The 2020 Grammy Awards will be forever known as the year that home recording was legitimised. With Billie Eilish’s album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go, an album recorded by her producer brother Finneas in their childhood home winning multiple awards, it proved that you don’t need a massive budget and a big name recording studio to create successful recordings. However you will require an incredible amount of talent, not everyone gets to win a Grammy but it shouldn’t stop anyone else from trying!
On a purely practical level however, what you will need to make recordings at home are: a computer, a good microphone, an interface so that your recordings can be digitised for your computer to read, some decent speakers/monitors in order to get an accurate idea of your sound quality … and a DAW! For the uninitiated, a DAW is a Digital Audio Workstation, the music production software which allows you to record, edit and produce on your computer. As to which is the best DAW, there’s no right or wrong answer, it’s what works best for you. Using guitarists as an analogy, some players will only use Fender guitars, others may pledge allegiance to Gibson and there are those who will use any kind of guitar, as long as it suits their situation. It’s whatever gets the job done in the manner that makes you happy.
It’s the same with DAWs. There are those who will tell you that Pro Tools is the only professional option, while others will suggest that Cubase, Logic, Ableton, or Studio One are even better. Then there are lesser known DAWs that are as equally celebrated by those who enjoy using them, such as Bitwig, Image-Line FL Studio, Reaper, Reason, Cakewalk, Audacity, Roland’s Zenbeats and of course there’s Apple’s entry level app Garageband, plus there are many more out there. Rather than us detailing the pros and cons of each DAW, we thought it would be more beneficial to ask a random bunch of working musicians and producers which DAW they are using and why.
JEAN-PAUL FUNG is an acclaimed Sydney-based producer known for his work with Last Dinosaurs, Birds of Tokyo, Silverchair, Jet, Bluejuice, Josh Pyke, Cold Chisel, Little Red, Drapht and many more. He’s currently working with AVIVA and his own project Lil $PLI$H. I started by asking JP what he’s been most proud of in his career.
“The two things that come to mind are Last Dinos … the first record … we were so young and we really didn’t know what we were doing. We were just having fun and I think that really showed through on that record, so I am super proud of it and it was the start of a new chapter for us. The other thing I am proud of is the relationship with AVIVA the artist. I have become the hidden band member for her in terms of … well they’ll send me a rough version of a song and there will be a lot of back and forth and they are really inclusive of me with the songwriting. I feel like it is a summation of all my past experiences and genres and inspirations. It’s a mesh of trap and pop and emo and rock and melodic stuff … there was no holding back on that one.”
Jean-Paul is a Pro Tools guy and always has been but he’s also curious enough to keep one eye on what else is going on in the DAW world. “I use Pro Tools and have been since the start of my career,” he says. “Over the past year or so and in particular the past couple of months, I have also been spending some time with Logic and venturing into Ableton as well.”
And what’s the most important factor in a DAW for JP?
“It depends on which hat I have on,” he tells me. “If I am recording a band, then you want flexibility. If I am writing, I want flexibility, speed of functionality and easy ability to change tempos and sounds as soon as my brain thinks of it, which is why I am leaning more to Logic and Ableton for that sort of stuff. With mixing and editing, Pro Tools definitely wins for me because it sounds awesome and a lot of people mix on Pro Tools for that reason. If I am just producing and trying to be more creative, I’ll tend to go more toward Logic and Ableton because it is less structured and limited and constrained compared to Pro Tools.”
Jean-Paul Fung’s Pro Tools set up includes: UAD Apollo Two, UAD Satellite Octo, Barefoot MM27 Speakers, Audeze LCD-XC headphones, Manley Reference Cardioid microphone, and a MacBook Pro 15” fully spec’d up.
SEAN O’SULLIVAN is a producer working out of Highway Nine Productions in Melbourne. Sean works a lot with local blues, roots and world music artists. What work is he most proud of?
“The Mike Elrington (to be released in September) and Joshua Batten albums. I have just finished a project with a Canadian opera singer. I have done two EPs with her, Monqiue Angele, she is living in Australia and is an opera singer who has modernised opera … opera meets Adele. I also do a lot of mixing and I’m just about to complete a world music album and it’s based around an African instrument called the kora and I’m pretty proud of that one as well.”
