Creating musical melodies with a computer goes back as far as the 1950s in Australia with a computer originally named as CSIR Mark 1 which was programmed to play popular musical melodies from the very early 1950s. In 1950 the CSIR Mark 1 was used to play music, the first known use of a digital computer for the purpose. The music was never recorded
What is a DAW?
A digital audio workstation is an electronic device or application software used for recording, editing and producing audio files.
Some of the main functions of Digital Audio Workstations are:
Producing: From creating simple house loops and beats to full, expansive tracks, DAWs allow you to produce and finetune the creation and layering of these projects, usually with the help of VST plugins.
Tracking: During recording sessions, bands or orchestras are often recorded into multiple tracks at once. This allows the producer or engineer to capture the real-time sound of a group performance. These tracked performances can then be edited and mixed to perfection.
Mixing: This is the process of balancing and blending all the individual elements of a track by adjusting equalization/FX levels and parameters so that the track sounds as good as possible.
Live Performance: The process of building and editing tracks in real-time. Some DAWs are specifically designed for this process, as you’ll see below.
Composing: DAWs can also be used for the process of composing and constructing film/TV/game scores.
The first DAWs were conceived in the late 70s and early 80s. Soundstream, which developed the first digital recorder in 1977, developed what is considered the first DAW. Bringing together a minicomputer, disk drive, video display, and the software to run it all was the easy part.
Finding inexpensive storage and fast enough processing and disk speeds to run a commercially viable DAW proved the main challenge for the ensuing years. But as the home computer market exploded with the likes of Apple, Atari, and Commodore Amiga in the late 1980s, size and speed concerns were no longer an issue.
By the late 1980s, a number of consumer-level computers such as the MSX (Yamaha CX5M), Apple Macintosh, Atari ST and Commodore Amiga began to have enough power to handle digital audio editing. Engineers used Macromedia’s Soundedit, with Microdeal’s Replay Professional and Digidesign’s “Sound Tools” and “Sound Designer” to edit audio samples for sampling keyboards like the E-mu Emulator II and the Akai S900. Soon, people began to use them for simple two-track audio editing and audio mastering.
In 1989, Sonic Solutions released the first professional (48 kHz at 24 bit) disk-based nonlinear audio editing system. The Macintosh IIfx-based Sonic System, based on research done earlier at George Lucas’ Sprocket Systems, featured complete CD premastering, with integrated control of Sony’s industry-standard U-matic tape-based digital audio editor.
In 1994, a company in California named OSC produced a 4-track editing-recorder application called DECK that ran on Digidesign’s hardware system, which was used in the production of The Residents’ “Freakshow” [LP].
Many major recording studios finally “went digital” after Digidesign introduced its Pro Tools software in 1991, modeled after the traditional method and signal flow in most analog recording devices. At this time, most DAWs were Apple Mac based (e.g., Pro Tools, Studer Dyaxis, Sonic Solutions). Around 1992, the first Windows-based DAWs started to emerge from companies such as Innovative Quality Software (IQS) (now SAWStudio), Soundscape Digital Technology, SADiE, Echo Digital Audio, and Spectral Synthesis. All the systems at this point used dedicated hardware for their audio processing.
In 1993, the German company Steinberg released Cubase Audio on Atari Falcon 030. This version brought DSP built-in effects with 8-track audio recording & playback using only native hardware. The first Windows-based software-only product, introduced in 1993, was Samplitude (which already existed in 1992 as an audio editor for the Commodore Amiga).
In 1996, Steinberg introduced a revamped Cubase (which was originally launched in 1989 as a MIDI sequencing software for the Atari ST computer, later developed for Mac and Windows PC platforms, but had no audio capabilities until 1993’s Cubase Audio) which could record and play back up to 32 tracks of digital audio on an Apple Macintosh without the need of any external DSP hardware. Cubase not only modeled a tape-like interface for recording and editing, but, in addition, using VST also developed by Steinberg, modeled the entire mixing desk and effects rack common in analog studios. This revolutionized the DAW world, both in features and price tag, and was quickly imitated by most other contemporary DAW systems.
