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What is a digital audio workstation?

From: Ableton Live 8 Essential Training

Video: What is a digital audio workstation?

Computer-based recording and editing systems are often referred to as digital audio workstations, or DAWs. DAWs are made up of the following components: a computer running a music production software program such as Ableton Live; an external hard drive to store your library and audio files; a microphone, which can capture a sound from a singer or instrument, and convert it to an electrical signal; an audio interface, which converts the audio from an electrical signal to a digital signal, and then so we can listen to the audio coming out of the computer, it converts the signal from digital back to electrical; a MIDI keyboard controller, which will allow you to send MIDI signals representing the notes and chords you play to Ableton Live; and headphones or speakers, which convert the electrical signal back to sound pressure waves, so that you can hear and evaluate your music.

What is a digital audio workstation?

Computer-based recording and editing systems are often referred to as digital audio workstations, or DAWs. DAWs are made up of the following components: a computer running a music production software program such as Ableton Live; an external hard drive to store your library and audio files; a microphone, which can capture a sound from a singer or instrument, and convert it to an electrical signal; an audio interface, which converts the audio from an electrical signal to a digital signal, and then so we can listen to the audio coming out of the computer, it converts the signal from digital back to electrical; a MIDI keyboard controller, which will allow you to send MIDI signals representing the notes and chords you play to Ableton Live; and headphones or speakers, which convert the electrical signal back to sound pressure waves, so that you can hear and evaluate your music.

If you don't currently own some of these components, and are considering purchasing one or more of them to complement your home recording setup, here are some things you should consider. Most of the processing required by a music production application like Ableton Live is handled by the computer. So the experience will be more enjoyable if you use a fast computer with at least 4 gigabytes of RAM. Also, your system will run more efficiently if you store and access your Live projects and sets on a separate drive from where your operating system and applications are stored. This additional drive can be an internal drive, but you'll probably find it more convenient to use an external drive.

I'd recommend using a FireWire drive, but USB 2 drives can also be used. In either case, use a drive with at least a 7,200 RPM spin rate. Ableton Live will run without an external audio interface--instead using the computers built-in converters. However, these converters are not nearly as good as those found in an audio interface. As a result, your recordings will not be as good. The available audio interfaces have many options. For example, some interfaces connect to the computer using a USB cable. Until recently, most of these were USB 1.0, which has a transfer rate of around 10 megabits per second.

This is slow for audio, and so most of these interfaces only offer a maximum of two simultaneous inputs, and a maximum of 48-kilohertz sampling rate. Both the newer USB 2.0 and FireWire interfaces are a better choice in my opinion. Both offer sampling rates of up to 96 kilohertz, two to eight simultaneous inputs, and an overall more robust performance. Look for an interface that offers instrument and line inputs in addition to microphone inputs. You'll probably appreciate options like multiple headphone outputs, built-in MIDI interface, guitar tuner, and effects.

If you're looking to purchase a new MIDI controller, there are several controllers that are designed to work specifically with Live. A list of those controllers is available on the Ableton web site at ableton.com/controllers. These native controllers offer remote control over launching scenes and clips, instruments and effects, as well as mixer controls. Most of these devices have knobs that map to Live macros using instant mapping, which will greatly enhance your automation and your live performances. Purchasing a microphone can be a confusing experience.

It's best to focus on a microphone purchase on a very specific choice. For example, a small diaphragm condenser microphone is often the mic of choice for recording acoustic guitars. Dynamic microphones are typically used to record guitar amps. Large diaphragm mics are often best for recording vocals. Before you purchase a microphone, do some research, and if possible, borrow or rent before you buy. Also, if you're recording vocals, I'd suggest purchasing a pop filter. They help to knock down those nasty plosive consonants, and can also protect the microphone.

Purchasing speakers and headphones are a lot like microphones; there are so many to choose from. In either case, you want to use reference headphones or speakers. They accurately reproduce sound without the coloration that you typically get in similar consumer devices. Again, research is important. Auditioning speakers with recordings you know well is critical. In the end, you want to be able to record and mix your projects, knowing that what you're hearing will transfer to other playback systems. Now that you understand the important issues in choosing equipment for a home recording studio, you can begin assembling the necessary devices.

