Digital Audio Workstation Work

A MIDI keyboard allows you to play the synths in your digital audio workstation.

A digital audio workstation is a combination of computer hardware and software that allows music producers to record, edit and mix audio tracks. The relatively low cost of a digital audio workstation, compared with that of a hardware recording system, means that amateur music producers now have access to powerful audio tools that previously were only found in professional studios. Understanding how each component of your digital audio workstation functions helps you to get the most out of your recording system.

Recording

Digital audio workstations record audio signals through the sound card’s interface. The sound card converts the analog audio signal into a digital format, which the workstation software can recognize. The software then displays a visual representation of the recorded audio waveform on the workstation’s screen. Digital audio workstations can record through the sound card’s microphone or line-in jack; higher-end sound cards also support high-quality XLR connections. You can also record MIDI data in a digital audio workstation using a MIDI interface, MIDI-enabled sound card or USB MIDI keyboard.

Synthesis

In addition to recording audio from the sound card, most digital audio workstations can also generate audio using synthesizer plug-in software. You can control these synthesizers’ parameters using an onscreen interface, then tell them to generate sound using MIDI notes. Most digital audio workstations include a “piano roll” interface, which lets you enter MIDI notes by clicking inside a note matrix. Software synthesizer plug-ins come in several formats; not all digital audio workstations support all formats. Virtual Studio Technology is one of the most common plug-in standards for the PC; Mac synthesizers usually use the Audio Unit format.

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Effects

The audio effects in a digital audio workstation allow the producer to shape and control recorded or generated sound. A reverb effect, for example, causes a sound to fade away gradually rather than stopping abruptly, while an equalization effect allows the producer to boost and cut different frequencies in the audio. More sophisticated digital audio workstations support send effects, which allows the producer to apply one effect to multiple audio tracks. Most digital audio workstations include a selection of built-in effects; third-party audio effect plug-in are also available. As with synthesizer plug-ins, most audio effects use the VST or AU formats.

Editing and Mixing

Digital audio workstations use a multi-track environment that emulates the hardware mixing board in a recording studio. The producer mixes the various tracks together into a coherent whole using a series of volume and pan controls. Because digital audio workstations support non-linear editing, the producer can easily cut, splice, re-arrange and move parts of a song. When the producer has finished editing and mixing the various tracks together, he “bounces” all of the tracks into one audio file, then saves it to the digital audio workstation‘s hard drive.