The recording industry, which once relied on multi-track tape recorders and mixing boards, has embraced the use of recording and mixing computer software. The benefits to using computer software tools, known as digital audio workstations or DAWs, include better quality recordings that are free from tape’s hiss and drop-out flaws, and the ability to easily edit audio material.
The mixing process, where volume, equalization and other processes are adjustable on every track, can be automated and fine tuned to create finished works in less time and with superior results.
Digital audio workstation software for recording and mixing come packaged with multiple “plug-in” programs. Third party vendors also make plug-ins for recording software. These programs interface with the workstation software to provide tools used in mixing, such as reverb, compression, equalization and other special effects. Other popular plug-ins include the emulation of guitar amplifier speaker cabinets and pitch shifting to correct a vocalist who sings a note off key.
Apple computers come packaged with a recording and mixing program called Garage Band. It can be upgraded to a more sophisticated product, Logic Pro. Dozens of tracks can be assembled to create compositions. Features called Flex Time and Varispeed allow you to speed up or slow down and entire song to conform to a desired tempo. Garage Band and Logic are only available for running on Apple computers.
Sony’s Sound Forge software is available at a low price of $65 for the basic program that turns any PC computer into a recording studio. It, too, contains many “bells and whistles,” with 30 built-in audio effects and over 1,000 sound effects. It’s short learning curve and low cost make it attractive to home recording hobbyists and musicians
The list of computer recording and mixing software programs is long, with names such as Logic Pro, Ableton Live, Nuendo, Cubase, Sonar and the standard of the industry, Pro Tools. It is not uncommon to find Pro Tools software in both professional and home recording studios, even if other programs are also used. This is because Pro Tools has become an accepted standard, which enables musicians and producers to have compatibility with one another and share music files. Pro Tools is also available for both Apple and PC computing platforms. With associated hardware, Pro Tools comes in several versions, with the top-of-the-line system having the horsepower to handle 96 input channels simultaneously.
All digital audio workstation software, regardless of the program, has the ability to record live musicians performing or to piece together “samples” to make compositions. “Samples” refer to short segments of music that can be “looped” or copied and pasted multiple times. For example, a four-bar drum pattern can be copied and pasted sequentially to create a complete drum track for a song.
There is, however, one program that is different than all the rest, namely, Band In A Box. BIAB is used more for music creation by utilizing prerecorded instrument parts to build songs, as opposed to actually recording a musician’s performance. Both Windows and Mac compatible, BIAB is a unique program for composers and students. By entering chord names into a grid, song arrangements can be composed. This allows a musician to create backing tracks to which he can sing and play along with. Various styles from rock, jazz, blues to classical can be created to accompany both professional and amatuer musicians.