Architecture of a Digital Audio Workstation
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Published: Wed, 02 Aug 2017
A digital audio workstation (DAW) is an electronic tool, or program/software designed around the production of audio – recording, editing post-production etc – and often even video files. This tutorial will focus on illustrated components from FL Studio 12.
A DAW can be broken down into three main components….
- Recording audio from analogue and other sound sources
- Editing that audio with a variety of effects and plugins
- Exporting a project into an audio file (mp3, wav, flac, etc)
Inputs and Outputs
As touched up upon in my guide about the processes and components of a studio recording, in order to record audio, you need an ADC, and DAC in the form of a microphone or other sound source, when you connect the hardware up and boot the software, you will have to tell the DAW where it is recording audio from when starting a new project.
This is where the mixer, and auxes/buses come in.
What is an aux/bus?
A bus is a connection of many different inputs/signals, and sending however much of the signal you want to another track, such as an aux. This is particularly useful for if you have found yourself creating a particular complex project. If you had for example eight drum tracks, it could be difficult to manage them all individually, so you can send them as a bus to an aux track for further editing to the mix.
An auxiliary track on the other hand, is an actual track that can be manipulated. The aux track is the result of where your inputs have been routes, and is where you would process it with effects, such as reverb, compression or delay. Think of the aux as a sub-master track for these effects.
The main elements you will come to use on the interface are the channel rack, piano roll, mixer, timeline. Most of this is commonplace to other DAWs, with minor differences to plugin usage.
The mixer is very similar to a mixing desk.
Here you can route channels to an insert (one of the many columns to the left), once a channel is routed to here, you can begin to add effects such as reverb, panning, equalization (EQ) and also record and add effects to audio in real time from microphones and other sound sources.
In a typical studio setup, a physical mixing desk will interact directly, combined with automation, allows for a lot of interaction with each component.
You can also connect a MIDI controller, record what you play, and quantise to clear up imperfections.
Various DAWs also feature a timeline where the body of your music is presented. In FL Studio 12, it is presented in the playlist, where you paint in patterns – think a pattern for a drum loop, or certain parts of the song that occur more than once throughout a track. On a DAW such as Pro Tools, most of the editing is accessed via the timeline itself, granting easy access to plugins.
Exporting your project
When you are satisfied with a project, it is important to know your options when ready to convert the project into an audio file, which may determine the overall quality of your track
When exporting a track, think how you would like that to be distributed. The .mp3 is the most common file type.
Exporting at this quality usually ranges from 192kbps to 320kbps, the lower this value, the lower the overall quality, though the smaller the file size.
Various places, such as Bandcamp allow for people to download your track in any format that works for them, in cases like this, .WAV, or .FLAC might be most appropriate file type, as these are types of Iossless compression – retains more of the raw audio data, no loss of quality, compared to the lossy compression using .mp3 which attempts to remove data that your ears cannot normally cannot hear.
Hopefully you have been able to learn more about the interface of a DAW, while my preference is for FL Studio, there are many other popular DAWs like Pro Tools, Logic Pro and Cubase.
When working with a DAW, I like to see it as a playpark, a place you can be as creative as you wish, there is no wrong way to make music, though being armed with the knowledge to start, will make the process much more enjoyable, and feel more natural.
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