Sean is another Pro Tools devotee. He started on Logic when he was younger but moved to Pro Tools because “it was industry standard” and he’s just stuck with it. “I’m still running Pro Tools 10,” he explains. “I’m running the old HD set up which I am about to upgrade to the Pro Tools Ultimate. I’ve been holding off because it is a big upgrade. It’s also an upgrade which doesn’t really enhance the sound, so I have been putting it off but operating systems are starting to become an issue. I have the HD 3 set up and about to run HDx, so double the power. It’s the last upgrade I’m going to do for a while.”
What does he like about Pro Tools?
“Pro Tools is actually pretty easy to use to tell you the truth. To get the best out of it there is a lot to learn but just to use it as a basic tape machine it is pretty easy. I guess I like how quick it edits audio. I can do things really quickly. With all of the platforms sound wise, you’re not going to get much difference with the sound, they’re pretty much the same in that way. I can grid a drum kit really quickly. I put delays in on vocals quickly. It is all about being quick these days. The quicker you are, the more musicians like it as it takes less studio time.”
Although Sean is attached to Pro Tools and won’t be leaving it any time soon, he still likes to keep informed about other DAWs.
“I do I keep an eye on Logic and Ableton, a bit of Cubase but I am much quicker on Pro Tools. I’ve never made the leap to any of the others. I may one day. I know Logic is a better system for writing and MIDI but for audio, I think Pro Tools is still the one. I don’t think the others are quite there yet.”
Sean’s set up:
Software:Pro Tools HD 10 with 3 PCIE HD cards (about to upgrade to HDX and Pro tools ultimate), some plugs include sound toys, waves SSL, McDSP, Slate, Native Instruments etc.
AD Convertor: New Lynx Aurora, 192 interface x 2
Mic Pres / Front end : Avalon 737sp, Thermionic Culture Nightingale valve pre amp, Fink CS2-FA twin channel strip, Joe Meek Twin Q, Warm audio tone beast, rack TLA, Mackie, dbx pres
Toft ATB desk
Speakers: Focal twin 6, Unity rock and KRK V6’s
JESSE MARANTZ is a multi-award winning music producer & composer. Jesse has produced and composed music for major advertising campaigns for brands such as Victoria’s Secret, VISA, Uber, Myer, Reebok, Rimmel London, Estee Lauder, Contiki, Rexona, ABSA and Remington, as well as for numerous shows on MTV, ESPN, HBO, E!, VH1 and Bravo. In 2016 Jesse released the Triple J hit, ‘I’ve Gotta Have You’ (w/ Fluir). It was picked up by ‘Myer’ in 2017 and has become the soundtrack to all ‘Myer’ stocktake TV commercials since.
Jesse has been passionate about his chosen DAW, Steinberg’s Cubase since he first discovered it.
“I was put onto Cubase by a friend around 15 years ago. I fell in love with it and I couldn’t use anything else. It’s the best DAW ever. We were all put onto it by the same guy and stuck with it. At the time, going back 15 years we tried Fruity Loops and I came across Pro Tools a few times. I have tried a few, researched them all. I am interested to read about them but for me, if Cubase stopped being a program tomorrow, I’d be so upset and probably have to use two DAWs to replace it.”
So why is Jesse so passionate about Cubase?
“I like the versatility because professionally at the moment, I make music for TV commercials and I don’t limit myself to any genre, so I will go from heavy electronic, pop music, orchestral scores, heavy … and I feel like Cubase can do it all. I can jump between genres so easily with it and that’s why I say I’d have to use two DAWs if I couldn’t use Cubase. I’d need to use Ableton if I was making a beat and something like Logic for orchestral scores, it’s just how I feel.”
Some producers and artists might use their DAW mainly as a recording machine but Jesse sees Cubase as more of a creative tool with a far greater role in his music. “In fact I’d say creative first! I work in all genres and I work with a lot of singers and I record my own instruments. I use a lot of MIDI too and I think Cubase is second to none on MIDI, so 70 to 80 percent of my time I am playing with MIDI. I use virtual libraries a lot, I have a lot of libraries. So using MIDI with Cubase, yes it’s very creative for me so I am not just using it for recording.”
