We are fortunate to live in the age of connectivity whereby we can achieve practically anything from almost anywhere, using very little to do so. The same can be said for DAWs where most of the available programs are compatible with multiple OS (Operating System/s) so, if you’re trying to figure out which program is right for you there’s a smorgasbord of software at your disposal. However, as we explored in our previous article there are workstations specifically designed for either Mac or PC.
Previously, we took a look at Garage Band and Logic Pro as the DAWs of choice for Apple users. These programs are both owned by Apple and therefore have some handy interchangeable features, as well as a steady flow from a beginner-style program (Garage Band) into a more advanced workstation (Logic Pro). It can be said that Logic is a ‘graduation’ from Garage Band in that it offers more of a professional studio environment and it also has a price associated with it. In the PC or Windows realm, there are programs designed exclusively for the OS but they are not owned by Windows and don’t come as a part of the package when you choose a PC device – unlike the Garage Band and Apple relationship.
With this being said, we’ll focus on two DAWs that are designed for Windows and have a similar price range to those previously mentioned, of the Mac-build. BandLab’s Cakewalk and Acoustica’s Mixcraft are the programs of choice for this article and we’ll be exploring some of the things that make them desirable workstations as well as establish a couple of reasons why these are great choices of DAW for anybody who is an avid Windows supporter.
Cakewalk by BandLab is very similar to another DAW you might be familiar with – SONAR. The main difference is the price. Cakewalk is completely free and comes equipped with pretty much everything you’ll get with SONAR. In fact, if you head on over to SONAR’s website a message with a hyperlink pops up inviting you to check out Cakewalk as well as mentioning that it is a free alternative. You may have also heard of ‘BandLab’ which is an online DAW that operates within your web browser – this isn’t the same thing because what we’ll talk about today is a desktop program but this online feature comes integrated into the desktop version, which is a fantastic extra.
The most notable feature of this DAW is that it is free. It’s almost unbelievable that a workstation of this stature would be free to use due to the fact that it’s a hot-competitor for any of the industry-standard programs that are available today, with a lot of additional bonus features. The people behind this brand really seem to care about empowering the independent musician by offering this all free of charge as well as including some great money-making tools that leave you with 100% of your earnings (unlike most distribution platforms nowadays). Basically, you can do it all with this software.
As with most contemporary workstations, you can compose, record, edit, manipulate, mix, master, and share your music with ease and at high quality. With touch features integrated through the phone application you can spice up your productions in ways that previously might have required a lot of equipment and studio time. Now, it’s possible to do most of what you can on the computer through the app on your handheld device let alone in an enormous studio. The web features help keep all of your work connected across your devices as well as make valuable back-ups with their cloud-syncing components.
Most of the time with free DAWs or free versions, you get limited access to the features that come with the full/paid programs. Normally, you’d be limited with how many tracks you can use in a session, or for various areas of the mix however, Cakewalk has lifted all of these prohibiting factors and gives you access to unlimited tracks. You can have unlimited audio tracks, record tracks, MIDI channels, instruments, loops, aux tracks, etc. This feature alone is a huge bonus to anybody on a budget because it really does empower your productions, having the freedom to use as many channels as necessary to get the job done. Aside from this, Cakewalk boasts an award-winning user interface so you can rest assured that you’re using a great quality product.
Resampling has become a prominent part of modern music production and sound design. The possibilities are what producers would have dreamed of twenty years ago what with the ease of access, storage, workflow, processing power, and other such elements that a lot of us take for granted. Basically, all audio that we deal with nowadays is of the best quality, whether you recorded it yourself or ran it through a channel on your DAW. One of the notable areas of this program is the extremely high audio quality that is developed as a result of powerful processing, especially when it comes to resampling.
Another great feature is the collaborative function that one can make use of through BandLab, the online DAW. As long as you have a good enough internet connection you can work on projects in real-time with other artists on the web, as well as share your project files or ideas with ease. The app feature means you can do this all while on the go with your phone and know that your work will show up across all of your devices because of the cloud-sync feature.
