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The History of Digital Audio Workstations: A Tale of 5 DAWs

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An electronic producer making music with a DAW

Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) have revolutionized the music production industry. DAWs are software programs that allow musicians and producers to record, edit, and mix audio tracks on a computer. In this article we'll take a look at the history of 5 different DAWs: Cubase, Pro Tools, Logic Pro, FL Studio, and Ableton Live.

 

 

Cubase

One of the earliest DAWs was Cubase, which was developed by the German company Steinberg in 1989. Cubase was initially designed for the Atari ST computer and was later ported to other platforms such as the Macintosh and Windows. Cubase is known for its powerful MIDI editing capabilities and was widely used by professional musicians and producers.

The first version of Cubase, Cubase VST, was released for the Atari ST computer. This version of Cubase brought many new features to the music production world, such as the ability to record and edit MIDI data, as well as the use of virtual instruments. Cubase VST quickly became a favorite among professional musicians and producers, and it was soon ported to other platforms such as the Macintosh and Windows.

 Cubase SX was released in 2001 and marked a major turning point in the history of Cubase. This version brought a host of new features, such as the ability to record and edit multiple audio tracks, a powerful mixer, and support for surround sound. Cubase SX also introduced the concept of the "Project Window," which allowed users to easily organize and manage their projects.

Cubase 5, released in 2009, added more advanced features such as the VariAudio pitch correction and harmony creation tool, and the Groove Agent ONE virtual drummer. It also introduced the VST Expression 2, an advanced feature that allows users to create and control complex MIDI phrases.

Cubase 7, released in 2013, has introduced new features such as the Chord Track, which allows users to easily create chord progressions and harmonic structures, and the QWERTY keyboard shortcuts, which allows users to quickly navigate through the interface. Cubase 7 also introduced the MixConsole, a powerful mixing interface that allows users to easily control the levels, panning, and effects of multiple tracks.

 Cubase 12, the most recent version, introduced new features such as the Lower Zone, which allows users to access different windows and tools from a single location and the Chord Pads, which allows users to quickly create and edit chord progressions and harmonic structures. It also introduced the MixConsole Snapshots, which allows users to save and recall multiple versions of a mix.

 

 

Pro Tools

Pro Tools, developed by Avid Technology, is another early DAW that has had a significant impact on the music production industry. Pro Tools was first released in 1989 and quickly became the industry standard for recording and mixing audio in professional studios. Pro Tools is known for its high-quality audio engine and extensive editing capabilities.

The first version of Pro Tools, Pro Tools|1, was released in 1989 and was designed for the Macintosh computer. This version of Pro Tools brought many new features to the music production world, such as the ability to record and edit multiple audio tracks, and support for MIDI. Pro Tools|1 quickly became the industry standard for recording and mixing audio, and it was soon ported to other platforms such as Windows.

Pro Tools|24 was released in 1996 and marked a major turning point in the history of Pro Tools. This version brought a host of new features, such as the ability to record and edit audio at 24-bit resolution, and support for surround sound. Pro Tools|24 also introduced the concept of the "Session," which allowed users to easily organize and manage their projects.

Pro Tools|HD was released in 2000 and brought more advanced features such as the ability to record and edit audio at higher sample rates, and support for more powerful hardware. Pro Tools|HD also introduced the concept of the "Mix Window," which allowed users to easily control the levels, panning, and effects of multiple tracks.

Pro Tools 10, released in 2011, has introduced new features such as the "Clip Gain," which allows users to adjust the gain of individual audio clips, and the "MIDI Beat Clock," which allows users to synchronize MIDI devices with Pro Tools. Pro Tools 10 also introduced the concept of the "Structure Free," a feature that allows users to create and edit MIDI phrases with more freedom.

Pro Tools 2020, the most recent version, introduced new features such as the "Track Presets," which allows users to save and recall multiple versions of a track, and the "Expanded Metering," which allows users to visualize audio levels in greater detail. Pro Tools 2020 also introduced the concept of the "Cloud Collaboration," which allows users to share and work on projects remotely.

 

 

Logic Pro

Apple Logic was developed by Emagic in the early 1990s and was later acquired by Apple in 2002. Logic is known for its versatile interface and powerful MIDI editing capabilities. It is particularly popular among electronic music producers and is widely used in the film and television industry.

The first version of Logic, Logic Audio, was released in 1992 for Macintosh computers. This version of Logic brought many new features to the music production world, such as the ability to record and edit MIDI data, and use of virtual instruments. Logic Audio quickly became a favorite among professional musicians and producers.

Logic Pro 5, released in 1999, marked a major turning point in the history of Logic. This version brought a host of new features, such as the ability to record and edit multiple audio tracks, and support for surround sound. Logic Pro 5 also introduced the concept of the "Arrange Window," which allowed users to easily organize and manage their projects.

Logic Pro 7, released in 2005, added more advanced features such as the Sculpture, a physical modeling synthesizer, and the Ultrabeat, a drum machine designer. It also introduced the concept of the "Environment," which allowed users to create custom MIDI routings and signal processing chains.