Like most of the people we spoke to for this feature, Jesse isn’t oblivious to other DAWs, he does read up on them but you’ll never get him off the Cubase train. “I will always check them out because it’s awesome,” he says. “DAWs are the coolest things compared to how recording used to be. I love to see what everyone is adding. I’ve noticed that in the last couple of years Cubase has taken a lot from Studio One. I can see them playing catch up with Studio One on a few things and catch up with Ableton but Cubase’s foundation is so strong. Plus I use a PC, which rules out Logic for me. I’m not a big Mac fan because of pricing. I have a really maxed out PC and a really good RME interface, some really good monitors and a couple of MIDI controllers. Somebody said the other day, why don’t you buy some outboard gear and I just said no I have so many plug ins and I just love it. I mix and master everything myself, so it takes a lot of CPU. By the end of a session my computer is smashed. I master on Cubase and that’s another reason why I love it. It’s mixing is incredible, mastering is amazing. Like I said earlier, if Cubase didn’t exist I would have to buy two DAWs. If you go deep into Cubase, it can do anything.”
ANDRO MARTINEZ is a Sydney-based original artist, producer, recording & mixing engineer, session guitarist and beat maker. Andro plays regularly with his brothers in their fabulous soul R’n’B band Gang of Brothers and also works with other artists including: Carlos C-Major, Lolita Mae, and Darryl Beaton.
Andro started using Steinberg’s Cubase around 1995. After using a 4 track machine previously, Andro was taken aback by the new methods of recording that were becoming available.
“I found out that I could do all of these amazing things using software,” he tells me. “I lost my shit! I did a short course at TAFE and that’s where I discovered software and they were using Cubase, so I just went and bought a copy and I have been using Cubase ever since. The moment I found out you could do all of these things on it, that’s all I wanted to do and I went hard at it. I think at the time there was more frustration because computers would crash all the time. Also around then, there were no YouTube videos to teach you, everything was brand new technology.”
For Andro and the multitude of tasks he is involved with, workflow is the most important factor for him in a DAW.
“The sound now is very standard on any DAW, the plug-ins are the same, so I think it’s workflow, being able to get to where you want to quickly but Cubase comes into everything I do. I have written so many songs that are based around the fact that I am using Cubase. If I was writing just on a guitar it would be completely different. There are many ways of writing a song. A lot of people say to write a great song you need a guitar or piano but I think you can write a song just starting from a beat or a synth sound, that you can get out of using a DAW like Cubase.”
In his sales role at a music store in Bondi years ago, it was Andro’s duty to learn about all of the DAWs that were available at the time, so his decision to choose Cubase is significant.
“I have had experience with Logic a bit and Pro Tools and a few others things because I was a hi-tech guy at a music shop in Bondi Junction, so I was selling all the gear. Plus in my studio, a lot of people bring me sessions from other DAWs. I also use Maschine Ni, that’s a big one I do use. I make a lot of beats with that and it talks to Cubase with the connections that I have, so that’s convenient.”
Andro runs Cubase Pro 10.5 and uses an Apollo 8P that’s also connected to an RME ADI8 Pro converter. He also has a JLM Audio preamp, which has 8 inputs.
Häzel is a Melbourne-based, Grammy-nominated producer, sound designer and mixer who has worked with people such as Gallant, Drake, The Beatchild, Mad Clown, Joanna Borromeo, TFOX and was part of a duo called Zebrahim. He has also composed music for commercials and worked on sound designing for film. He is currently working on a project with Adam Kane a guitar player from an Australian band called Jakubi. Häzel will soon be producing again for Gallant’s new album and is currently scoring a documentary for Netflix, as well as doing some sound design work.
How does one become a Grammy Award nominated producer?
“It was really unexpected,” says Häzel. “The true story is that I was just sitting at home one day and I received a message from Warner Music requesting to use one of my beats for an upcoming album, Ology by a new artist called Gallant. I immediately said yes. I’d been uploading a lot of beats on Soundcloud. He recorded his demo directly from what I’d done on Soundcloud. So I said yes and it happened and I was sitting at home one day and I see he gets nominated for a Grammy in the same category as Rhianna, Beyonce, Anderson Paak, in the Best Contemporary Album category of 2016. I was shocked to hear that but it was a pleasant surprise.”
Häzel tells us that he has tried most of the major DAWs but has settled on Pre Sonus Studio One as his production tool.
