What is the Best DAW for Songwriters?
Songwriters nowadays have a lot of hats to wear. Aside from writing songs it’s safe to say some level of music production knowledge is an absolute must, if only to make some decent sounding demos. This is very important to have before going into the studio later not just to save time and money but it might also influence the songwriting.
This is because once you bring in other instruments you have to consider their place in the song and this is where we start to think about instrumental arrangement and having a good balance of the frequencies taken up by each instrument.
So if you’re starting to dip your feet into the production world as a songwriter we’re gonna look at which DAW you might get the most out of for writing songs and making simple demo’s as a beginner.
This is a great place to start since it will be the main station for working on your music.
While most DAWs do pretty much the same things with slight differences in how they are done, it’s really going to depend on what you like and your workflow. But that’s not super helpful so if I had to give you a recommendation…
In general, the best DAW for songwriters getting into music production is Logic Pro X for Mac users and Reaper for PC users. Reaper also allows the installation of “skins” to mimic the interface of other DAWs. Both are budget friendly, compatible with many plugin formats, and have all the functionalities of a professional level DAW.
One exception for PC users is if you plan to perform live using software instruments. In this case I would recommend Ableton Live as the best option for you. More on this further below.
As I said, every DAW is slightly different so I think it’s worth it to look into the most popular ones and look at them from a songwriter perspective so you can make your own informed decision.
Pro Tools (Recommended for Audio Engineers)
Pro Tools is the industry standard for professional music production. Every studio will have it and work with it.
You might be thinking about just going straight to the point and getting Pro Tools right away.
You definitely could but as a songwriter looking for something to start with, I would advise against it.
Why? For starters Pro Tools is expensive. They work with an annual membership structure so there are a few packages.
Pro Tools Intro is their free option. If you’re deadset on learning Pro Tools from the start you could start off with this. Maybe you want to be a mixing engineer and plan to work at a studio or be the engineer for your band when you book a studio. In this case, sure go for it. Although, this version is a bit limited and you will quickly outgrow it. It does come with a few plugins but you’re only able to use up to 8 audio tracks, 8 instrument tracks, and 8 MIDI tracks.
Pro Tools Artist is the lowest paid tier at $9.99 per month or $99 per year at the time of writing this article. It doesn’t sound like a lot and this package is geared towards artists looking to write music and make decent sounding demo’s.
Tempting right? But why would you pay $100 per year when you could get Logic for a one-time $200 or Reaper for a one-time $60? You could spend that extra cash on something like a software instrument library (which you would get more out of for songwriting).
The higher Pro Tools membership levels (Pro Tools Studio $29.99/mo or $299/yr and Pro Tools Ultimate $99/mo and $599/yr) are really more geared towards audio engineers and producers looking to make full blown productions including formats like Dolby Atmos and Ambisonics.
Honestly, I think those higher memberships are overkill for anyone that isn’t looking to become an audio engineer/learn professional mixing themselves. If anything, you could get this later once you’ve developed your music production skills and want to go to the next level.
Logic Pro X (Recommended for Mac Users)
This is my recommendation for anyone who has a Mac and will likely stick with Mac in the future.
I think it’s safe to say that many would consider Logic Pro X to be the biggest competitor with Pro Tools.
There’s a few reasons why I would recommend it to songwriters. First is its affordable price and professional grade functionalities on par with Pro Tools. Not only that but most studios will also have and work with Logic Pro X in addition to Pro Tools.
Another great thing about Logic Pro X is how easy it is to manipulate your takes with the Flex Tool. This will not only let you manipulate the audio in several ways but also allows for some pitch correction which you would usually need something like Melodyne for. Of course, a dedicated tool like Melodyne is still way better because it gives you more options on how to adjust audio. This is great if you’re just taking quick takes and fixing them roughly to get an idea of how things could sound as you write your song. Then when finalized, you can spend time recording a better performance for final takes.
The biggest reason I would recommend Logic Pro X is because it comes with a library of effects and instruments already including synths, guitar effects, bass, drums, delays, reverbs, compressors, EQs etc.
So right out of the box you have so much to get started with and they are actually pretty good quality. Other DAWs often come with these things as well but in my experience their quality isn’t as good. They sound a bit cheap.
This is not the case with Logic Pro X’s effects though. Of course, buying a library of software instruments like Native Instruments or Spitfire and something like Slate Digital’s All Access Pass for mixing tools will probably get you better sounds and is also recommended.