Electronic music became the megalith it is today and anybody who wanted to make music in their bedroom, basement, or local park bench could do just that. Whether they should is still a point that’s up for debate.
Working with Audio on Linux – DAWs and Audio Applications
Linux which came on to existence by the end of 1991 as a form of the Linux kernel obviously are late to the Audio and Music scene but it is definitely trying to catch up.
Audacity is one of the most basic yet a capable audio editor available for Linux. It is a free and open-source cross-platform tool. A lot of you must be already knowing about it.
It has improved a lot when compared to the time when it started trending. I do recall that I utilized it to “try” making karaokes by removing the voice from an audio file. Well, you can still do it – but it depends.
It also supports plug-ins that include VST effects. Of course, you should not expect it to support VST Instruments.
- Live audio recording through a microphone or a mixer
- Export/Import capability supporting multiple formats and multiple files at the same time
- Plugin support: LADSPA, LV2, Nyquist, VST and Audio Unit effect plug-ins
- Easy editing with cut, paste, delete and copy functions.
- Spectogram view mode for analyzing frequencies
LMMS is a free and open source (cross-platform) digital audio workstation. It includes all the basic audio editing functionalities along with a lot of advanced features.
You can mix sounds, arrange them, or create them using VST instruments. It does support them. Also, it comes baked in with some samples, presets, VST Instruments, and effects to get started. In addition, you also get a spectrum analyzer for some advanced audio editing.
- Note playback via MIDI
- VST Instrument support
- Native multi-sample support
- Built-in compressor, limiter, delay, reverb, distortion and bass enhancer
Ardour is yet another free and open source digital audio workstation. If you have an audio interface, Ardour will support it. Of course, you can add unlimited multichannel tracks. The multichannel tracks can also be routed to different mixer tapes for the ease of editing and recording.
You can also import a video to it and edit the audio to export the whole thing. It comes with a lot of built-in plugins and supports VST plugins as well.
- Non-linear editing
- Vertical window stacking for easy navigation
- Strip silence, push-pull trimming, Rhythm Ferret for transient and note onset-based editing
If you want to mix and record something while being able to have a virtual DJ tool, Mixxx would be a perfect tool. You get to know the BPM, key, and utilize the master sync feature to match the tempo and beats of a song. Also, do not forget that it is yet another free and open source application for Linux!
It supports custom DJ equipment as well. So, if you have one or a MIDI – you can record your live mixes using this tool.
- Broadcast and record DJ Mixes of your song
- Ability to connect your equipment and perform live
- Key detection and BPM detection
Rosegarden is yet another impressive audio editor for Linux which is free and open source. It is neither a fully featured DAW nor a basic audio editing tool. It is a mixture of both with some scaled down functionalities.
I wouldn’t recommend this for professionals but if you have a home studio or just want to experiment, this would be one of the best audio editors for Linux to have installed.
- Music notation editing
- Recording, Mixing, and samples
Cecilia is not an ordinary audio editor application. It is meant to be used by sound designers or if you are just in the process of becoming one. It is technically an audio signal processing environment. It lets you create ear-bending sound out of them.
You get in-build modules and plugins for sound effects and synthesis. It is tailored for a specific use – if that is what you were looking for – look no further!
- Modules to achieve more (UltimateGrainer – A state-of-the-art granulation processing, RandomAccumulator – Variable speed recording accumulator,
UpDistoRes – Distortion with upsampling and resonant lowpass filter)
- Automatic Saving of modulations
Davinci Resolve 16
DaVinci Resolve (originally known as da Vinci Resolve) is a color correction and non-linear video editing (NLE) application for macOS, Windows, and Linux, originally developed by da Vinci Systems, and now developed by Blackmagic Design following its acquisition in 2009.
