Why choose only one?
This article first appeared in Recording Magazine. I reprint it here with permission, and I encourage you to subscribe to that publication, as they are a stand up bunch of folk!
A long time ago, in a studio far far away, there were many people involved in a song production, and the process included separate, distinct parts, each role played by a professional specialist. There was tracking, done in a tracking studio by tracking engineers. There was mixing, done in a mix studio by a mix engineer. And there was the dark and mysterious process of mastering, done in a mastering studio by a golden eared audio god immersed in single-minded technicality.
Now? Not so much. Yes, the traditional process still happens, but more and more it’s all one big jumble, especially for those of us producing track after track on tight budgets.
Of course, what has made this possible is computing. Gone (mostly) are megalith tape machines, and in their place the all-powerful DAW – digital audio workstation. Everyone has their favorite. Some people hate all the others. Debates are waged. Articles are written. “How To Choose The Right DAW For You”. “Which DAW is best?” If it weren’t for the loudness wars, the sample rate wars, and the regular ol’ guns and ammo wars, the DAW wars might rage uncontrollably.
But what would it be like if the world of the DAW was all kumbaya and lovey-dovey? What if you didn’t have to choose just one? What if all DAWs had their place in a wonderful world of DAW inclusion?
Or at least what if you, as an all-in-one production team, realized there may be a reason to use more than one. If you think of audio as audio, and not as DAW projects stuck inside a particular format, there’s a whole world of possibility for improving workflow, sound, and creativity.
There are a few reasons for this. One may be obvious – certain DAWs are better suited to certain tasks than others. More than that, certain software may be better suited to your way of doing that task than others. Some DAWs have certain built-in functionality, or a unique sound, and yet don’t work well in other ways (for you). Certain DAWs may not run a favorite plugin or two, or embed video the way you like, or warp audio in a way that makes sense to you.
An argument can be made for warping yourself instead, learning how to most powerfully use your DAW’s features, and that’s definitely a good idea. Still, it’s nice to know there may be other options.
Another fabulous reason to use different software for different parts of the project goes back to the traditional way of doing things. If you’re a one-person production crew, it’s very helpful if you can get yourself in a different mindset for each part of the process. Exporting audio and changing software can go a long way toward that goal.
Indeed, that can be inefficient, but it can be super helpful.
That’s not all though. You may find yourself collaborating with people outside of your studio, and those people may not be using the same software. Wouldn’t it be nice if you were the genius who could handle multiple formats, change back and forth, work within someone else’s flow, and make everything come together?
And of course, having a working knowledge of multiple DAWs is quite helpful when you travel to a session at another studio and your preferred software isn’t available. Perhaps you’re a Cubase lover, but you don’t have a grand piano, and you’ve been granted access to a ProTools studio with a beautimous grand. You’re given the run of the place – as long as you can pilot the ship yourself. It might be nice to be competent with ProTools – and know how to bring the project back into Cubase.
It can be costly to run multiple platforms, admittedly. Although some very good software is free, and other packages are affordable enough that you could replace one you can’t afford with three you can. So multiple packages may be the way to go if your budget is extra tight. Or it may simply be the cost of doing business to maintain a wide array of options. It all depends on your situation.
Speaking of which, everyone’s flow is different, so we all have our quirky little setups. I’ll leave you with mine, just to give you an idea how things might come together.
- Tracking: Cakewalk by BandLab. Or ProTools if piloting the aforementioned piano studio.
- Editing: Cakewalk. I can’t wrap my head around ProTools editing, even after 25 years.
- Voiceover editing: Audacity.
- Loop based composition, warping, and live triggering: Ableton.
- Mixing: Cakewalk, and then MixBus for final tweaks and that special MixBus sound.
- Mastering: Reaper, because it seems to deal with my preferred plugins best.
- MP3 Conversion: Sox, a command line tool. I wrote a script which uses Sox to make every deliverable I need in one fell swoop.
Yes, everything I do can be done in any one of the packages I use. But I find it freeing to move smoothly from one to another. Maybe you could too!
I work with Cakewalk, Ableton, Reaper, MixBus – and ok sometimes ProTools. We can argue about it on social media @AaronJTrumm.