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Chapter 6. Digital Audio Workstations

6.1. Knowing Which DAW to Use
6.2. Stages of Recording
6.2.1. Recording
6.2.2. Mixing
6.2.3. Mastering
6.2.4. More Information
6.3. Interface Vocabulary
6.3.1. Session
6.3.2. Track and Multitrack
6.3.3. Region, Clip, or Segment
6.3.4. Transport and Playhead
6.3.5. Automation
6.4. User Interface
6.4.1. Messages Pane
6.4.2. Clock
6.4.3. Track Info Pane
6.4.4. Track Pane
6.4.5. Transport Controls
The term Digital Audio Workstation (henceforth DAW) refers to the entire hardware and software setup used for professional (or professional-quality) audio recording, manipulation, synthesis, and production. It originally referred to devices purpose-built for the task, but as personal computers have become more powerful and wide-spread, certain specially-designed personal computers can also be thought of as DAWs. The software running on these computers, especially software capable of multi-track recording, playback, and synthesis, is simply called "DAW software," which is often shortened to "DAW." So, the term "DAW" and its usage are moderately ambiguous, but generally refer to one of the things mentioned.
For other terms related to digital audio, see Chapter 1, Sound Cards and Digital Audio.

6.1. Knowing Which DAW to Use

The Musicians' Guide covers three widely-used DAWs: Ardour, Qtractor, and Rosegarden. All three use JACK extensively, are highly configurable, share a similar user interface, and allow users to work with both audio and MIDI signals. Many other DAWs exist, including a wide selection of commercially-available solutions. Here is a brief description of the programs documented in the Musicians' Guide:
  • Ardour is the open-source standard for audio manipulation. Flexible and extensible.
  • Qtractor is a relative new-comer, but easy to use; a "lean and mean," MIDI-focused DAW. Available from Planet CCRMA at Home or RPM Fusion.
  • Rosegarden is a well-tested, feature-packed workhorse of Linux audio, especially MIDI. Includes a visual score editor for creating MIDI tracks.
If you are unsure of where to start, then you may not need a DAW at all:
  • If you are looking for a high-quality recording application, or a tool for manipulating one audio file at a time, then you would probably be better off with Audacity. This will be the choice of most computer users, especially those new to computer audio, or looking for a quick solution requiring little specialized knowledge. Audacity is also a good way to get your first computer audio experiences, specifically because it is easier to use than most other audio software.
  • To take full advantage of the features offered by Ardour, Qtractor, and Rosegarden, your computer should be equipped with professional-quality audio equipment, including an after-market audio interface and input devices like microphones. If you do not have access to such equipment, then Audacity may be a better choice for you.
  • If you are simply hoping to create a "MIDI recording" of some sheet music, you are probably better off using LilyPond. This program is designed primarily to create printable sheet music, but it will produce a MIDI-format version of a score if you include the following command in the score section of your LilyPond source file: \midi { }. There are a selection of options that can be put in the midi section; refer to the LilyPond help files for a listing.