Learning the DAW, or, What I Did With My Saturday

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John Scalzi

A “DAW,” for those of you who don’t know, is a Digital Audio Workstation. I’ve had Studio One by Presonus for a while now but have only now decided to really learn how to use it (I’ve used Audition casually for years, and at the turn of the century played with ACID). I’m playing with the samples and synths and effects in the program and figuring out how to put them all in tracks. So this is the sound of me learning how to make Studio One work: Two minutes of, er, music.

It’s… rough! And very noisy! And not precisely what I would call good. And also I had to cheat and port the file in Audition for some mastering work. As I said, I’m learning how to make this thing go. But if you’re curious what one day of progress sounds like, well, here you go. It’s documented for posterity.

Fun fact: I’m actually playing keyboards in here! So that’s a first. No, not the complicated parts. Come on.

— JS

27 Comments on “Learning the DAW, or, What I Did With My Saturday”

  1. Also: curious as to how long it took you to end up with the two minute demo (I realize there’s a learning curve involved).

  2. Lif S:

    A couple of hours. I started with the bass and drum samples, added some keyboards and then some effects. It’s ten tracks, so not terribly complicated.

  3. The dissonance at 0:50-0:56 (sound resembling a square-wave tone on an old analog synthesizer) was no accidental combination of samples; it was chosen, or so I assume. Good choice.

  4. You might look into REAPER, a good DAW that is free to try and cheap to buy. I think it beats Presonus, but the ultimately best DAW is the one you know how to use.

  5. Oh man, have fun! I’ve been using DAWs since the mid-‘90s and they’re a ton of fun.

    Agreed that the best DAW is the one that you know how to use (and that’s in your budget). I’m a Cubase Pro user, but I’ve used Cockos Reaper. I’m not familiar with Presonus, but I would describe Cubase’s aesthetic as the Mac aesthetic (a lot of sensible defaults but you gotta do it their way) and the Reaper aesthetic as the Linux aesthetic (you can customize everything under the sun, and there’s a scripting language, etc. if you want to experiment with things like aleatory music, but you better know what you’re doing or it is murderous to figure out). Regardless, have fun!

  6. Sounds like the opening soundtrack of a gritty, futuristic action movie. You can almost see the hero, clad in a leather motorcycle suit, running through a dark urban landscape and then, at the 1:40 mark, pausing to look out over a vista of city lights from a building roof.

    Or maybe I just have an overactive imagination.

  7. First thing that popped in my head: blade runner prequel. No idea why. My brain is fun.

  8. My first thought- How long have you been in science fiction, and you don’t know DAW?

  9. I like it! The layering of clean-ish piano with grungy, distorted bass and thumpy drums will always be cool. And you managed to incorporate a good deal of dynamism in such a short track too, which is awesome. (FWIW, I’m a drummer who has also dabbled in creating this type of music.)

    Hope you’re having a blast doing all this and it’d be lovely if you kept sharing more of the stuff you’re working on.

    (Not trying to pressure you, btw. I really don’t like the folks who want people to monetize their creative outlets and hobbies, or those who pressure people having a fun time to produce outputs for others’ consumption.)

  10. Multitalented young thing. Storytelling through sound! ^_^

    My knowledge of digital music creation is everything you’d expect of someone who used to listen with half an ear to what her kids were doing on Garage Band. I’d say that so far your efforts are already heaps better than the hold music that comes on when I call my telco. And you’re just at the start!

  11. It’s very danceable, I found. And I liked the melodic coda at the end.

  12. I like it. Sounds like the theme music played at the end of some techno thriller or Bond movie. You know if this writing thing doesn’t pan out… ;)

  13. I like it!

    And I am really glad that you are exploring your creativity in fields beyond the written word; making something which has not existed before is immensely satisfying, and even more so when that something also gives pleasure to others.

    Please carry on; I must get back to tending my plants, which are my small contribution to creating some beauty in the time of the pandemic. A year ago my balconies held only empty pots; my concern now is that I have too many plants to fit into my balconies. And music to listen to whilst I am doing that is very, very welcome!

  14. Just wondering why you didn’t stick with Audition.

    I’m a GarageBand guy myself., but don’t mind Audition.

    Reaper is good too, as someone suggested upthread.

    And finally, yeah, ACID was a pretty fun program. Got the Chemical Brothers to start using PCs.

  15. Just the images in this are worthy to let you and the world see them. Even if Paul Simon took Edie Brickell away from Oak Cliff, Texas, he deserved to take her to Hades for half a year just for this song.

  16. Knowing you’re a Neil Finn fan, I thought that DAW stood for Dreamers Are Waiting, the new Crowded House album released two days ago!

  17. Very engaging! I’m impressed. Do you have a set of monitor headphones. To me, the top end sounds too crunchy. I don’t know whether that was intentional or not. If you don’t have a set, I recommend Sony MDR-7506.

  18. Growing up when I did, DAW will always mean yellow spined SF/Fantasy paperbacks, which were almost always worth the read. Wollheim ran a solid publishing house that knew its readers’ preferences – I believe I remember each DAW book being numbered as well, on the spine, so you could collect them all!!

  19. It’s real crunchy, I dig it! I’ve got a friend that does 100% of his music writing, arranging, recording, & mixing in Garage Band on his iPad, and he does some pretty cool stuff. Myself, I’m an opensource fanboi, so I’ve played with Ardour a bit. There is definitely a learning curve to this stuff, especially if you aren’t well-versed in the technical details of recording.

  20. @Jim above, I too thought of DAW books. Back when I was collecting pop bottles, I remember being very annoyed at DAW because they were a little more expensive than other pocket books were. But ya, they were good.

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