In addition to the commercial version of the software (known as DaVinci Resolve Studio), Blackmagic Design also distributes a free edition, with reduced functionality, simply named DaVinci Resolve (formerly known as DaVinci Resolve Lite)
Renoise is a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) with a refreshing twist. It lets you record, compose, edit, process and render production-quality audio using a tracker-based approach.
In a tracker, the music runs from top to bottom in an easily understood grid known as a pattern. Several patterns arranged in a certain order make up a song. Step-editing in a pattern grid lends itself well to a fast and immediate workflow. On top of this, Renoise features a wide range of modern features: dozens of built-in audio processors, alongside support for all commonly used virtual instrument and effect plug-in formats. And the software can be extended too: with scripting, you can use all of your MIDI or OSC controller to control it in exactly the way you want.
*90 USD license with Free Demo Option*
Special offer – Get Mixbus for $19 instead of $89
Harrison Mixbus is a digital audio workstation (DAW) available for Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and Linux operating systems and version 1 was released in 2009.
Mixbus provides a modern DAW model incorporating a “traditional” analog mixing workflow. It includes built in proprietary analog modeled processing, based on Harrison’s 32-series and MR-series analog music consoles.
Mixbus is based on Ardour, the open source DAW, but is sold and marketed commercially by Harrison Audio Consoles
It comes in two versions:
Mixbus ($79) and Mixbus 32c ($299)
There is a Specials offer on their page You can get Mixbus for $19 just like I did and even get their EQ XT-ME Mastering Equalizer plugin for only $9 instead of $109 the link is in the shownotes for the special offer.
Mixbus is a full-featured digital audio workstation for recording, editing, mixing, and mastering your music.
Engineered and supported by Harrison; and developed in collaboration with an open-source community; Mixbus represents the finest sound quality of any DAW at a great price.
Mixbus 32c improves on the Mixbus platform with an exact emulation of the original Harrison 32C parametric four-band sweepable EQ, and 4 additional stereo summing buses.
REAPER (an acronym for Rapid Environment for Audio Production, Engineering, and Recording) is a digital audio workstation and MIDI sequencer software created by Cockos. The current version is available for Microsoft Windows (XP and newer) and macOS (10.5 and newer) – beta versions are also available for Linux. REAPER acts as a host to most industry-standard plug-in formats (such as VST and AU) and can import all commonly used media formats, including video. REAPER and its included plug-ins are available in 32-bit and 64-bit format.
REAPER provides a free, fully functional 60-day evaluation period. For further use two licenses are available – a commercial and a discounted one. They are identical in features and differ only in price and target audience, with the discount license being offered for private use, schools and small businesses. Any paid license includes the current version with all of its future updates and a free upgrade to the next major version and all of its subsequent updates, when they are released. Any license is valid for all configurations (x64 and x86) and allows for multiple installations, as long it is being run on one computer at a time.
Extensive customization opportunities are provided through the use of ReaScript (edit, run and debug scripts within REAPER) and user-created themes and functionality extensions.
ReaScript can be used to create anything from advanced macros to full-featured REAPER extensions. ReaScripts can be written in EEL2 (JSFX script), Lua and Python. SWS / S&M is a popular, open-source extension to REAPER, providing workflow enhancements and advanced tempo/groove manipulation functionality.
REAPER’s interface can be customized with user-built themes. Each previous version’s default theme is included with REAPER and theming allows for complete overhauls of the GUI. REAPER has been translated into multiple languages and downloadable language packs are available. Users as well as developers can create language packs for REAPER.
Reaper comes with a variety of commonly used audio production effects. They include tools such as ReaEQ, ReaVerb, ReaGate, ReaDelay, ReaPitch and ReaComp. The included Rea-plug-ins are also available as a separate download for users of other DAWs, as the ReaPlugs VST FX Suite.
