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Common Software Programs in the Recording Studio

For up-and-coming audio engineers and music producers, it is essential to have a good working knowledge of the common software programs used in the recording studio. Because the rise of digital technology has audio engineers the ability to do more things for less money, recording studios are relying more and more on computer software programs for their recording, signal processing and mixing tasks, usually through the use of one or more digital audio workstation (DAW) programs, along with an array of plug-ins according to the engineers’ preferences.

To put it simply, the more you know about these software programs (and the more specific programs you are familiar with), the more versatile and useful you’re going to be in the studio, and the more studios you’ll be qualified to work in. Here is a quick overview of some of the more common software programs you’ll find in the typical recording studio.

PRO TOOLS

If you’re going to learn any DAW, learn this one. Pro Tools is the current industry standard in modern recording studios, essentially packing all the functions of recording, editing, signal processing and mixing into one highly versatile computer program. In the vast majority of recording studios, you won’t be able to find your way around the workflow without having a good understanding of this powerful tool. This is why the Recording Connection integrates Pro Tools training into the curriculum for every apprentice (extern).

LOGIC PRO

Designed exclusively for Mac users, this powerful DAW is rapidly becoming a competitor for the Pro Tools user, having not only the same basic capabilities as Pro Tools, but also integrating a huge (and expandable) library of virtual instruments and plug-ins for composing and producing music “in the box” via MIDI. Logic Pro is highly popular with electronic musicians, sound designers and self-producing composers and songwriters, so recording studios that lean toward these disciplines are more likely to have a version of Logic Pro in addition to Pro Tools—likewise, studios that use Mac computers.

REASON

Another popular DAW, Reason offers many of the same recording/mixing features of Pro Tools, but its specialty is the display of a “virtual rack” which simulates the components of the hardware rack mounts in the studio—complete with a “toggle rack” function that allows the engineer to configure the virtual connections between the components all via computer. Engineers who are especially partial to rack-mounted gear particularly enjoy this software.

ABLETON LIVE

This DAW caters especially to the electronic musician and performer, offering in-the-box recording, mixing and signal processing along with an impressive array of on-board synths, samplers and drum machines. Ableton’s particular advantage is that it gives the producer, engineer or musician to do some elaborate arranging, beat matching, mixing and editing in real time or on-the-fly through its Session View workspace. This makes it not only powerful for quick mixing, looping and arranging, but also for live performance. You’re most likely to see this software in recording studios that are frequently inhabited by electronic music producers and club DJs.

FL STUDIO (formerly “FRUITY LOOPS”)

This is another popular software program with electronic musicians and DJs who use it for the creation of loops and sample-based tracks, either in tandem with or in lieu of Ableton Live.

SONAR

Produced by Cakewalk, SONAR is an all-purpose DAW that is essentially a competitor with Pro Tools. While some studio engineers prefer it over Pro Tools for its ease of use, the disadvantage is that it is currently a Windows-only program, so only studios who use PC computers will have any use for it.

UNDERSTANDING PLUG-INS

For any of the DAWs mentioned above—or any others we didn’t mention—having an understanding of plug-ins is essential. A plug-in is an additional sub-program that runs inside a DAW, and is applied to tracks or buses as needed by the engineer. Many DAWs come equipped with a set of plug-ins, while many developers (such as Waves and Native Instruments) create third-party plug-ins that can be integrated with the DAW software. In a recording studio, plug-ins are primarily used for effects or signal processing (e.g., reverb, compression, delay, chorusing, EQ), but also include MIDI-controlled virtual instrument libraries and a wide range of other specialized functions. Each audio engineer will have a favorite set of plug-ins that he/she uses regularly, and again, the more you know about the different plug-ins available, the more versatile you’ll be in the studio, and the more tools you’ll have to work with as you learn to craft your own mixes.
These days, audio engineering involves much more than microphone placement, signal flow and working with gear; it also involves a good working knowledge of the common software programs in the studio. If you have an interest in learning a particular DAW, the Recording Connection can place you with a mentor who is skilled with that software and can show you the ropes.