“I have pretty much used all of them to be super broad but the one I have focused on the most was Cubase, which was one of the first DAWs out there from the Atari days,” he says in explanation of his DAW journey. “I am not from the Atari days but I picked it up around Cubase version 5, then there was version 5 VST which integrated the new plug in system, the virtual instrument developed by Steinberg. I was pretty young at the time, using an Atari MPC. Then Pro Tools came out and was pretty big in the studios. I used Cubase for about ten years and then with some new versions I was having some issues, it was very power hungry, hard to run off a laptop and I was a bit fed up with it. I bought a MIDI controller which came with the prime version of Studio One and for some reason I decided to try it. I immediately found myself extremely comfortable with the DAW. It was super easy to use, very intuitive … everything was drag and drop. You just open your tracks and plug ins and it never crashed on me, no issues. My studios are all equipped with Pre Sonus gear. Coming from using Pro Tools in the studios … I always found Pro Tools to be bit old school in the way it works. It’s pretty much like a tape machine to me. I mean it is good with plug-ins but I needed something that had good MIDI support and Pro Tools had never been known for MIDI support before, I know they have changed a bit now. But I really loved Studio One and I actually messaged the guys at Pre Sonus and said you guys have something really great going here and if there’s anything you need, I am here to help. Every time there are new suggestions from customers, they take notice and keep adding amazing functions to it. They are not missing anything.”
Different producers and artists have different needs from their DAW but for Häzel, it’s all about creativity.
“For me, it is allowing me to be creative and not having any boundaries between my ideas, you know, what I am trying to do and what the software can do. The less work I have to do to achieve what I want is best for me. I really like to work fast. I need to be able to open a track and have a sound coming out of my DAW in less than 5 minutes or I just lose the vibe. With other DAWs sometimes you are looking for a specific thing and you spend too much time trying to assign a plug-in route or something. Like in Pro Tools, you need to create a bus and that’s cool, it works really well but I really like the fact that I can just open my thing in Studio One and it works my way. I haven’t used anything else professionally since using Studio One but I try them out because I am a bit of a geek and I am curious about what’s going on. The upgrade to Logic 10.5 was something I was really curious about just to see what they are doing. I do have a look at things but I don’t necessarily want to change back. I like to be comfortable with what I use. It has been over 5 years that I have been using Studio One and I don’t have any plans on going back. My friends and colleagues that work in the industry show me things they are doing with a different DAW and I feel like it is a step backwards.”
Häzel’s rig: Studio One Professional Version 4 in tandem with a Studio 192 interface, a pair of Eris 8 monitors and an ATOM controller.
CUB SPORT is an independent pop group from Brisbane formed in 2010. With the release of their much anticipated new album ‘Like Nirvana’ on the horizon (July 24), they’re one of the most exciting prospects on the Australian music scene that we’ve seen for a long time. Featuring the angelic voice and deeply personal lyrics of enchanting frontman Tim Nelson and an album full of carefully constructed, intelligent, atmospheric pop tunes, Like Nirvana should see Cub Sport finally receive the acclaim and recognition they truly deserve. Since the band’s inception, they’ve worked with Melbourne-based producer John Castle who uses Apple’s Logic Pro X as his DAW. As a result of John’s recommendation, Cub Sport singer TIM NELSON and drummer DAN PUUSAARI also use Logic in their home-based recording set ups. We’ll catch up with John next but for now, Tim and Dan discuss their DAW journey.
“We have always worked with a producer out of Melbourne, John Castle and he uses Logic,” explains Tim. “When I started wanting to record ideas at home, we just thought it made sense to use the same software that he uses for compatibility and easy transferring of files. I started using it back in about 2014 and I have been teaching myself and feeling my way through it since then. I find that it is pretty intuitive. I have downloaded trials of other software as well but I really like using Logic. I did a subject at uni where I learned how to use Pro Tools, just the basics. I also started teaching myself Ableton but I started getting impatient so I went back to Logic because I knew what I had to do to get things done.”
Is ease of use the most important factor in a DAW for them?
“Yes and also that you can do things quickly enough that you can get an idea happening while you’ve still got it,” says Tim. “I feel like that has been the case for me with Logic.” It’s a similar story for Dan. “I played around with other things when I was younger, some PC software like Audacity and Cool Edit Pro and those sorts of free software packages but as far as anything serious, it has always been Logic.”