Also included are hundreds of JSFX plug-ins ranging from standard effects to specific applications for MIDI and audio. JSFX scripts are text files, which when loaded into REAPER (exactly like a VST or other plug-in) become full-featured plug-ins ranging from simple audio effects (e.g delay, distortion, compression) to instruments (synths, samplers) and other special purpose tools (drum triggering, surround panning). All JSFX plug-ins are editable in any text editor and thus are fully user customizable.
REAPER includes no third-party software, but is fully compatible with all versions of the VST standard (currently VST3) and thus works with the vast majority of both free and commercial plug-ins available. REAPER x64 can also run 32-bit plug-ins alongside 64-bit processes.
While not a dedicated video editor, REAPER can be used to cut and trim video files and to edit or replace the audio within. Common video effects such as fades, wipes and cross-fades are available. REAPER aligns video files in a project, as it would an audio track, and the video part of a file can be viewed in separate video window while working on the project.
Two Very Important pieces of Applications for Linux when it comes to Audio Routing
Jack is a low latency capable audio and midi server, designed for pro audio use. It enables all Jack capable applications to connect to each other. It is included in Linux Distributions geared towards Audio Production like AVLinux and Ubuntu Studio .. Ubuntu Studio even has its own Ubuntu Studio Controls ( see screenshot later) to interact with Jack:
(( I left a great article in the shownotes for starting out with Jack under Linux the easy way ))
- provides low latency (less than 5 milliseconds with the right hardware)
- allows multiple audo devices to be used at once
- recognizes hotplugged USB audio devices
Carla is a virtual Audio Rack and Patchbay, otherwise known as a plugin host, that can use audio plugins normally used in a DAW such as Ardour as if it was a rack of audio hardware. Some of its features include:
- Saving virtual racks and connections
- Interacting with several plugins types, including LADSPA, LV2, DSSI, and VST.
- Has a plugin bridge that utilizes WINE to use plugins compiled for Windows devices (experimental, not installed by default).
Linux Distributions Dedicated to Audio Production on Linux
AV Linux is a Linux-based operating system aimed for multimedia content creators. Available for the i386 and x86-64 architectures with a kernel customised for maximum performance and low-latency audio production, it has been recommended as a supported Linux platform for Harrison Mixbus
AV Linux is built on top of Debian.
AV Linux is bundled with software for both everyday use and media production.
Preinstalled audio software includes: Ardour, Audacity, Calf Studio Gear, Carla, Guitarix, Hydrogen and MuseScore.
Ubuntu Studio 20
Not a Linux distribution as such but a repository for Debian / Ubuntu based distros and a custom set of their own applications and plugins for working with audio on Linux ( also has some apps for Windows.
Carla is for example one of KX.Studios application.
VST under Linux and Other Plugins for / under Linux
( Linux Audio Developers Simple Plugin API) released in 2000 just a year after Steinberg released VST 2.0 in 1999 which is the most famous.
LADSPA plugins are only effects processors.
No fancy GUI simple generic GUI
DSSI (Disposable Soft Synth Interface) in 2004 sometimes referred to as LADSPA-for-instruments
LV2 – LADSPA v2
Combines the best and can be the replacement for both DSSI and LADSPA.
VAMP plugins does not make or modify audio or midi data. They analyze sound and extract its features. Audacity and Mixxx for example uses them to analyze tempo and key of the songs
VST-s under Linux
VST’s that can be used in Linux come in two flavors:
- Natively compiled VST plug-ins, also known as LinuxVST’s. These are plug-ins that are compiled or can be compiled on Linux systems with the help of either the Steinberg header files from the VST SDK or the Vestige header (the open source equivalent of the Steinberg headers).
- VST’s compiled for Windows. These can be used with the help of Wine and any host that supports Windows VST’s.
Personally one of the things I miss is more commercial plugins to be available under Linux as well. Many commercial plugins developed only for Windows / Mac — I would assume most of the time because of the larger user base and all the fancy propietary licensing and other protection methods involved ( Waves plugins, Plugin Alliance, etc.)
Best Youtube Linux Channel related to Audio production:
Talk on Plugin Formats * Filipe Coelho *