Logic Pro 9, released in 2009, has introduced new features such as the Flex Pitch, which allows users to adjust the pitch of individual audio notes, and the Flex Time, which allows users to adjust the timing of individual audio notes. Logic Pro 9 also introduced the concept of the "Track Stacks," which allows users to group multiple tracks together for easy organization and mixing.

Logic Pro X, the most recent version, introduced new features such as the Drummer, a virtual session drummer, and the Smart Controls, which allows users to easily control multiple plug-ins from a single interface. Logic Pro X also introduced the concept of the "Flex Pitch," which allows users to adjust the pitch of individual audio notes, and the "Flex Time," which allows users to adjust the timing of individual audio notes.

 

 

FL Studio

FL Studio, previously known as FruityLoops, is a digital audio workstation developed by Image-Line. The program was originally created by Didier Dambrin for the Belgian company Image-Line and first released in 1997. It has since become one of the most popular DAWs for electronic music production. FL Studio is known for its user-friendly interface, intuitive workflow, and powerful virtual instruments.

The first version of FL Studio, FruityLoops 1.0, was released in 1997 for Windows computers. This version of FL Studio brought many new features to the music production world, such as the ability to create and edit MIDI patterns, and use of virtual instruments. FruityLoops 1.0 quickly became a favorite among electronic music producers.

FL Studio 3, released in 2000, marked a major turning point in the history of FL Studio. This version brought a host of new features, such as the ability to record and edit multiple audio tracks, and support for VST plugins. FL Studio 3 also introduced the concept of the "Playlist," which allowed users to easily organize and manage their projects.

FL Studio 7, released in 2005, added more advanced features such as the "Slicex," a tool for slicing and manipulating samples and the "DirectWave," a sampler. It also introduced the concept of the "Stepsequencer," which allowed users to create and edit MIDI patterns in a more intuitive way.

FL Studio 9, released in 2010, has introduced new features such as the "Piano roll," which allows users to easily create and edit MIDI patterns, and the "Fruity Formula Controller," which allows users to create custom control signals for use in their projects. FL Studio 9 also introduced the concept of the "Patcher," which allows users to easily route and process audio signals.

FL Studio 20, the most recent version, introduced new features such as the "Macros," which allow users to easily control multiple plug-ins from a single interface and the "Playlist tracks," which allows users to group multiple tracks together for easy organization and mixing. FL Studio 20 also introduced the concept of the "Fruity Convolver," which allows users to apply impulse responses to audio signals.

 

 

Ableton Live

Ableton Live is another popular DAW that has gained a lot of traction in recent years. Developed by Ableton AG, Live was first released in 2001 and is known for its unique session view, which allows users to easily arrange and manipulate audio loops in real-time. Ableton Live is popular among electronic music producers and live performers.

The first version of Ableton Live, Live 1.0, was released in 2001 for Windows and Macintosh computers. This version of Live brought many new features to the music production world, such as the ability to record and edit MIDI data, and use of virtual instruments. Live 1.0 quickly became a favorite among electronic music producers and live performers.

Ableton Live 4, released in 2005, marked a major turning point in the history of Ableton Live. This version brought a host of new features, such as the ability to record and edit multiple audio tracks, and support for VST plugins. Live 4 also introduced the concept of the "Session View," which allows users to easily arrange and manipulate audio loops in real-time.

Ableton Live 8, released in 2009, added more advanced features such as the "Simpler," a sampler, and the "Impulse," a drum machine. It also introduced the concept of the "Session Automation," which allows users to create and edit automation envelopes in the session view.

Ableton Live 9, released in 2013, has introduced new features such as the "Push," a hardware controller for Ableton Live, and the "Max for Live," which allows users to create custom instruments and effects using Max/MSP. Live 9 also introduced the concept of the "Session View Automation," which allows users to create and edit automation envelopes in the session view.

Ableton Live 11, the most recent version, introduced new features such as the "Echo," a tempo-synced delay and modulation effects and the "Drum Buss," a drum processing plugin. Live 11 also introduced the concept of the "Comping," a feature that allows users to easily edit and combine multiple takes into one final performance.

*Futch Fun Fact: The first thing I found out when I became an Ableton Certified Trainer is that "Ableton" is the company name and "Live" is the name of the DAW. Having said that, everybody always refers to the DAW as Ableton Live because "Live" is simply far too common a word for people to understand what you are referring to if you just say "Live".

 

In conclusion, DAWs have come a long way since their inception in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Today, there are many different DAWs available on the market, each with its own strengths and features. Some started as MIDI sequencers and others started as audio editors but eventually every DAW has evolved to become capable of both tasks. Whether you're a professional musician or producer, or just starting out, there's a DAW out there that will suit your needs.

 

I'm Futch, a music production coach who offers free content and a free Ableton Live online course and a 27-class Live Online Intro to Music Production course, with live online group classes and a community of users. You can find out more and sign up for discounted early access here

Futch - Music Production Coach and Ableton Certified Trainer


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