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Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs)

So, you have ideas, you have a computer - what now?  This is where software Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) come in. 

DAWs allow you to do the following:
  • Play midi instruments and record tracks
  • Edit sound files, samples, etc
  • Mix and render your tracks
 The Mixcraft series of DAWs is highly popular:

There are numerous DAWs to choose from, each with there own strengths and weaknesses.  Things to consider when trying and / or buying your first DAW include:
  • Initial cost and - if applicable - renewable license fees
  • Specification: does the DAW do everything you want it to do? Not every DAW does everything, so check that it does what you want it to do
  • System requirements, is your computer powerful enough to run the DAW smoothly?
  • Ease of use, 
  • Plug - in compatibility: what third - party software will your DAW host
  • What - if any - instruments come with the software
  • What type of music you intend to make. For example, should you be making heavy metal, the style and workflow of, say, Ableton (used primarily in the production of dance music) isn't going to work for you.
Cockos REAPER is another DAW always high in the polls:
Many DAWs can be tried, free of charge, usually for thirty days.  It is worth trying several DAWs before deciding which to commit to.  On a personal note, I am a big fan of Cockos REAPER, however, I plan to test drive Ableton over the next few months and MuTools' Mulab over the next few weeks.  
A best kept secret of the DAW world, another one for new beat makers to check out, MuLabs:
I know it's tempting, but please don't use 'cracked' / illegal copies of software.  If everyone downloaded products illegally, the bottom would fall out of the industry.  All the people who make these innovative products for us to use and love would be out of jobs - bad for them and bad for us too, as there'd be no new innovative products for us to use and love.    

Every year, Computer Music magazine asks readers to vote for their favourite DAW.  Last years poll featured everything from Pro - Tools, used in practically every professional recording studio in the world, through to Apple's Garageband which, at the time of writing, costs nine quid. So, before you do anything else, head over to the poll to familiarise yourself with what people are using and then - if you're feeling really adventurous - you could maybe start checking out a DAW or two yourself:

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