What is a DAW, you ask? It stands for Digital Audio Workstation. Yeah it is a term that gets thrown around a lot when talking about audio recording. But what does it really mean?
Okay, I said it stands for Digital Audio Workstation. But that isn’t a whole lot of help is it? Like so many other terms in the audio recording world, it feels a bit overly complex for what it is trying to describe.
Let’s make it easy. A digital audio workstation is audio recording software that allows you to record multiple tracks, which you then mix together to create a final audio file.
So Why Call It A DAW Rather Than Just “Recording Software?”
In general, there are two types of audio recording software – DAWs and audio editors. I say “in general,” because there is sometimes cross-over between the two. Some editors also have DAW (multi-track recording) functionality. And most DAWs have some editing capability. So things can get a little confusing.
So can we simplify things even more?
I think so. Let’s say we have a recording program. We want to record several tracks, like your voice first, on track one. Then maybe you want to put some music on track two. You might also want to add some sound effects on a track, some drums on another track, etc. When you’re done, you’ll have lots of tracks.
What do you do with all the tracks? Adjust all the volumes so you can hear everything together. this is called “mixing.” You might also want to pan each track – some to the left, some to the right. And then you might want to add some effects, like reverb, etc.
When all that is done, you export (the DAW term is usually “render” or “mix down”) the final result into one single audio file.
All the above is done using a DAW – lots of different actions to help you create a final piece of audio.
If That’s A DAW, What Is an Audio Editor?
In a digital audio workstation, you work with lots of different audio items and mix them together. An audio editor works on one file at a time (remember, we’re making things simple here). For example, if you have a voice recording, you open that in an editor. You do all sorts of things to that one file, such as zero in on different areas of the file and adjust the volume up or down. You can slice out bits of audio, speed it up or slow it down, remove noise, add reverb, and dozens of other things.
Eventually, you get the file sounding just the way you want and save/export the edited file.
The editor allows you to quickly do a lot of things to a single audio file, whereas the DAW mixes lots of different audio files together to create something new. That’s not an exact definition, but it is a useful description.
What Are Some Examples Of DAWs and Editors?
Remember that I said most digital audio workstations do some editing, and vice versa? Keep that in mind as I present some examples of DAWs and editors here.
There are lots of programs I could add to each list, but those are some of the biggies.
I hope that helps to answer the question “what is a DAW?”
In my course – The Newbies Guide To Audio Recording Awesomeness, I teach how to use Audacity (an editor with some DAW capabilities which is free) and Reaper (a DAW which only costs $60) to create professional quality audio at home.
If you’d like to get started with the step-by-step using an audio editor AND a DAW, check out the free videos below: