Beginning in the 1990s, people first started recognizing that developments in computer technology would now allow them to begin using their homes as recording studios. This is mainly due to a more modern and user-friendly type of software called Digital Audio Workstations.
Over the years DAW software has evolved to the point where there are many different types of programs that home recording enthusiasts can choose from. There are both free and paid for DAW programs, with some of the more popular free choices, like Audacity, being used more and more frequently.
For those who are interested in home studio software, then this article is certainly something you should read. I say this because I’m hoping to touch on pretty much everything you will need and want to know about the home studio software revolution.
Free vs. Paid DAW
The first thing that’s important to explain is briefly mentioned above, and that’s the fact that there are both free and paid for home studio software and before you decide which type is going to work best for you, it’s important to do a bit of research beforehand.
An interesting article posted on the website E-Home Recording Studio helps with this conundrum when it mentions that, “Rather than using a free crappy DAW…the smarter plan is to use a “limited” version of a paid DAW instead. Many companies offer these versions specifically to accommodate smaller home studios on a budget. Most are cheap, some are even free, yet they still include 95% of the same features of the full version. Since only advanced engineers tend to use the “premium” features, you probably won’t even miss them.”
This is great advice for novices of home recording studio software because it will allow you get more comfortable with the type of software you choose, while still leaving the door open to change if you find that you don’t like a particular aspect of the chosen software.
What kind of computer is needed for home studio software?
Obviously, before you even begin to think about what type of DAW software you want to use, you first must have a computer capable of running the required software. The majority of modern computers are usually powerful enough to use this type of software and you can also choose between a Mac or PC as there is software for both that will adequately meet your needs.
PCs running Windows as well as Mac OS, both have enormous combinations of hardware, system and audio settings that can affect how studio software runs on your computer. Choosing whether to use a PC or Mac ultimately comes down to which system you feel more comfortable using, as managing these options will be much easier if you already have a fair bit of background knowledge of that particular system.
As mentioned above, there are tons of settings both in and out of the DAW software that you can choose to tweak if you so desire. Doing this may improve stability and performance if you experience audio playback problems such as dropouts, pops, clicks, and other issues.
How do you tweak a PC?
Updating the physical hardware of your computer is one of the most expensive and dramatic ways to improve a computer’s ability in handling DAW software, but you can avoid this by simply upgrading the computer’s storage drive or RAM instead.
A PC’s performance will also be noticeably better with a new power supply, cooling system or graphics card and if your budget allows, use a Solid State Drive (SSD) instead of a Hard Disk Drive (HDD) for your operating system. An SSD is more expensive per Gigabyte, but the performance increase you’ll notice is well worth the money.
Another way to tweak your PC for better audio performance when using home studio software is to make sure your computers drivers are up-to-date. This is important because drivers are the link between your computer’s hardware and software. The Device Manager can be used to update the drivers with the soundcard option being found under the heading ‘Sound, Video, and Game Controllers.’ Once you’ve found this, all you need to do is right-click on it and Choose ‘Update Driver Software.’
Typically, the audio driver chosen for production matters a great deal. The best driver for Windows low-latency playback is called ASIO4ALL and it’s a must for Windows audio systems. If you have this driver, and your DAW software is not working how you would like, you can update this driver by visiting the following website.
Another issue that could affect the way your DAW software runs is the fact that Aero Graphics is the default theme used by Windows and it determines the quality of animations, snapping window transparency, and other visual effects. These effects use quite a bit of the systems memory resources and on older PCs, this amount can cause significant slowdown.
To counter the rather high memory usage of these unnecessary visual effects, simply switch to a visual style that is more basic. You can do this by accessing the Control Panel from the Start Menu and choosing the Personalization option. The choices presented will range from Basic to High Contrast Themes with basic being your best bet if your DAW software is not running optimally.
Disabling the anti-spyware, anti-virus, and firewall options will also free up system resources and ensure there will be no interruption during playback or recording. The DAW program you choose to use usually has information on its website that explains how you can temporarily disable these.
You should also disable system sounds as they can interrupt DAW software as well. You can do this by going into your computers control panel and under Hardware and Sound, access Sound and choose “No sounds.”
Lastly, unused settings and files will also take up valuable space on the hard drive and it collects as a computer grows older. This will cause your computer to run slower and slower over time. Thankfully, you can clean up these files/settings and make your computer faster with a maintenance app such as CCleaner. If you feel your computer is clogged up with this type of unwanted material you can access the download for this cleaning app free of charge on their website.
Six other improvements can be made on the computer for studio software. They include:
- Allocating Processor Resources
- Enabling Direct Memory Access (DMA) on Every IDE Channel
- Defragmenting your Hard Drive(s)
- Using a Registry and Disk Cleaner
- Disabling Unnecessary Window Services
- Using ReadyBoost
Any or all of the above improvements mentioned above will give an older computer a dramatic performance boost. It’s important to mention however that tweaking your PC is generally only used if you experience a lot of issues while running your DAW software. You can certainly avoid this rather convoluted process by simply comparing your computer’s hardware specifications with the recommended specifications of the DAW software.
How do you tweak a Mac?
The settings that may need to be tweaked on a Mac include:
- Buffer Size
- Power Supply
- USB Ports
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
- Energy Saver
An audio latency or buffer size setting is offered by most audio applications along with sample rate preferences. This is important to know because the time available for the computer to complete all continuous playback calculations is determined by the buffer size.
The recommended setting for a buffer size is 250 or 512 samples at a rate of 44,100 Hz. For OS X 10.9 or higher models of a Mac, 48,000 Hz is recommended.
If there is a noticeable lag between the audio and your actions, such as playing virtual instruments with a keyboard live, decrease the value to 128 samples. Increase samples to 512 if dropouts in the audio playback are experienced.
Most Mac computers provide two USB ports. An external USB hub may be needed to expand the usage of external simultaneous USB devices. Take the following into consideration when using a USB hub in the hardware setup.
- Only use a USB hub that draws power from an external power supply of its own. The market refers to them as powered USB hubs.
- Do not connect a USB hub to an external USB audio interface. Because audio interfaces need a significant amount of computation and power, so they must be directly connected to a free USB port.
All other USB hub devices can be connected to another USB port that is free.
All applications other than the audio software being used should also be closed. These applications basically include any software not required for your audio work which includes any unnecessary background processes, as well as email applications and Internet browsers.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
Wi-Fi should also be turned off as it has the potential to interfere with audio playback. To do this find the desktop header and click on the symbol for Wi-Fi. Then in the menu, select Turn Wi-Fi off. Similarly, Bluetooth can be switched off by clicking on the symbol for Bluetooth and selecting Turn Bluetooth off.
To optimize power consumption, the Mac Energy Saver application has several options and it may be necessary to deactivate them when using DAW software. In order to do this, simply go into the System Preferences, choose Energy Saver and manipulate your settings so that your DAW software is working optimally.
If you have MacBook Pro with Intel HD Graphics and a dedicated graphics card, before starting your DAW software, switch the mode for graphics to Higher Performance. The switch is done in the Preferences Energy Saver section of a Mac OS system. This will simply boost the amount of memory dedicated to the rather intricate amount of audio graphics seen in most DAW software allowing for the software to run a bit more smoothly.
Again, as mentioned above, if you find that your computer simply can’t run the DAW software smoothly you can decide to try a few of these tweaks, which will certainly help get your computer running a bit better. You can also just try and find a DAW program that more adequate fits into what your particular computer can handle.
Ultimately, those folks who are on a rather tight budget can use these tweaks to avoid having to buy a brand new computer for their home audio recording needs. Though these can be a rather simple fix for those who are more experienced with the various ways to free up memory and space on their computer, it may be a little frustrating for those who aren’t as versed in these tweaking strategies.
My honest opinion would be to first try out some of the tweaking techniques mentioned in this article just to see if they will have a dramatic effect on how the DAW software runs. If none of the techniques seem to work, I would then try to find a more basic DAW program to use that I know my computer can handle. If that particular program doesn’t have all of the things I need to record what I need it to, then it’s probably time to purchase a new computer capable of handling any type of DAW software.
What Software Do the Experts Recommend?
Now that we’ve had your computer tweaked and ready to go, the next thing you’ll need to know is what kind of software the experts recommend. As mentioned above, E-Home Recording Studio recommends starting with a limited version of a paid program or perhaps an even better option would be to start with something that is free but can be upgraded if necessary. Here is a list of some of the best DAW software programs that are capable of professional results.
The feature that makes Ableton Live unique is that it was initially meant to be used as an instrument for live performances. It has since evolved into a recording package though live performing still remains the primary goal of the software.
The features that make it ideal for live performances are the visual interface that easily fits on a laptop screen, as well as, the third-party controllers that were explicitly designed for this software with the most popular models listed below.
- Novation Launchpad
- Akai Professional APC Mini
- Ableton Push 2 with Live 9 Intro
Apple Logic Pro X
Emagic built the first version of Logic in 2002 and soon after Apple considered it to be very promising and purchased it. Similar to other Apple acquisitions, this proved to be a wise investment as Logic is now among the top DAWs available. The only downside is that this software is not compatible with Windows.
Since this software is a Mac only platform, Logic users have the assuredness that any audio interface that is compatible with Mac OS X will work with Logic as well. Macs are very popular with today’s musicians as it provides users with numerous interface options.
Avid Pro Tools
Pro Tools is practically a household name and is a music industry standard with both home and professional studios using it. Being so well-known is a strong argument for using Pro Tools though the software is certainly not for everyone. E-Home Recording Studio does recommend if for beginners who haven’t a clue where to start. Below are the three versions available.
- Pro Tools First
- Pro Tools 12
- Pro Tools HD 12
It should be noted that if it fits into your budget, Pro Tools 12 is recommended while Pro Tools First is still a good second choice.
This is the least favorite recommendation from E-Home Recording Studio but it still deserves to be on the list because, for years, it has ranked among top DAWs. The drawback of the Cakewalk SONAR is that it is compatible only with Windows computer programs.
The best features of the SONAR are the serial numbers which are used to unlock the software instead of the complicated USB dongles most DAWs require; also the Studio and X3 versions are extremely affordable.
In 2004, Cockus Incorporated began building Rapid Environment for Audio Prototyping and Efficient Recording (REAPER). A bootstrapping business model positioned the Reaper as the top mainstream DAW alternative.
Its popularity was built almost entirely by word-of-mouth and enthusiastic users simply love the product. The reasons for this are because of the products frequent update releases and the fact that user feedback is the main basis for what and which added improvements are incorporated.
The price structure is another selling point. The one and only version of the software can be downloaded for free (and full) unrestricted use is offered with no time limit. After 60 days of software use, the company requests a purchase of a discounted license for private and commercial use. This is fantastic because it allows users to test out the software for free and if they’ve determined it’s the right DAW for them they can then purchase it outright.
The private license is $60 while a money-making business is asked to purchase a $225 commercial license. This unique request is made on the honor system so take that as you will. Reaper is also the most inexpensive option of any other DAW on this list.
Kellogg’s breakfast cereal took issue with the company originally calling this software Fruity Loop. So, after over ten years, the classic software my Imagine-Line changed the name to FL Studios. This software is a favorite of DJs, EDM musicians, and Hip-Hop artists.
Features that make it a hit include:
- Extensive automation capabilities
- Flexible Piano roll
- Spreadsheet-like Playlist
- Free lifetime updates with the Signature or Producer bundle
It should be noted that the Fruity Edition cannot be used for audio recording so unless you produce only electronic music, the Fruity Edition is not a good choice. The company also offers the FL Studio Mobile version.
Presonus Studio One 3
This manufacturer has been making quality software at prices people can afford for a long time with the first version being released in 2009. Recently, they’ve decided to add a DAW line with Steinberg Cubase helping develop the software.
Studio One has since become a serious DAW competitor. The most popular version, Studio One PRIME is a free download, but there are also two other versions available: Studio One ARTIST and Studio One PROFESSIONAL.
This software offers a feature not found with other DAWs being that it is a solid stand-alone DAW. It functions as a virtual instruments suite that can be combined with other DAWs. The Reason allows electronic musicians to collaborate with producers working on almost any platform. It has the feel and look of real analog gear with the interface design mimicking an actual studio rack.
The Steinberg Cubase is another old-timer on this list as Steinberg released the original Cubase version in 1989. Soon after, three major advancements were released. In 1992, the software was made compatible with Windows and supported audio. Then in 1996, the company introduced VST plugins and in 1999, VST instruments were added. Both were industry standards for quite some time and as of today, Cubase continues to be relevant and amongst the top choice is DAW software.
How do you install studio software?
Once a DAW has been chosen for your home studio, the process of installing it is the next step. Be forewarned: the process can be a bit complicated. Though you may experience some frustration with this process it’s rather typical and not an indication there is something wrong with your DAW.
It’s important to understand that with any type of new software a little bit of trial and error is usually going to be required. If you find yourself struggling with any aspect of the installation process there are many great tutorial websites that will be happy to lend a hand.
An example of this is that the first five software installations listed below each vary in complexity. Those that are not listed below have instructions that come with the package and can also be found online.
As mentioned above, before you start, check that your computer is compatible with your Mac OS or Windows version and meets the system requirements. It also may be in your best interest to register the software online.
Ableton Live 10
For Ableton Live 10, you first need to create an account. After doing this you will get a Software Activation Instructions email then all you have to do is locate the registration code, copy and paste it into the Ableton product registration webpage in the Serial Number field then simply click the submit button.
