New to Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs)? Some Sound Advice

I'll admit; the first time I heard the acronym "DAW," I had no idea what that meant. DAWs, or Digital Audio Workstations, are used to record bands, generate beats, and manipulate sound in many different ways. Music Education, in general, has been a late adopter of these essential and popular music tools. DAWs were first used steadily in recordings studios in the mid-90s and decades later are rarely seen in music rooms. They're not exactly something we typically get used to during our degrees. Fear not; Steve's Music Room is here for you. There are a few affordable and free cloud-based and not DAWs that are designed or handy for classroom use:


BandLab for Education

BandLab workstation view with drum machine and drum pad screen.
BandLab workstation view with drum machine and drum pad screen.

BandLab for Education is a free cloud-based (online) DAW that has a lot of capabilities. Because it is cloud-based, it means that it can be accessed on any device with access to the internet (with the exception of some handheld devices). Teachers can create classrooms within a safe walled online environment. It follows a US law called the Child Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) meaning online interactions will be safe for learners 13 and under. The non-education side of the site looks almost identical, but has no restrictions on online interactions. BandLab for Education is designed for schools. The collaboration features are a bit cumbersome, however.

BandLab workstation view showing multiple tracks with multiple different colours to indicate each different track.
BandLab workstation view showing multiple tracks.

BandLab opening screen with the options: Instruments, Drum Machine, Voice/Mic, Guitar, Bass, Import Audio/MIDI, and Browse Loops.
BandLab opening screen with the options to choose from.

In BandLab, learners can record, mix loops to create "beats," manipulate MIDI information, and much more. It can help learners sound great almost instantly and can boost their confidence right away. If you are unsure where to begin, start with loops! There is a mobile version of BandLab but the Education credentials do not work for it.


Cakewalk by BandLab

Cakewalk was purchased by BandLab and is a completely free and fully functioning desktop-based DAW that can be installed on school computers for free. It can do much of what most paid DAWs can do.

Cakewalk by BandLab's main workstation screen.
Cakewalk by BandLab's main workstation screen.

Soundtrap for Education

Soundtrap's main workstation screen showing multiple tracks. Looks very similar to BandLab except there is a white background instead of dark and black.
Soundtrap's main workstation screen showing multiple tracks. Looks very similar to BandLab.

Soundtrap for Education, like BandLab, is a fully cloud-based, COPPA-compliant DAW for schools. Unlike BandLab, however, there is a fee for a yearly subscription or a number of "seats" that are required for your learners. Some additional features that BandLab doesn't have like Antares Auto-Tune, and a very intuitive and smooth online collaboration environment are good perks for the money. It even has a user-friendly voice to text editor for use with creating original podcasts.


Audacity

Audacity's workstation screen showing two stereo tracks in blue.
Audacity's workstation screen showing two stereo tracks.

Audacity has been around a very long time. I remember using it in high school (ca. 2001) to record. It is desktop-based, open-source, and completely free. Open-source means that the code for it is available to the public so that app and software developers can add features and add-ons for free. This can make it a little bit difficult to get used to, and doesn't have as many features as other DAWs but it is very well put together for a free app. If all you plan to do, is record live instruments or other sounds, this is the perfect app for you.


GarageBand

GarageBand for iPad virtual instrument set to a scale with a Heavy Metal Organ setting.
GarageBand for iPad virtual instrument set to a scale.

GarageBand is the proprietary DAW for Apple products and it is available for desktop and for mobile. It is pretty easy to use and can do a lot. If your school has iPads or Mac laptops, GarageBand might be all you need. Its touchscreen virtual instruments are unparalleled in the budget mobile DAW world. Unfortunately, this is only available for Apple products. Other than some great virtual instruments, some features include a sampler, a smart drum machine (as well as other "smart" instruments), and a loop launcher.

GarageBand Live Loops on iPad main workstation. It contains blue and yellow boxes to launch loops.
GarageBand Live Loops on iPad main workstation.

I'm hoping this list helps you get started with using DAWs in your music classroom. There is so much creative potential with these apps, and they are so accessible that it is hard to justify not using them. Are there any other DAWs that you use or have seen and would like to tell me about them?


DAW main workstation screen in background with the words "New to Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs)? Some Sound Advice!" and the Steve's Music Room Publishing logo.
New to Digital Audio Workstations? Some Sound Advice

Until next time, Happy Musicking!






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