The second biggest reason I would recommend Logic Pro X is because you can pair it with Mainstage which lets you use your software instruments in a live performance fashion.
So if you want to use the exact instruments from your instrument libraries when playing live, you can. The other DAWs don’t allow this, with the exception of Ableton Live which can also do this.
In addition, if you started out learning recording with Garageband, Logic will be an easy transition. You can even open Garageband sessions in Logic.
Garageband (Recommended for Beginners on Mac)
Garageband is completely free. It comes with all Mac computers.
Garageband is a great place to get started and the only reason I didn’t recommend this over Logic is because Logic comes with better sounds, has more complex functionalities and is meant to be overall a more serious professional tool.
However, Garageband is very easy to use and you can still use third party plugins with it.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t let you create Busses (basically they are channels that you can use to group your other channels into and then process all at once, among other uses).
Busses are also really useful for making sure your computer doesn’t crumble under the weight of all the CPU the plugins use and you also need them to do more advanced production techniques.
So while Garageband is a great entry point, you will eventually want to move on to something with more advanced functionalities.
Ableton Live (Recommended for Performing Live with Software Instruments)
Starting off I think the price is similar to Pro Tools. There are 3 tiers, Intro ($79), Standard ($349), and Suite $599, however, these are one-time fees, not annual memberships.
This DAW is popular among artists doing electronic music, beats, and anything where there’s a lot of loops and samples used. However, this can be used by artists in any genre and style, whether they are recording live instruments or otherwise.
You might look around and find people saying that Ableton is not great for Comping your takes because they don’t have Take Folders like the other DAWs that will show all your takes within a single track as a drop down.
As I understand, this used to be the case but now you can. However in Ableton they are called Take Lanes. Any recent video showing you how to Comp your takes will show you how it works.
After Reaper, I would recommend Ableton as the next best option for PC users for a DAW (with price being the biggest reason it’s not my first recommendation. Also, if you’re planning on performing live using software instruments, I would recommend Ableton Live over Reaper.
This is because Ableton has the ability to do everything that Mainstage and Logic Pro X does, so you can perform live with your software instruments. I’ve not seen any other DAWs let you do this aside from Logic Pro X with Mainstage, and Ableton Live.
Lastly I really like that in Ableton Live you can look at a track and see the entire effect chain and their controls. With other DAWs you often have to open a lot of individual windows which can get cluttered and confusing.
Reaper (Recommended for PC Users)
This is my top recommendation for any songwriter who is starting to get into music production (unless you need to perform with your software instruments live, in which case, use Ableton Live if you’re on PC or Logic with Mainstage if you’re on Mac).
It has the best price for a DAW that is capable of professional level production. It only costs $60 as a one-time fee and you can even use the evaluation version indefinitely. Many people find it works so well they end up paying for it anyway because of how much value it provides.
This is such a big plus because you’re probably going to spend more money on getting some good software instrument libraries and mixing plugins in addition to your DAW.
I would recommend signing up for Slate Digital’s All Access Pass and getting some software instruments from Native Instruments or Spitfire Audio. I also recommend you don’t go crazy buying plugins because it can get really addicting. Try to make the most with the least at first and practice restraint lol.
Reaper can do pretty much anything any other DAW can do (except for live performance with software instruments like Mainstage and Ableton Live can).
It’s compatible with many plugins and like with most other DAWs there are tons of videos on Youtube showing you how to do things.
It also lets you use “skins” of other DAWs. So for example, if you wanted to make your Reaper look like Pro Tools, you can download a skin that does that. I think this is awesome for learning how to work with other DAWs and eventually moving on to others if you so choose.
Wrapping it Up
There are many DAWs out there that I haven’t mentioned like Studio One and Cubase that are also great. Feel free to explore those as well if you like, I didn’t include them here to keep this post shorter and because I felt the ones I included were more popular.
Personally, I use Reaper and I love it. I also recommended you get the Slate Digital All Access Pass or the Waves Creative Access Subscriptions and some software instrument libraries (Native Instruments and Spitfire are great). Between those things you shouldhave pretty much everything you need to write songs and even get into mixing your own music to make some demos and learn about audio engineering and production.
I’m telling you, don’t go crazy buying a bunch of things. Make the most with the least because if you are not careful you will get hooked and end up spending thousands of dollars on a bunch of stuff you don’t even know how to use. Learn the basics with the tools you have.
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