For Tim, Logic Pro is used as much in his creative process as it is to record demo ideas. “I love playing around with a lot of vocal effects and using my voice to sound like other instruments and to create some percussive things as well. I guess in that regard, technology and what I can do with software has become integral to some songs in particular.”
The other benefit to Cub Sport of using Logic Pro as their DAW is that they also use Mainstage in their live shows, which is part of the Apple family of sound production applications. That synchronicity is important. When asked about how their new album will translate to their live show, this becomes clear.
“I think with the last album there were a lot of heavily processed synthesiser sounds, so if you’ve got that across ten different analogue synths that are all heavily processed, it’s a bit of a nightmare to recreate them,” Dan says. “So one of the best features of Mainstage live is that it’s the Logic underling… I guess this is another thing to highlight, is that with Mainstage being within that Logic eco-system, Tim can use a soft synth in Logic, put a whole bunch of effects on it and I can get the session at the end and export ‘channel strip’ or export ‘instrument’ and I can open it up in Mainstage and run that exact same instrument. There’s another feature in Mainstage called Auto Sampler (now also a feature in the new version of Logic 10.5) and basically it feeds MIDI at different velocities via MIDI out into your synthesiser and it will go through and sample as many keys as you tell it to or just sample a handful and mathematically figure out what the others will sound like and full the width of the keyboard.”
Tim uses Logic Pro X with an Audient iD4 usb interface and a Baby Bottle Blue Microphone
Dan also uses Logic Pro X with an Audient iD4 and also a Universal Audio Apollo 8 interface
As well as producing Cub Sport, Melbourne-based producer/engineer JOHN CASTLE has worked with The Bamboos for 20 years, recorded Megan Washington’s break-through album and also ran the faders on Vance Joy’s global hit ‘Riptide’, among many other notable credits. He’s currently working with a wide range artists including Mia Wray, Dorsal Fins, Angus and Julia Stone and as always, he’s proud of it all.
“I guess the technical production stuff began with the Megan Washington album I Believe You Liar,” John says of one of his finest achievements. “I’ve been doing the studio since I was about 20 but a lot of that was jazz demos earlier on and then EPs with artists. Megan was the first time I’d done an entire album for a major label. It was just her and I that did the whole record and that took us to some great places and I ended up playing drums with her in the band for about 5 years and did some other releases with her. Vance Joy was a big one that went bananas around the world. That song Riptide existed as it was and I came in and did a few bits and pieces, remixed it and did the rest of the EP. The whole thing only took about a week and obviously went bananas.”
As mentioned earlier, John is a Logic Pro user and has been for some time.
“I am using Logic and have been using it since it came out. Although through the years I have had ADATs, I had the Paris system for a while as well but I love Logic, I have been on it for 20 years or so. I have a subscription copy of Pro Tools that I use every now and then just to get files I need to transfer to Logic but I am not great with Pro Tools.”
For John, the most important factor in a DAW is reliability, just knowing that it’s going to do what it needs to do for him.
“I think that it works consistently and that I have to spend less time thinking about ways to do things. A DAW should be something that doesn’t ever stop your creativity by its technical problems. As far as EQs and compressors go, that’s important but I think something that you can start up and can press record within 5 seconds, that’s the most important thing to me.”
Like he did with the guys from Cub Sport, John likes to recommend Logic Pro to other musicians based on it’s creative capabilities.
“I think Logic is open to someone who is starting to create, whether that’s beat driven or a singer songwriter or whatever. But at the same time I kind of hate myself saying that because it is such a strong audio program as well. I love it’s audio, I love it’s capabilities and its a super serious machine. Back in the old days a lot of people would say well Pro Tools is the professional option for audio and I agreed with that to a certain extent but I could always do everything I wanted to do in Logic. I’ve also had a look at the new version of Logic and I’m talking further with some people about it soon. There’s a lot of stuff there, some interesting updates. There’s stuff that I might not personally use but that’s cool, if it makes it accessible to other people, then that’s great for me too. You know, the Ableton-based systems, taking it away from just being a linear music based system, I think that is a good thing.”
Check out John Castle’s extensive range of studio equipment on his website: http://www.johncastle.com.au/equipment
Well there you have it, several different perspectives on a wide range of DAWs. Do some more research and decide what you need from your DAW. Maybe download a free limited-access trial version or two to get a feel for them. Whichever feels the most comfortable, does what you require it to and fits within your budget is the one for you.