After you are registered, download links for the software will appear in your account. You will then be given instructions for installing the software on both Windows and Mac OS. Once installed, it can be accessed from a Desktop shortcut, Windows Start Menu, and Mac OS Application folder.
Start the program and follow the instructions to finish the authorization with either offline or online methods. When asked to select a license for approval, choose the version you registered.
Plugins are scanned into the software and Ableton also has a support article that provides more information.
Apple Logic Pro X
Apple Logic Pro X is available for download at the Apple App Store. An installation wizard will appear after the purchase to guide you through the process. It should be noted that this particular program may require a bit of patience when first starting out.
After launching Logic Pro X, additional content can be downloaded by choosing Logic Pro X, then by selecting Download Additional Content. You’ll then need to select the content package you desire and click Install.
Once installed, if Logic Pro becomes overrun by glitches or you lose power, you may need to shut down other apps in order to free up memory.
When apps are not actively working or hidden, they enter ‘app nap’ that saves battery life and power. The feature can cause problems if Logic Pro is put in the background when you happen to need to minimize the program for some reason.
In order to prevent napping, simply Ctrl-click or right-click the Logic Pro X application in the Applications folder and choose ‘Get Info,’ then simply check the Prevent App Nap box.
You can turn other preferences off or on by accessing the main menu, choosing Logic Pro X, Preferences, then Advanced Tools and checking the Show Advanced Tools box.
A DVD drive is needed to install Pro Tools. A pre-authorized iLok is also included in the software package that has to be inserted into the computer’s USB port. The purpose of this is that the iLok is capable of holding hundreds of authorizations meaning that once the software is authorized, the iLok can be used to permit it for use on any computer.
To install Pro Tools, you first must be logged into the account as an Administrator. Then either go online to download the Pro Tools installer or insert the installer disc into the computer’s DVD drive.
For Windows, the next step depends on whether AutoRun is enabled. If it is, a mini-browser will appear and to begin the installation, simply select Install Pro Tools. If the AutoRun is disabled, find Setup.exe by searching your computer’s disc drive and double click on it, then start the installation by selecting Install Pro Tools.
On a Mac, find Install Pro Tools.mpkg and double-click. Then click Allow if a dialog box appears for the User Account Control.
Click Continue Anyway if a warning about passing Windows Logo testing appears and then the installation will continue by showing some more on-screen instructions. Next when the Installation Type page appears, either click Continue to install Pro Tools application files along with a suite of free plugs, or select the custom configuration Installation option and click Continue.
You may be asked for your Administrator password before clicking to authenticate the installation. There will then be further on-screen instructions to follow that will tell you to restart a Mac, or click finish on Windows, when the installation is complete.
This software is relatively easy to install just have the serial number handy (which can be found on the back of the DVD case) while closing any programs that are open and running.
Put the installation DVD in the disc drive and if AutoRun is enabled, the SONAR AutoRun Menu will open automatically. If it’s not enabled, simply select Run from the Start Menu and enter d:\AutoRun.exe (d:\ being representative of the disc drive).
Click the button for Install SONAR and there will be on-screen installation instructions for you to follow.
Everything you need to know about Reaper is found on the Reaper website. You can download the software from there and it is compatible with both Windows and Mac OS X.
WinRAR Software has to be installed to get Extract the Files. Right-click on Extract File and when the file is extracted, a flstudio application file appears. Double-click on the flstudio 11.1.1 file to start the installation. It takes about two to three minutes to extract with the entire installation taking five to ten minutes.
When the extraction is complete simply click next on the Pop-up in order to proceed to the next step. You’ll then click I Agree when asked about the Terms of Agreement and continue on by clicking All Users. Don’t make changes to the Pop-up window that appears, just click next.
Keep pressing next until the software is completely installed. The only change you may want to make is the Destination folder. To do that press Browse and select your Fl studio Destination.
You’ll now want to click Next to install ASIO4ALL 2.11 Beta 2 for Sound Drivers. You will get a License Agreement, so click the acceptance button, press next, and proceed. Click on Run FL studio 11, and unmark it to Install the Full version, and then press Finish.
You’ll now need to open the FL Regkey, press yes, then OK. Go back to the FL Regkey, select Merge and repeat the process of yes and OK. There will be a How to Install Video with a brief explanation for installing Fl studio 11.1.1.
With the rise of modern technology, you have plenty of easy to use and affordable options for you to use to record high-quality mixes right onto your computer. Which one is right for you will largely depend on personal preference as well as your budget and what kind of computer you choose to use. I hope that this article has given you some ideas on where to start looking and some great tools for you to use to create your own awesome tunes from the comfort of your own home studio.