Aside from the universal effects packages, instruments, VSTs, and other such phenomena, you have access to an incredible pitch tool that provides real-time pitch correction (great if you’re collaborating online or not in an ideal recording environment).
At the end of the process, you don’t have to go through another platform to share your music because you can do it all right here. The ‘Albums’ feature has some really awesome perks that would make any artist happy. If you upload music, you are eligible for free online (algorithm-based) mastering which saves a lot of people time and money (Not every piece is intended for release so it’s not always ideal to spend money getting it mastered professionally).
Finally, you can release your music on this platform and retain 100% of ALL earnings. Not only that but there is a ‘Tip Jar’ function which acts similarly and also allows you to keep 100% of the profits – no service fees and no hassles. This is unheard of in today’s music business! Most
services pay artists scraps for their streams but here we have an opportunity to keep what our art makes – wow. Kudos to BandLab for being all about the artist and for providing such an empowering platform!
Some might compare Mixcraft to Garage Band however, there are a number of differences such as the price. Mixcraft has two versions available: Recording Studio and Pro Studio (for $100 and $200 respectively). However, in terms of its user-friendliness, it is fair to say that this program is
similar to Garage Band. This software is renowned for its simplicity and easy-to-use interface which is simultaneously backed up by some great processing power making it a pretty solid workstation. With that being said, this DAW really does have all the bells and whistles necessary to make it a highly competitive program on the market when faced with almost any industry-standard product.
As one would expect when paying for a workstation, you are granted unlimited tracks for all of your needs including audio, instruments, edits, SFX, automation, mix, and more. Additionally, you have access to a massive user library filled with loops, sounds, and presets from many different genres to help spice up your productions or to provide some inspiration. Another cool feature of the loop library is that it is linked to the web and offers users built-in browsing and import functions to get sounds straight into your session.
One of the competitive components of this software would have to be the ‘Live Performance’ element which makes it a rival for other industry-standard choices. The simple interface can be connected to a variety of launchpads and controllers or just operated from the keys of your computer keyboard and it is designed to help artists overcome technicalities when performing live. It will take a bit of learning as with anything but you won’t be disappointed with the product.
The built-in instruments and SFX are part of an unrivaled library of devices, sounds, presets, emulators, etc. It is guaranteed that you will find whatever it is that you’re looking for and be able to bring that idea to life – it might take a while to get through it all though.
The Pro version comes with an additional $1300 worth of external VSTs as part of the package. If you’ve heard of Melodyne you’ll know that having an integrated Essentials version in your DAW is pretty much all you’ll need to take your vocals and productions to the next level – well, it’s part of this package. Also included is the iZotope Mastering Essentials package which is also such a great bonus! More of these plugins include synths, Pianissimo, modular racks, and more.
This DAW really is full of wonderful surprises, especially if you’re into Modular Synthesis. An additional feature is the built-in modular synthesizer that has a number of racks to choose from, 45 modules, presets, and more, all in the form of virtual instruments for you to tweak and enjoy.
One of the most unique things that come as a part of this program is the ‘Video Editing’ feature. Most DAWs have some kind of audio-visual capabilities but Mixcraft offers an extensive set of
functions that allow you to edit the video as well as the audio. Being able to cross-fade, transition, add text, and other things make this more advanced than a lot of other DAWs, in this regard.
Another stellar area of this program would have to be the immense control you can have over your mix with the advanced routing, sub-mixes, grouping, busses, aux sends, etc. The secret behind any great mix is having control over all the elements within and being able to shape and process them individually because all of the finer details will be summed into a final product.
They’ve obviously thought about this because each channel in your session comes preset ready to pack a punch. There’s EQ, compression, analyzing functions, and much more that are built-in to help you hone in on elements in the mix. All-in-all, this is a really great DAW to get involved with.
As we are aware, there are a couple of programs out there that are dedicated to a specific OS and offer exclusive access to their users. The majority of DAWs on the market are universal and can be run on most operating systems however if you’re an avid supporter of either brand, you now know that there is plenty at your disposal if you’re interested in making music.