In the next video, we'll talk about connecting equipment, and the best way to power on and off your home studio.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Ableton Live 8 Essential Training
Ableton Live 8 Essential Training

69 video lessons · 17048 viewers

Rick Schmunk
Author

 
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  1. 1m 30s
    1. Welcome
      49s
    2. Using the exercise files
      41s
  2. 8m 43s
    1. What is a digital audio workstation?
      4m 13s
    2. Choosing the right gear and setting up a system
      4m 30s
  3. 12m 59s
    1. Setting up audio preferences
      3m 54s
    2. Setting up MIDI preferences
      3m 31s
    3. Optimizing performance
      5m 34s
  4. 35m 42s
    1. Understanding Session view
      8m 7s
    2. Working with Live browsers
      5m 3s
    3. Working with Live clips
      7m 57s
    4. Understanding clip properties
      7m 52s
    5. Working with Live scenes
      6m 43s
  5. 28m 16s
    1. Building Live Sets and projects
      4m 25s
    2. Learning Live file management
      4m 2s
    3. Exporting content from Live
      7m 32s
    4. Importing and exporting Live Packs
      3m 17s
    5. Searching for and auditioning clips
      4m 58s
    6. Setting up frequently accessed folders
      4m 2s
  6. 23m 3s
    1. Preparing to record MIDI
      5m 51s
    2. Recording and overdubbing MIDI
      4m 32s
    3. Working with alternate MIDI entry methods
      6m 49s
    4. Using multi-output virtual instruments
      5m 51s
  7. 24m 26s
    1. The MIDI Editor
      4m 49s
    2. Quantizing MIDI data
      6m 6s
    3. Advanced MIDI editing
      6m 49s
    4. Setting up groove in editing
      6m 42s
  8. 9m 18s
    1. Preparing to record
      5m 0s
    2. Recording audio
      4m 18s
  9. 22m 37s
    1. Understanding Arrangement view
      3m 41s
    2. Recording in Arrangement view
      3m 51s
    3. Recording from Session view to Arrangement view
      5m 21s
    4. Reworking clips
      9m 44s
  10. 27m 57s
    1. Understanding Live's mixer
      12m 38s
    2. Using sends and returns
      3m 47s
    3. Building headphone cues
      3m 49s
    4. Grouping tracks
      7m 43s
  11. 43m 14s
    1. Working with effect devices
      4m 56s
    2. Understanding EQ and filters
      7m 14s
    3. Using compressors and dynamic processors
      7m 28s
    4. Building interesting effects with delay effect processing
      8m 18s
    5. Using reverb effectively
      8m 22s
    6. Setting up side chain effects easily
      6m 56s
  12. 15m 37s
    1. Creating rhythmic patterns with the Arpeggiator effect
      8m 38s
    2. Building background parts with the Chord and Scale effects
      6m 59s
  13. 25m 24s
    1. Building automation patterns
      8m 44s
    2. Editing existing automation information
      5m 3s
    3. Using fades to mask audio pops and clicks
      4m 10s
    4. Understanding the power of clip envelopes
      7m 27s
  14. 20m 17s
    1. Understanding the basics of looping
      6m 54s
    2. Creating tracks that loop smoothly
      7m 50s
    3. Using warp features to quantize audio
      5m 33s
  15. 17m 47s
    1. Using the computer keyboard to control Live
      6m 39s
    2. Mapping device controls to the MIDI keyboard
      4m 36s
    3. Using Live's instant mapping feature
      6m 32s
  16. 10m 44s
    1. Exporting audio
      5m 37s
    2. Freezing tracks
      5m 7s
  17. 20m 45s
    1. Building with the Impulse virtual instrument
      11m 35s
    2. Working with the Simpler virtual instrument
      9m 10s
  18. 36m 22s
    1. Overview of Live racks
      10m 13s
    2. Combining instruments and effects into a single device
      8m 22s
    3. Adding effects with Drum Rack
      11m 28s
    4. Assigning rack parameters to macros
      6m 19s
  19. 13m 53s
    1. Setting up ReWire with Pro Tools
      7m 3s
    2. Setting up ReWire with Logic
      6m 50s
  20. 33m 43s
    1. Preparing audio clips with the Warp tool
      14m 31s
    2. Triggering clips using follow actions
      8m 9s
    3. Using Live as a sound source
      11m 3s
  21. 7m 21s
    1. Working with video files
      7m 21s
  22. 37s
    1. Further Recommendations
      37s

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