If you’re looking to start creating and recording your own music, it’s important to become familiar with a DAW, aka a Digital Audio Workstation. A DAW is where all the magic that goes into recorded music happens. It’s a software that combines every aspect of making a song, i.e. mixing, mastering, editing and recording, into a single united interface.
There are dozens of different DAWs to choose from, all of which possess their own unique set of advantages, features and drawbacks. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to only pick from so many options when you’re first starting out—but don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!
We’re going to go over some of the best DAW options that are not only beginner friendly, but can be used for more advanced production and recording techniques once the initial learning curve is over. Here’s our list of the five best and most affordable DAWs for beginners to consider for their first foray into making music!
1. GarageBand: One of the all-time classic beginner DAWs. GarageBand boasts so many features, instruments and pre-recorded loops, it’s easy to forget that it’s all for FREE! The UI is fairly simple to become accustomed to, and you’ll be creating songs in no time. Becoming familiar with GarageBand also makes the eventual upgrade to Apple’s more advanced and powerful DAW, Logic Pro far easier as they both operate very similarly in terms of visual design and workflow.
The only drawback, however, is that GarageBand is only available to Mac and iOS users. If you use a different operating system, worry not! There are plenty of other options that work across all kinds of devices.
2. Ableton Live Lite: Ableton Live has been the go-to DAW for many years, including for some of the industry’s top producers. Granted, the full version is only available at a fairly hefty price, but the lite version retains many of the essential features from the original, and more importantly, is free of cost.
Just like GarageBand, Ableton Lite is also a great gateway option for users who eventually plan on upgrading to the full version and unlocking all of Ableton’s producing power. However, the UI may seem a little intimidating at first, and will certainly require time to understand fully and work with efficiently.
You can find the link to download Ableton Live Lite here.
3. Akai MPC Beats: Although not the most feature-packed or well-equipped DAW out there, Akai’s free DAW is one of the most fun to use. Primarily designed for beginners to start making beats, MPC Beats also comes pre-loaded with beat templates and 2GB worth of samples, loops and instruments which can be upgraded later on. It also allows for MIDI recording, meaning that you can connect your own MIDI keyboard or controller and record your own parts directly.
Download Akai MPC Beats here.
4. Cakewalk by BandLab: BandLab is best known for providing tools that make creating music far more accessible and simple for anyone regardless of skill level. Cakewalk, their free DAW, has a UI that is extremely beginner-friendly and easy to use, and can be customised to suit individual workflow preferences. It also comes with many different instruments, samples and audio effects that allow you to create a song from start to finish without the need for additional plugins.
Give Cakewalk a shot—download it here.
5. Reaper: Last up is also the only paid DAW on the list. But for the amount of features and customizability that Reaper offers, it would be hard to find a better deal for the price you pay! Known as one of the most quick, efficient and responsive DAWs, Reaper is still relatively under-utilised by top producers and artists, but has all the attributes for it to become an industry standard very soon.
Reaper does have a few disadvantages, including the lack of as many plugin options as some of the other DAWs that are available for purchase, but all in all, it provides a comprehensive one-stop-shop for anyone looking to work on their music at a highly affordable price. Oh, and did we mention there’s even a built-in video editor?
Find the download link for Reaper here.
Starting your journey into music-making can be daunting, but the amount of variety and options within DAWs makes it easier to find exactly the right setup for your recording and production needs. You can even cycle through each of the options on this list until you identify something you like and intuitively understand. Take your time with the process, and you’ll find unlimited riches on the other side!
If you start making music using any of the DAWs above (or another one entirely), send us your tracks at email@example.com, or tag us on any social media platforms. We’d love to hear what you come up with!