: 28
Joined: Thu Jul 24, 2003 12:00 am
Location: Oakham UK

Re: Favorite DAWs and Composition Software and Why?

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri Aug 21, 2020 1:29 pm

Not much to add except to say the most intuitive DAW is the one you know, i.e. none are 'intuitive' if you haven't used one before. I went for Reaper when I returned from using hardware exclusively for several years and have no regrets. I'd use Cubase before but decided that it would have changed so much in the interim that I'd be more or less starting from scratch. But if Studio One v5 is similar to S1v3 that's where I'd go.
User avatar
Sam Spoons
Jedi Poster
Posts: 13855
Joined: Thu Jan 23, 2003 1:00 am
Location: Manchester UK
Finally taking this recording lark seriously (and recording my Gypsy Jazz CD)........

Re: Favorite DAWs and Composition Software and Why?

Postby OneWorld » Sat Aug 22, 2020 4:36 pm

I think it's like making a cup of tea, some put the milk in first and others don't and of course some don't bother with it at all and have a more stripped down cuppa
OneWorld
Frequent Poster (Level2)
Posts: 2792
Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2009 12:00 am

Next